“ Address: Doe Lea / Chesterfield / Derbyshire S44 5QJ „
Stainsby Mill enjoys a location within the idyllic setting of the small village of Doe Lea in North Derbyshire. It's very close to junction 29 of the M1 motorway but with its rural location you could be easy to think that you were miles away from anyway.
This is a rare example of a 19th century water powered flour mill. It is now owned and managed by The National Trust but what makes this place especially unusual is that it is still in everyday use and the end product of bags of flour are still commercially sold.
I had previously visited Caudwell's Mill in Rowsley, Derbyshire which is about twenty miles from here and I was expecting to find quite a few similarities. Both of these flour mills are still operated by a water wheel, they both still produce flour but the similarities seem to end there. Whilst Caudwell's Mill uses the latest technology available at its time to grind the grain Stainsby Mill still uses traditional mill stones to grind its grain.
Although the present mill dates from the early 18th century there has been a mill on this same site since the 13th century. Today it stands on the edge of the Hardwick Estate, the former family home of Bess of Hardwick and whilst it provided flour for Hardwick Hall from the late 16th century right up to 1952 the truth is that the original mill was producing flour long before Hardwick Hall was built.
The mill is operated by a huge six metre high water wheel that is powered by the River Doe Lea that is fed from a mill pond across the road. The natural course of the river would have been a further fifty metres or so further back.
The exterior of the building that houses the mill is not that impressive, in fact it resembles an oddly shaped stone built house. There is a small car park and a gentle slope from there leads down the entrance. The mill is set out on three different levels.
The first floor contains a reception where you part with your admission fee and there is also a small shop where you can buy bags of freshly ground flour. The bulk of this floor is taken up by the water wheel which you can get real close up to. As we entered we were greeted by a very friendly chap who started to explain how everything works. The process begins with huge sacks of grain being hoisted up from the floor through a hole in the ceiling. I forgot to ask how much each sack weighs but it is far in excess to what could be lifted by a person. These hoists are of course powered by pulleys turned by the wheel.
To find out what happens next we had to climb up some steep wooden ladders to the second floor. This second level wouldn't be accessible by disabled visitors as far as I could see and this floor was quite small and claustrophobic. For some reason I expected it to be dusty but it was actually spotlessly clean. On this floor there was a series of large mill stones and the grain is tipped into these manually by a guy that scoops out large shovel fulls at a time. If you haven't come across a mill stone before then these are like huge circular stones with hollow middles, think of a two metre high stone car tyre and you will see what they resemble. As the mill stones slowly turn the grain is ground down into a fine powder and falls into trays beneath. These trays have fine holes in them like a sieve and the finished flour when it is fine enough falls through where it is bagged up.
There was no access to the upper floor but I think this was just where the pulleys and other machinery were anchored. Its actually a remarkably easy process to turn the grain into flour but the power of the water wheel replaces grinding the grain by hand and enables vast quantities to be ground which equate to several one kilo bags being produced every hour.
I was very glad that I visited this mill but it is the sort of place that having now seen it I wouldn't go back there again as I feel that I saw all that there was to see.
The one thing that I will always remember about Stainsby Mill however is the enthusiasm of the man that showed us around. I told him that we had been to Caudwell's Mill and he quickly explained the differences, telling us that it was mills like Caudwell's which closed down the traditional mills like Stainsby as they were much more efficient. He also managed to answer my question as to why there are mill stones scattered all over the Peak District National Park that are often in obscure places. I had always been puzzled why they were there and how they got there. The answer it seems is that they were made at the gritstone edges where they can still be found today. If a suitable stone was found it was chiselled out on the spot in situ and when finished sold and taken away. When the demand for mill stones disappeared these stones were simply left where they were, some part finished but many of them complete but no longer with any practical use.
If you are in the area (perhaps visiting nearby Hardwick) I would certainly recommend a visit here.
It is open from 10am until 4pm daily except Monday and Tuesday during Summer and Monday, Tuesday and Friday in Winter.
Admission prices are:
Adults - £3.15
Child - £1.60
Family ticket - £7.90
National Trust members - free
Flower water mill constructed in 184950 and was restored in 1991.