Breakthrough at troubled mill

Volunteers striving to save a unique and neglected piece of Norfolk's industrial heritage are celebrating a long-awaited breakthrough.

Water is once again running into the millpond at Briggate after its link to the North Walsham and Dilham Canal was restored following three years of effort to clear the area.

The development marks a new and positive chapter in the eventful history of the mill, near North Walsham, which was at the centre of a famous court case and, more recently, an unsuccessful community campaign.

Volunteers working with the East Anglian Waterways Association and North Walsham and Dilham Canal Trust, hope their restoration efforts will attract wildlife back to the pond.

They also aim to preserve Norfolk's only canal, which stretched nine miles from Antingham, near North Walsham, to the Smallburgh River near Wayford Bridge when it was opened in 1826. The last wherry sailed the water in 1934.

Briggate millpond dried up in the 1970s and its boundary became hidden under thick shrubbery and trees, according to work party organiser David Revill. In its heydey, wherries visited the millpond carrying goods to and from Briggate and Worstead.

Water began running again after a final sod was removed from a newly-dredged channel linking the canal to the partially-cleared millpond.

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Volunteers are back at Briggate this week trying to dredge and re-water as much of the original pond as possible before the nesting season begins. The mill, which closed in 1969, lies over the road from its pond and volunteers hope their work will eventually allow the water to flow through the linking mill race once again.

In 1975, the mill was burnt down in an insurance fraud, which saw four men jailed after an 83-day trial. During the trial it was revealed that one of the defendants had links with notorious criminals, the Kray twins.

After years of uncertainty over ownership and alleged land-grabs, Briggate residents learned last summer that their application to have land around the mill registered as a village green had not been granted. An inspector decided, following a three-year battle and public inquiry, that the community had not proved its use for sport and pastimes throughout a 20-year period. But residents are continuing to look after the site and have been helping the work parties, according to leading campaigner Diana Howes.

They hope to preserve the area as a nature reserve, but are waiting for advice from North Norfolk District Council about the state of the granary building which has developed large cracks over the winter.

The site is one of six along the canal where volunteers have been working to stabilise deteriorating locks and clear choked waterways.

Clearance has also helped alleviate flooding problems in North Walsham, which relied on the canal as a major drain, said Mr Revill.

Last year, work parties started dredging the pond at Ebridge Mill and soon afterwards watched a duck dive into the water followed by her six ducklings. Mr Revill said: 'It makes it all worthwhile when you see that what you're doing is reaping those sort of benefits.'

To join work parties, ring 01603 738648.