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Observations on the history of Michaelchurch Mill – Alan Stoyel, SPAB

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Michaelchurch Escley




Michaelchurch mill: Summary of observations and comments by Alan Stoyel [Mills section: The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings] at a visit on 15 December 2006.


The waterwheel and great spur wheel may be by Thomas Bray, millwright and iron founder in Hereford c. 1840-50; the round spokes and structure of the waterwheel are typical of his known work, for example at the watermill in Eaton Bishop. The spur wheel is probably of the same era and may have been cast in Bray’s foundry, though there do not seem to be any maker’s marks. The launder and penstock may likewise have been made in Bray’s workshops; he sometimes signed or marked his launders, though again there is no sign on the one at Michaelchurch. The wheel shroud was probably also cast at the same foundry, and again there are no visible identifying marks.

The pit wheel is earlier than the other machinery [?c 1810] and was originally made for a wooden axle; pitwheels tended to be the first to be replaced with iron because the old wooden ones rotted more quickly in the damp of the pit than the other wooden cogs would have done. The wallower is probably the same date as the pit wheel [ they were typically replaced as a matched pair] and has 23 [an odd number] of teeth, therefore known as a ‘hunting cog’ – running against the pitwheel with an even number of teeth meant that on every rotation a different tooth on the pitwheel was engaged so that wear was kept even on both gears. A wooden waterwheel and axle were probably used before the current iron one [the centre of the pitwheel is shaped for a much larger octagonal axle and has had an adapter fitted for the current metal axle.

The old millstone supporting the hursting on the left side is a Wye Valley stone, containing typical quartz pebbles. It is a runner stone, with a cross shaped ‘rynd’ [where the stone shaft drive fitted] in a style that predates all the other mill components; it is also dressed to rotate in the opposite direction from the current stones which means that it was used before the great spur wheel/ stone nuts gearing was introduced. At these earlier times a waterwheel would drive only one pair of stones directly from the upright shaft [ie only through the pitwheel and wallower] When a spur wheel and stone nuts were added in later years with the hursting to support the stones, the additional gears meant that the stones not only rotated faster but also in the opposite direction so they had to be dressed differently.

The runner stone in the patio outside at the front of the mill is also quite old, with a cross-shaped rind, but this has also been modified at a later time with two metal trunnions that are leaded into the old cavities. These would have allowed the stone to run in a gimbal arrangement that helped keep the stone level and properly aligned when working. This is quite a sophisticated arrangement not usually found in small rural mills.

It is possible that the two stone nuts were of different sizes, with the left hand one being slightly smaller, but this depends on exactly where the missing bridging box on the left side was situated. This kind of disparity sometimes happens because flour was better ground at a higher speed [ie with a smaller stone nut giving a higher gearing ratio] than animal feed. However the millstones are currently positioned with the better quality burr stone [for flour] above the apparently larger stone nut; either the difference in apparent size is an illusion, or the bedstones may have been put the wrong way round when they were replaced by Ronnie Stewart after he salvaged them from the garden when the mill was converted in 1983/4.

The teeth on the pitwheel would traditionally have been made of oak for toughness under heavy load, but the wooden teeth of the spur wheel would be of a more ‘forgiving’ close grained timber that would still carry load but would adapt more readily to the metal teeth of the stone nuts and acquire a polish during use so that the gears would run smoothly. Fruit wood [apple or pear] was common, especially in Herefordshire given all the orchards locally, but beech, hornbeam or sometimes holly were also used.

The upright shaft is oak, with through mortices for the interlocking compass arms now supporting the crown wheel. These deep mortices may originally have directly accommodated the spokes of an earlier wooden spur wheel of compass-arm construction, which would therefore have been mounted rather higher than the current iron spur wheel, which was hung on the original shaft later. The old wooden waterwheel may also have been smaller than the current iron one, and the wooden axle may have been mounted at a somewhat different level.




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