WHITEMILL VIRTUAL TOUR

Ground Floor First Floor Second Floor

Cottage End Drive Gear 1
We begin our tour of Whitemill in the south east Corner of the ground floor. The most remarkable thing that we note when looking from here is that there is no cast-iron visible at all. Everything we see from here is, so far as we are aware, the original timber drive gear from the installation in 1776.

However, if you look closely at the pit wheel (the one standing up vertically against the brick wall at the back of the pit) you will notice that the hub and spokes have in fact been replaced. This is to be expected because, when the mill is working, the pit wheel is usually immersed in water.

According to the National Trust survey of the building; the timber used for the vast bulk of the construction is elm. Elm is a very good wood for building mills, although not as strong as oak, its internal structure is more resistant to vibration. Elm is also very tolerant of repeated wetting and drying - inevitable in a mill which floods annually.
Pit Wheel & Wallower Wallower
The pit wheel engages with the wallower to drive the main shaft. The wallower is unusual for being of solid construction but, as can be seen, it is now in very poor condition. The main shaft carries two additional gears: the spur wheel, immediately above the wallower, which drives the millstones and a crown wheel at the top of the shaft which drives various ancillary equipment.
Great Spur Wheel - Cog Detail Great Spur Wheel - Inner Rim Detail
The cogs, or teeth, of the spur wheel are of fruit wood (most likely apple) which is traditional. Compared with elm, apple is relatively brittle and, should there be a problem with the machinery, the apple cogs will shear, and disconnect the drive before anything more expensive gets damaged. The cogs of the spur wheel are easy to replace. They protrude through to the inside of the rim where a nail holds them securely in place so if the outside part is broken off then a quick whack from the inside with a mallet will remove the remains of the broken cog. The miller will have a supply of spare cogs as insurance. The spur wheel was originally held together solely with wooden pegs, but we can see where it has been reinforced with hand-made bolts from the local blacksmith.
East End Sack Hoist with Operator
From this corner we can also see the sack hoist. With a typical grain sack weighing over two hundredweight and the milling process beginning on the third floor, one can see that the miller will welcome any help he can get with lifting the sacks. The sack is attached to the lifting rope and the drive is then applied by pulling the remote control cord. The sack then proceeds up to the top of the mill through a series of trapdoors which we shall see later. The arrangement shown here is actually a dummy because the winding gear at this end of the mill has been lost (though it is intact at the other end of the building). More commonly the hoist rope was terminated in a short length of chain which could quickly and easily be looped around the top of the sack before lifting tension pulled it tight.
Cottage End Meal Spout Cottage End Hurst Frame - Decorative Detail
The machinery of the mill is supported on a large wooden structure known as the Hurst frame. In Whitemill the Hurst frame is notable for the fact that its main timbers have a decorative beading on each corner. Hurst frames are usually completely unadorned. For that matter, the meal chute is normally purely functional in appearance and is not inspired by the domes of the Brighton Pavilion. Clearly our millwright had not read the rules.
New Foot on Hurst Frame
We also see that each leg of the Hurst frame has had a new foot fitted. This end of the mill has been out of use now for over 130 years and flood silts, deposited each winter, were not being cleared. Eventually the levels built up so far that the feet of the frame were sitting in permanently damp mud and, under these conditions, even elm will rot. The replacement timber is all of oak due to the shortage of good elm following the outbreak of Dutch elm disease.
Millstones & Drive Gear
The drive to the millstones themselves is provided by the stone-nuts. These small gears are driven by the spur wheel, the difference in size providing a great increase in rotational speed for the millstones. The shaft, on which the stone-nut is mounted, passes up through the floor and through the centre of the bed-stone (which is fixed immovably in the floor) and has the runner-stone balancing on top of it. The runner-stone weighs approximately three-quarters of a ton and would have rotated at approximately 150RPM.

The stone-nuts are fitted with three removable cogs, known as slip-cogs, which can be removed to prevent the stone-nuts from engaging with the spur wheel. This allows one set of millstones to be isolated from the drive system so that routine maintenance can be carried out on these stones while the rest of the mill carries on working.
Great Spur Wheel & Stone Nut
When the slip-cogs have been removed, the stone-nut is held in the disengaged position by an iron rod acting as a kind of hand brake. Note that this rod cannot possibly be used to stop the stones when they are turning as they possess far too much momentum. The only reliable way of stopping the runner-stone when it is in motion is to turn off the water supply and wait patiently.
Wheel Chamber
Crossing over the mill leat, to the western half of the mill, we can look into the wheel chamber. The lower part of this chamber is constructed of good quality stonework and is clearly much older than the mill above it. It may be as old as the 14th century. We see that there are two independent channels for the waterwheels to sit in. Although the wheels themselves rotted away many years ago we can see how large they were from the grooves they have scraped on the walls (approximately 12 feet in diameter). The wheels are quite narrow for their diameter, this reinforces the early dating.

It is believed that the two wheels were completely independent of one another, with separate half axles driving each end of the mill. This would have allowed the miller to operate just one half of the mill at times of low water or, alternatively, it may tie up with an early reference to there being two mills on this site: a grist mill (for grain) and a fulling mill (one of the final processes in the preparation of woollen cloth especially for blankets). Unfortunately, all we know about the fulling mill is the date of its destruction by floods around 1524. More on waterwheels here.
West End Steam Conversion - Stones Shaft
With the loss of the water supply, in 1866, the western half of the mill was converted to be driven by a portable steam engine. This was a relatively simple project. The drive shaft to one pair of millstones was fitted with two new wheels placed above the stone-nut. The upper, wooden, wheel received the drive belt from the steam engine parked outside the mill. The middle wheel, of iron construction, provided power to the second set of millstones at this end of the mill by means of another belt. To provide power to the ancillary equipment upstairs, the roles of stone-nut and spur wheel were reversed, the cogs being sawn off and another belt used to take power from the stone-nut to the spur wheel and hence up the main shaft. The wallower was removed to disconnect the waterwheels as these would have been a drag on the engine. This simple arrangement kept the mill operational for a further 40 years. During this time, it is believed that the miller abandoned commercial milling on behalf of other farmers and concentrated solely on the production of flour for his bakery business.
Tentering Gear - Detail
At this end of the mill we also find our sole remaining tentering screw. This is the mechanism by which the miller may adjust the gap between his millstones while they are running. As he turns the giant wing-nut he raises or lowers the end of the cross beam, the centre of which in turn supports one end of the bridge beam that carries the shaft with the runner-stone on top. Having set the stones correctly, at the start of a day's work, the only adjustment he needs is to compensate for the expansion of the stones as they warm up during use. This tweaking may well require less than one full revolution of the tentering screw throughout the day.

The darker stripe across the timbers at the bottom of the picture is about 2 feet off the ground and is believed to be the "tide mark" of some of the worst floods in years gone by. We don't get them like that any more.


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