Sarehole Mill: A mill once more

Martin Mullaney reports that Sarehole Mill should, hopefully, be a genuine flour mill in time to cash in on its links with JRR Tolkien and the film version of his book The Hobbit being released. He writes….

Readers of my posts on Sarehole Mill, will know that I’ve managed to identify £390,000 (£340k from the Council; £50k from the Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery development Trust) to desilt the Sarehole Mill millpond, install all the mechanical works so that the mill can mill flour on a commercial basis, plus get the disused 1850 bakery making bread again.

You can read my previous blog reports at

We are hoping to have all this work complete by Autumn 2012, ready for the release of the Hobbit film.

I popped down to Sarehole Mill on Friday to see progress. The Millwrights were on site doing work. Also it was fascinating chatting to them, picking their knowledge on watermills, hydroelectric power and the milling of bread which I will reveal further on.

I also took loads of photos from that visit, which I attach, which added to the following.

As mentioned in my previous blogs, the millwrights are replacing three sluice gates:

  • The sluice gate for the overflow stream – this allows the millpond to be emptied, without the need for the water to go through the two water wheels
  • The sluice gate for the north water wheel – this is the water wheel that visitors see
  • The sluice gate for the south water wheel – this the water wheel that is hidden under the floor boards and hasn’t turned since 1969.

The millwrights has cut back all the vegetation around the overflow sluice gate and completely repaired the walls around it. A willow tree was pushing a section of the wall into mill pond

Examination of the south wheel has shown that half of it has completely rotted away. We suspect that is was rotten at the end of the major 1969 restoration and that they turned the non-rotten side to face the viewing door.

The south wheel can be repaired in situ. The millwright estimated that it would cost £50k to restore the south wheel, plus desilt the millrace that goes from the south wheel, under the courtyard, plus do various  odds-and-ends to get the wheel working again.

I asked the millwright about the idea of getting hydraulic power from the south power. Based on his previous experience, he thinks it would cost £50k to install all the necessary hydraulic equipment. He that after doing this the wheel would only produce enough electricity to power a handful of light bulbs. Indeed, he suggested that if hydraulic power was obtained from the River Cole, through a dam, it would only produce enough electricity for two houses.

On that basis, our present thinking is that if at a future date we get the south wheel operating we will use it to mill more flour.

With regards the milling of flour, we now have the money to install new flour milling equipment. Before I explain further on this, could I urge readers to watch an excellent 30 minute video on the Traditional Corner Millers Guild website at

This is a superb video and shows the type of activities we hope to have happening at Sarehole Mill by the end of this calendar year – namely producing large quantities of stoneground floor and having a baker on site.

For the milling we will require a new set of French milling stones – the video explains these very well.

The video shows a miller who looks after the Charlecote watermill near Stratford upon Avon. He produces £50k of stoneground flour a year and sends it in 20kg bags to the south Asian community in Coventry – he uses English grain, whose low gluten level means it is perfect for chapati’s, but not bread.

Sarehole Mill already has the machinery for separating the flour from the husk and bran – it just needs connecting to the north waterwheel.

In the meantime, we are already looking at what work needs doing to the brick oven dating from 1850 to get it up and running again. Our advice so far is that little needs doing, apart from increasing the height of chimney.

We are already talking to an artisan baker who is interested in moving onto the site and baking bread here.