The restoration of a £1.7m conservation project to restore a watermill has reached the half-way mark as staff celebrate a record-breaking year.
Currently, as you approach Sacrewell along the A47 towards Peterborough, you catch a glimpse of three-storeys of white tarpaulin covering the centre’s 18th century watermill, flapping in the breeze.
Tinwell firm Messenger Construction is reaching the half-way point in its £1m contract to restore and conserve the Grade II* listed watermill which is due to be completed in the summer.
And reaching the half-way mark is not the only cause for celebration.
The William Scott Abbott Trust, which owns Sacrewell and marked its 50th anniversary in 2014, celebrated a record number of visitors at its visitor centre in 2014.
As the Mercury went to press, the charity had recorded 91,214 visitors. The previous record was set in 2011 with just shy of 86,000 visitors.
Sacrewell welcomed its 90,000th visitor through the door on December 23 and awarded the family from St Neots with an annual membership and a free visit to Father Christmas.
But the year’s success was not just down to chance. The trust invested a lot of time and money into Sacrewell last year to ensure its success.
In April Sacrewell opened its new playbarn with updated equipment.
The watermill, a popular attraction at the farm, closed in the summer for the restoration project and staff said to still attract a record number of visitors without it was a “huge boost”.
Each stage of the watermill’s restoration project has unearthed surprises, but it’s all part of the journey said mill project officer Jane Harrison.
“A great term in the construction world is lively, used for walls that move. The watermill has been a very lively project. It’s a wonder that some of the walls hadn’t fallen down before we got to them but to use a good cliche, this project started just in time.”
In total the project will cost £1.7m, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the William Scott Abbott Trust.
So far the back wall has been completely waterproofed using thick cement, the electrics have been installed throughout the mill house and watermill buildings and the floors have been pulled up, assessed and relayed, conserving as much of the original timbers and materials as possible.
Originally built in 1755, the next big phase of the mill project is the roof. Made from Collyweston slate, some tiles on the watermill have been removed, cleaned and put back exactly as they were found. Others were simply cleaned.
The roof timbers have all been assessed, straightened and repaired ready for the slates to be put back on. Any slates that needed replacing have been done so using manufactured alternatives made by Messenger. Sacrewell is only the second known project to have used artificially made Collyweston slates in the world.
With the exterior of the building getting into shape, team members at Sacrewell are now focusing on the inside of the building and all of the stories, personalities and history that comes with it.
A huge part of the project is learning and interpretation to deliver the trust’s educational responsibilities, and so far the data gathered has been incredible.
“Some of the stories that have come out of the mill have been both moving and fascinating to us,” said Jane.
“We have old photographs that date back to at the turn of the 20th century, and people have been able to tell us who they are and what they were doing.”
The work to the mill has also dug up items long buried, such as bottles from Smith and Co, The Brewery in Oundle which still have liquid inside.
Jane said: “I think our favourite discovery so far has been the reason why there’s an old flag stone outside the mill house. For years workers at Sacrewell have wondered why it’s there and we have now learned that a former miller put it there so that his daughter didn’t have to stand in the mud on her wedding day.
“She was delighted that it was still there.”
All of the stories and narratives about Sacrewell mill will be collected and interpreted throughout the building when it reopens later this year and the history of the mill can be read at www.sacrewell.org.uk
Anyone with memories of the mill can contact Jane or Nikki on 01780 782254 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sacrewell’s programme of events begins on January 24 with an open day to showcase everything the visitors centre has to offer-from agricultural education to camping and caravanning.
Visitors can take advantage of free entry for one day only and there will be tasters, information and a 20 per cent discount off new memberships on the day.