Newest Review: ... bag which was a nice hands on activity for children. We sat and watched a short film about the history of the mill and its restoration.... more
Grinding still in Winchester
Winchester City Mill (Winchester)
Member Name: catsholiday
Winchester City Mill (Winchester)
Advantages: An original working grain mill
Disadvantages: Not lots to see but worth a visit
We recently spent a few days down near Winchester and we wandering around the city when we came upon this little treasure and as a bonus it was a National Trust property so we flashed our cards and went in.
The mill is built just near the City bridge over the River Itchen as it flows through Winchester down near King Alfred's statue. For a thousand years this old mill was busy grinding whatever grain local farmers brought in and it fell into disuse about a hundred years ago. For some time it was used as a youth hostel and then finally in 2004 it was fully restored and began milling flour once again for the first time in over 90 years.
As you enter the building you pass an old bakers bicycle with basket with the name of the mil advertised on its side. You enter through the shop which has the usual souvenirs plus recipe books and you can also buy some of the flour milled at this very mill to take away with you.
You then go on into the mill through a door on the right. The floor is wooden and all you can see is the hopper where the grain is fed into the mill and a large column on this level. There are several volunteers who are on hand to answer questions and the miller is you visit on a day when they are milling.
Around the wall are displays about how a mill works, how flour is made, the surrounding area and watercress farms in Alresford nearby, other locally grown crops and wildlife as well. There is a scale model of the mill showing all the different wheels and pulley and an explanation of how the mill works. There was also a problem solving activity with a scale and five bags of flour and you had to use the scale and work out which was the lightest bag which was a nice hands on activity for children.
We sat and watched a short film about the history of the mill and its restoration. When it was a youth hostel apparently the guests would wash in the fast flowing river below by handing on to a rope. It must have been a dare as not only is the river very fast flowing, it also looks pretty mucky and would be extremely cold too so nothing would have made me get in there!
The mill stones needed replacing so they had exact replicas made in Holland and shipped over, the film showed how carefully these had to be brought into the mill, lowered in to position and levelled precisely so that they ground the grain.
Besides the history of the mill there was also a lot of information about local wildlife and more specifically the local river otters which came to the mill at night. They had set up a web cam to watch these wonderful creatures playing, catching fish and also catching a mink to eat. The film we watched was taken the night before so they do visit quite frequently.
The end part of this level had further displays about bread making and I think they do cooking demonstrations there at times as there was a donation box for contributions towards ingredients and for the recipe cards which were there for you to take if you wanted to. There were other children's activities like colouring activity sheets in this area too. This section was where they had had the bunks for the dormitory when it was a youth hostel; the mill area was the dining room. I think it must have been pretty basic accommodation.
We went below to see the mill wheels and the flour coming out having been ground. The water wheel was huge and then there were several other wheels and cogs which gradually turned faster until the gear which turned the mill stone. It was strange to think how much huge machinery went into crushed the grains to produce the flour, a very simple process but it required a lot of very heavy machinery.
Going back upstairs we had a chat with one of the volunteers who said that a lot of the flour they produce is sold to other National Trust properties for use in their tear rooms for cakes and bread etc. He showed us the raw grain and explained that sometimes they got grain with pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds as well as the husk of the grain but what they actually bought was husked whole grain the rest just came in accidently.
We then went out and walked around the little island garden which was in full flower and looked very pretty with a backdrop of the river with the biggest weeping willows hanging down into the river. It was not big at all and was very shaded so a perfect spot to get a little shade if it was really hot but on the day we went it was actually quite chilly so we didn't stay too long as we were wearing only light summer clothes.
The price for entrance for non National Trust members is £3.60 for adults, £1.80 for children and a family ticket is £9. I you want to gift aid your entrance fee then another £1 is added to the family ticket and 20p to each of the other ticket prices.
Opening times are quite complicated so I suggest if you are interested in visiting that you go on the website www.nationaltrust.org.uk to check. It seems to be closed on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in the months of January and February and on the other days it is open from 11 am to 4pm. From 18th Feb until Nov 30th it is open daily from 10 am till 5 pm, from December 1st until Dec 23 the opening times are 10.30 am till 4 pm. However I would check as they may change.
They don't mill every day and so that would need checking if you specifically want to see the mill working. Usually the demonstrations are on Saturdays and Bank holidays until October 31st between 11 am and 4 pm. On Sundays and School holidays they mill between 2 pm and 4 pm until October 31st again. The milling is always subject to river conditions and having a volunteer miller available too.
There are so many different activity days where cooking demonstrations or treasure hunts are arranged but for these special days I would suggest getting a leaflet from the mill, the local tourist information centre, the NT website or phone the mill on 01494 755500.
This is an old mill so accessibility is tricky so they suggest contacting the mill before you visit if you will need any assistance.
This is a lovely little working mill with a lot of history in a very charming building. I don't think I would make a special visit to Winchester solely to see the mill as we spent about an hour there altogether. If you had children with you they might have wanted to spend longer doing the little activities. I suspect it is used a lot for local school trips for learning about the making of bread from beginning to end.
If you are in Winchester and passing then I would certainly say pop in and have a look. I particularly enjoyed watching the CCTV webcam footage of the otters playing and catching the food. Anyone interested in history and old machinery would also find this a fascinating place to visit.
Thanks for reading. I hope this has been of some interest to you. This review may be posted on other sites under my same user name.
Summary: An interesting restored fully operational working grain mill
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