Young millwrights learn craft

The future of some of Norfolk's most famous views looked secure last night as a new generation took up the ancient skill of being a millwright ­- a keeper of windmills.

The future of some of Norfolk's most famous views looked secure last night as a new generation started to learn the ancient skills of a millwright.

The sails of drainage mills are set to mark the Broads landscape for many years to come as five young trainee millwrights began enthusiastically to learn their new trade.

Over the next three years, the young men, who were chosen from hundreds of applicants, will be taught traditional skills that were in danger of dying out.

They were showing off their talents yesterday - fitting new wooden paddles to the Turf Fen drainage mill on the Broads at How Hill, Ludham, near Yarmouth.

With just one millwright left in Norfolk, the Broads' 74 windpumps were at risk of falling into disrepair forever, if traditional expertise were not passed on to the next generation.

The lack of expertise means mills are on a two-year waiting list before they can be restored, despite funds being available to carry out the work.

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The training scheme has been hailed by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), which provided the £714,500 grant for the trainee bursaries, as an "exemplary project", and it could soon be rolled out across the country.

An external consultant for the HLF Trustees, Bob Bilbrough, wrote that the project was "a national model of good practice".

It has involved bringing together millwright Richard Seago, Easton College, The Broads Authority, Norfolk County Council and The Norfolk Windmills Trust, as well as local tradesmen, in order to provide the expertise needed to teach the students the varied skills required to be a millwright.

Bryan Read, chairman of the windmills trust, said: "We have been concerned about the desperate shortage of millwrights."

He added that the five traineeships should solve the problem, saying: "It was great to see their enthusiasm. I find it very exiting. We have lots of work for them to do."

Jake Wilder, of Norwich, who is one of the trainees, said he had applied for the position because he wanted to do something more interesting than work in construction.

The 20-year-old said: "I was looking for a unique trade to go into. This was nothing I had considered before as I didn't even know the trade existed, but I grabbed the opportunity with both hands and I am loving it."

Mechanical engineer Paul Abel, 19, of Attleborough, another trainee, said he had been looking for something that combined his degree and love of old engineering.

He said: "I went to see some mills and it was exactly the sort of thing I was interested in."

The students are to make a trip to Stirling Castle in Scotland next month to learn about traditional lime mortaring, as they must know all the methods used at the time the mills were built in order to conserve them.

County council historic buildings officer Michael Knights said: "They need a conservationist's philosophy instilled in them, as well as all the practical skills. It's going to be a lot to do in three years."

Ten reed and sedge cutters are also being trained as part of the scheme to help conserve the Broads' reed beds.