Stotfold Watermill: Exhibition to mark 25 years since fire tragedy
PUBLISHED: 08:35 18 October 2017 | UPDATED: 08:35 18 October 2017
Back in 1992, it was feared that more than 1,000 years of having a watermill in Stotfold had literally gone up in smoke.
The mill, the last working watermill in the town until it closed in 1966, was ravaged by fire on December 15, 1992, leaving little more than a shell and twisted metal.
An exhibition on how the Stotfold Mill Preservation Trust rebuilt the site for the community is to be held this weekend to mark 25 years since the fire.
Beds County Council had previously adjudged the mill machinery to be of national importance, preventing its demolition for new housing – and enough remained after the blaze to make a rebuild worthwhile.
Some of the internal machinery had survived, but most of the main building had to be totally rebuilt – including remaking many parts of the mill to enable it to grind corn again.
The Stotfold Mill Preservation Trust was incorporated in 2000, and a team of hardy volunteers worked together to rebuild what had once been.
Finally, in April 2006, the mill began grinding flour again after 40 years – powered by one of the widest waterwheels in the UK.
It has now become a ubiquitous landmark, with events like the two annual steam shows held with the Saunders family.
“What started as a small fund-raising event with a couple of engines has grown into one of the largest steam rallies in the country.” said John Hyde, trustee and organiser of the events.
“Twelve years ago, the Working Steam Weekend was launched in October to show many of the steam engines and tractors in action – and this has also grown into a major event. These two key events provide much of the funding to keep the mill running.”
A tearoom now occupies the space that used to hold a huge steam engine, added during the industrial revolution to allow the mill to function when water levels were low. The large chimney, one of the mill’s main featurse, was built to accommodate this.
The tearoom is named Randalls after the last family of millers to operate the site. The mill continues to add new events, and the adjacent meadows are now a designated nature reserve.
Volunteer co-ordinator Jean Kersey said: “The mill is still completely reliant on volunteers and the trust are always looking for help.”