3 Feb 2015

Waterwheel Restoration at Sarehole Mill

The waterwheel at Sarehole Mill, is suffering from the ravages of time. Its timbers are perishing, the buckets are leaking, and in some areas, non-existent. Consequently power to drive the grinding stones is being lost. Total replacement, is therefore essential, to keep the mill going as a working mill.

A small group of us volunteer millers offered to undertake the necessary repairs. However before we were let loose on the wheel we were given a days instruction on how to replace the buckets. This was given by two experienced millers, John Bedington and Mick Forbes. They showed how to remove old timbers and replace them and importantly they reminded us of the necessary health and safety requirements.

How It Used To Look
How the waterwheel used to look

Each day starts, with us firstly securing the waterwheel against rotation. We then build a working platform inside the wheel.

Each of the 36 timber buckets and sole boards have to be dismantled in turn. As you can imagine, the steel nuts and bolts securing the old timbers to the cast iron rims, are badly corroded, and require cutting out with an angle grinder. Old timbers are then removed, and the new oak boards are cut and tailored to form new buckets. These are then bolted to the rims with new stainless steel nuts and bolts.

Allan cutting the boards for the waterwheel buckets
Geoff and Allan positioning the boards in the waterwheel

At the end of each day the mill wheel has to be made ready to operate as normal, so the working platform has to be dismantled, and the wheel tethers have to be removed.

We are at present only managing to complete the replacement of 2 buckets per day, due to the complexity of the work, and the working environment. It is like crawling inside a giant 12 foot diameter hamster wheel that has been sitting for the past 150 years in a dark dank flooded cellar. The timbers are rotting and smelly and covered in places with some sort of fungal growth. Should a nut or spanner be accidentally dropped, it usually lands in the water. We then have to use a large magnet on the end of a piece of string to fish to retrieve it, as the water is so dark and murky, this is the best way to do it. It is hard, backbreaking, and dirty work, but our pleasure will be when it is completed, and we have a nice new shiny waterwheel to help produce our famous Wholemeal Flour.

Allan in the waterwheel fitting the new buckets
Doug fitting the new buckets in the waterwheel
How It Looks Now (Not Finished)
How the waterwheel looks now with the new buckets (not finished)

Steve Spencer, Interim Property Manager at Sarehole Mill adds – “This is an essential piece of maintenance that wouldn't have been possible if it wasn't for the skill, dedication and hard work of our team of committed volunteers!”