Trouble at Moulton Mill

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Moulton Mill supporters know only too well the definition of ‘dead wood’.

And in their case it has nothing to do with people who are no long useful or productive.

Unfortunately, within five years of the structure being fully restored as a working mill it has been placed on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk register.

It has been discovered that the staging or platform supporting the structure’s most important safety feature – the fan tail – is rotten, and needs to be replaced.

Early estimates to carry out the work to replace the staging come in at £90,000, and while the Friends of Moulton Mill have a sinking fund to cover maintenance, they have nowhere near enough money to cover bills of that size.

“Everybody was quite deflated,” admits project manager Janet Prescott. “It takes the wind out of your sales, it really does.

“We worked so hard to get the building right and you trust in materials and craftsmen and you end up with something that fails after ten years.

“We expected this to last for a minimum of 20 to 30 years and what we have actually got out of it is ten years.”

What was initially thought to be a “patch of rot” was discovered during routine maintenance last autumn.

Further monitoring showed the rot had extended and a second investigation revealed that the problem was beyond repair – dead wood had been installed instead of green oak.

It’s of no comfort to the mill’s supporters, but a mill in Derbyshire that used wood from the same source has had exactly the same problems.

The fan tail is critical – it ensures the sails are always facing into the wind; if they are not, a tail wind can blow the sails off and even take the tower with it.

Remedial action has been taken to make the fan tail safe, with a cradle formed around the staging, and the fan blades removed to avoid any excess weight on the stage.

Unfortunately, Janet says there is no come-back in terms of the original millwright and principal contractor, as both have gone bankrupt since work to restore the mill was completed.

However, Historic England has agreed to pay 75 per cent of the repair bill and the rest will come out of the Friends’ own funds.

Janet adds: “The shock for everybody is we are back on the ‘at risk’ register. It’s a pretty serious problem for us but we have made the structure safe and we are working through the design stage and going on to tender and we hope to start work next year. We are disappointed, but there is light at the end of the tunnel.”