Chill wind of change threatens Heringfleet mill

Chill wind of change threatening mill

They are part of the timeless tapestry of Broadland, looming over the marshland and rivers.

However, as grandfathers brought young children along to Heringfleet, near Somerleyton, yesterday to witness one of the Broads' last working mills creek into action, there was a special poignancy to the annual open day.

While a fresh north-westerly was perfect to see the cloth spread sails turning, the chill economic wind has left Heringfleet windpump – in the words of Suffolk County Council's historic buildings officer Mark Barnard – 'at a critical stage in its history'.

After being tended by the council under a 50-year lease, the last remaining all-wooden pumping mill is to be returned to the stewardship of the Somerleyton estate.

Mr Barnard said: 'As the county council becomes a more strategic authority, it will not be renewing the lease on any of the three mills for which it is currently responsible.

'It will be up to the estate and local people to rally round and look after it, and it is hoped that a trust can be formed to look after it.'

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However, highlighting the economic challenge facing the estate in maintaining a building that has no commercial use, he said the grade two listed mill was one of only two in working order in Broadland, the other being Polkey's Mill in Reedham.

Professional millwright Vincent Pargeter, who travelled from Essex to attend yesterday's National Mills Weekend event, described the lack of investment in historic buildings as an 'English problem' and said it was threatening mills across the Broads.

He said: 'Although mills are an important feature of the landscape and part of the attraction for tourists, it seems we don't want to spend money on this sort of thing in England.

'In Holland, the mills are all in good order – and they are even rebuilding some.'

Mr Pargeter, one of the last millwrights in England, said although Heringfleet windpump appeared in good order, its condition could go downhill fast without suitable investment.

He said: 'The cladding is rotting and if that starts to leak, the structure underneath will rapidly deteriorate.

'The sails are coming to the end of their life and the job of replacing them will cost about �30,000.

'What it will need at least is stitch-in-time work to maintain its condition until money can be raised for the major repairs.'

The Hon Hugh Crossley, who runs Somerleyton estate, said that under the terms of the lease, the council would have to restore the mill to the condition in which it was handed over half a century ago – that meant it would be returned in essentially good order.

He said: 'It is an iconic landmark and it will be the estate's intention to keep it in the condition it is given back to us and to keep it in working order with the help of volunteers.'