History of Michaelchurch Mill
1900 - 2002
Charles Eugene Price was Miller in Michaelchurch Mill from 1901 until about 1917. Then Charles Lewis and family moved from Lower Hunt House, Clodock, where they were farmers, and took over the Corn Mill in Michaelchurch Escley, together with the Post Office [which then included a grocery shop and a bakery] and a smallholding of about 30 acres. The family included sons Warren [born 22 January1906 or1907] and Eric [born c. 1917], and daughter Cissie [born c. 1903]. Warren’s uncle [his mother’s brother] was Postmaster, and lived at the Post Office. He later took up farming, and Warren & family moved into the Post Office.
Mr. Britain, father of 6, living at Yew Tree Cottage on the Longtown road, was employed to operate the mill.
About 1925, Warren’s father, Charles Lewis, went to run the Post Office at Longtown, which was owned by Warren’s uncle, and Warren Lewis becomes the Miller at Michaelchurch until he married c.1930. During this time he also helped his mother with the baking in wood-fired ovens at the back of the Mill House (just across the road from the Corn Mill). During this time they were corn merchants as well, selling imported maize for animal feed – it was known as ‘Plate maize’ because it came from Argentina and was shipped down the River Plate.
After his marriage, Warren moved to the Post Office in Longtown with his wife, and his father, Charles Lewis, came back to Michaelchurch and remained tenant of the Mill, though George Maddy operated it on his behalf from 1930 to 1942.
Milling ceased at Michaelchurch in 1942. Business as a corn merchant continued at the Corn Mill until 1943, when it closed.
Eric Lewis, Warren’s younger brother, returned from the forces at the end of the war and took the mill on. He stripped out the runner stones and other milling machinery and turned it into a bakery, with steam ovens. Eric moved the entire bakery business to Kingstone c.1950. The corn mill was then empty and became derelict.
In 1984 Ronnie Stewart, a local builder, purchased the corn mill from Michael Hunter, owner of the Michaelchurch Estate which held the freehold. The mill pool was filled in, and the building was extended and converted to a dwelling house, though the waterwheel and remaining mill machinery were retained as part of the conversion. The Stewart family lived at the corn mill until moving to Michaelchurch House c.1990, after which the mill was let as a holiday home.
Bob and Margaret Steele bought the corn mill in 1993. Over the following years the weir, leat, waterwheel and mainshaft machinery have been restored to full working condition, following the original specifications as closely as possible. A number of local craftsmen were involved in the restoration.
Pete Downey of Downey Engineering, Pontrilas, repaired the waterwheel and the great spur wheel, and installed a new water control mechanism.
Mike Griffiths from Clehonger replaced the oak bearer frames for the main shaft, repaired the hursting and constructed and installed three new sluice gates from patterns taken from an original at Cagebrook Mill, Clehonger. Mike also made the wooden patterns for new castings for the watershaft bearings and the sluice gate rack and pinion mechanisms.
Norman Lloyd from Clehonger cast and machined the watershaft bearings and the sluice metalwork, and worked with Mike Griffiths to set up the machinery.
Powell Davis from Michaelchurch and Dilwyn Jones from St Margarets repaired the weir, which had been badly damaged in winter floods over the years.
Mervyn and Andrew Jones from Monnow Farm excavated and restored the leat, which had become heavily silted up.
Finally, in 2002, John and Stephen Burt from Firs Farm completely stripped and rebuilt the waterwheel, restoring it to a standard that should last well into the 21st Century.
The best possible tribute to the enthusiasm and skill of all these craftsmen is the fact that the waterwheel and mainshaft machinery now runs - according to Warren Lewis when he revisited the mill in 1998 - better than it did when the mill was working in the 1930’s.
The above account is based on personal recollections of local people, including Warren Lewis [interviewed by Hilary Engel and by Jackie Stewart in the early 1990’s], and on Bob Steele’s direct involvement with the mill restoration.