New report highlights threat to historic East Anglian mills

PUBLISHED: 15:19 19 October 2011 | UPDATED: 15:19 19 October 2011

Sutton Mill

Sutton Mill

Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2011

The threat to the region’s iconic wind and water mills is highlighted in a new report published by English Heritage.

The largest research project into the condition of England’s industrial heritage to date has revealed that 57pc of the region’s sites at risk are mills.

While highlighting the flagship restoration of Stubb Mill at Hickling, near Great Yarmouth, which was brought back to life last year with a £700,000 Heritage Lottery Fund grant, it pinpoints the dramatic decline of nearby Sutton Mill.

The report states that although a survey carried out across the region shows that 82pc of people cherish industrial heritage as much as castles and country houses, grade 1 and 2* industrial sites are three times as likely to be at risk as grade 1 and 2* buildings in general.

As well as Sutton Mill, other industrial buildings listed as at risk in the region include Burgh Mill, at Burgh and Tuttington, near Aylsham; Dereham Maltings; and Downfield Windmill at Soham, in Cambridgeshire.

Bryan Read, chairman of Norfolk Windmills Trust said the At Risk list represented “just the tip of the iceberg” of the threat to the region’s industrial heritage.

And he warned the loss of the trust’s £70,000 annual Norfolk County Council grant from next April – its principal source of funding – reflected the tough struggle facing all heritage groups in today’s economic climate.

He said: “While none of the 22 mills we look after is officially listed, some could certainly be regarded as at risk.

“For example, the mill at Turf Fen opposite How Hill needs urgent work; the cap is not turning round and if they are stationary they deteriorate much more quickly.

“The Stracey Arms mill, which is in a prominent position on the Acle Straight, needs one of its sails replacing and, fortunately, we have the funding to do that work.”

He said the trust had looked at the possibility of taking over responsibility for Sutton Mill, but the extent of the restoration needed ruled it out as a financial possibility.

Mr Read said looking at how to bridge the funding gap would be the main issue for discussion at the trust’s next meeting.

He said: “Instead of launching a general fund-raising drive, I think we will look at each individual mill and what support we can get locally.”

He highlighted the active community group supporting the mill at Old Buckenham, near Attleborough, as a model example. “Norfolk’s iconic mills are part of what makes the county’s landscape unique for its residents and visitors,” he said.

English Heritage inspector John Neale acknowledged: “We live in a very difficult moment with economic activity low and local authorities’ funding affected. There is no getting away from the fact that will cause difficulties.”

However, he said there was still a funding framework to help restoration projects with grants available from such bodies as the Architectural Heritage Fund, the Heritage Lottery Fund and English Heritage.

He said: “We will also be funding a three-year post for someone to help voluntary organisations co-ordinate their efforts.”

Their survey had highlighted the fact that 39pc of people in the region were interested in getting involved with helping to protect the industrial heritage, he added.

Mr Neale conceded that 60pc of listed industrial buildings at risk could not be put to sustainable and economic new uses without adversely affecting their character – so there would be an ongoing reliance on heritage groups to support them.

A spokesman for Norfolk County Council said: “Norfolk County Council works closely with the Norfolk Windmills Trust and is keen for that partnership to continue. Although the £70,000 core grant is being withdrawn next year (2012-13), the county council will continue to cover the cost of the trust looking after the 16 mills and pumps owned or leased by the council, and will help the trust develop a more project-based approach that will attract other sources of funding, such as Heritage Lottery Fund grants.

“The withdrawal of the trust’s core grant was one of the difficult budget decisions the county council consulted upon in the Big Conversation.

“However, Norfolk County Council recognises its responsibility for the mills it owns and leases, and the importance of mills and pumps in the Norfolk landscape. The council will therefore continue to provide the trust with adminstrative and financial support, and specialist technical advice.”

Most Read

Latest from the Eastern Daily Press

Hot Jobs

Show Job Lists