The missing link in mill development

At the mill: from left ' David Clowes, trustee Graham Warrender, Jim Conlay, chairman Kay Jenkinson and company secretary Bobbie Ashton. Photo (TIM WILSON): SG090912-134TW
At the mill: from left ' David Clowes, trustee Graham Warrender, Jim Conlay, chairman Kay Jenkinson and company secretary Bobbie Ashton. Photo (TIM WILSON): SG090912-134TW
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A BATTERED old building on the edge of a field on the outskirts of Long Sutton is – despite appearances to the contrary – extremely important.

In fact the mill built in 1779 on Roman Bank in Lutton Gowts is so important that it has been designated a Grade 1 listed building by English Heritage.

Lutton Gowts Mill, or Sneath’s Mill as it is known locally after the last miller, is what David Clowes, a member of Sneath’s Mill Trust and a long-time windmill enthusiast, calls “the missing link in mill development”.

It’s an early tower mill which, at 26 feet high, is shorter than mills subsequently built much higher to catch the wind. It also retains much of its ancient wooden machinery, again unusual as iron was used in subsequent designs. The mill also had cloth sails.

It’s undoubtedly an important building, and one that the trust, which has been gifted the mill, is working to preserve, but some members feel they are actually being hampered in their aspirations because the Grade 1 listing prevents enthusiastic amateurs from the community from getting involved.

“It’s a millstone round our necks,” says fellow trust member Jim Conlay wryly of the listing. “If it had been Grade 2 we could get volunteers on the building but we can’t touch it without getting permission for everything and because you can’t get volunteers working on it there is no interest.”

To make matters worse, it won’t ever be a working mill again because the maintenance would be so difficult, so although the mill will be an education resource it is unlikely to be as big a visitor attraction as, say, Moulton Mill.

David agrees that, for such a significant building, it has had an “unfortunate life”. He says: “Unlike other mills it has had no group of people interested in really getting into it to preserve it.”

Long Sutton Civic Society intervened in the 1970s, removing some of the machinery to protect it and, in the 1980s, again trying to preserve the mill, and it was from this core of interest that Sneath’s Mill Trust was established.

Interest was revived last month when the mill was opened to the public for the first time in its history during Heritage Open Days 2012.

Visitors were able to see the preservation work that has been carried out so far, under the professional guidance of conservation architects Anderson & Glenn at Frampton West, to secure and weatherproof the structure, repair weak and failing brickwork, prop collapsed machinery and provide a temporary roof, all paid for from funding by English Heritage, the Architectural Heritage Fund and several other organisations.

Yet at one time Sneath’s Mill, and the other mills that David and Jim say would once have been a familiar feature along Lutton Gowts, were crucial in milling the corn grown in the area in order to feed the local population when bread was a staple of the diet.

Relatively little is known of the mill’s history other than that the last miller was a man called John Sneath who finished milling corn there in the late 1930s. It is also known that at one time the Lord of the Manor of Sutton Holland, which included Long Sutton, leased a plot of land to Thomas Aycliff on a 99-year lease.

Originally, the mill had a boat shaped boarded cap or roof which rotated to bring the sails into the wind, and one of the priorities is to replace this.

However, before the next stage of repairs to the mill and other buildings on the site, the trust needs to apply for more funding.

David said: “We really need enthusiasm from people like solicitors and accountants, people who can work behind the scenes in getting grants and going through planning applications and everything like that.

“In ten years’ time, if nobody has done anything to the mill, and if we haven’t got a proper cap on it, it will be in danger of being lost from weather and pigeon penetration.”

David would also be interested in any historic information people may have about the mill or an adjacent shed used as an abattoir, in particular memories of what was going on there in the 1930s and 1940s. If you can help, contact him on 01945 420219.