Saturday, 28 September 2013

Milling course, Cann Mills, Dorset

I have completed almost a full season as a guide at Nether Alderley Water Mill (see here in the blog) and the National Trust decided to send me on a course to learn something more of the art of milling grain and become a miller, as well as a guide. Initially four volunteers were sent on this course last year and have been working as volunteer millers at Nether Alderley this season. The Trust decided to increase the number of trained millers to six, so Bob and I went down to Cann Mills, near Shaftsbury in Dorset, to attend the one-day course yesterday. The course is run by SPAB (Society for Protection of Ancient Buildings) once a year; last year was in Cumbria, but Bob and I had a little further to travel to attend this year's course, held on Friday 27th September.

Bob lives in Macclesfield and I'm in Wilmslow, and on Thursday we each travelled by train to London Euston where we met up, caught the Tube to Waterloo, a train from there to Gillingham in Dorset, then a taxi to our hotel in Motecombe, near Shaftsbury. The total journey time was about five and a half hours.

As ever, please click on any picture for a larger image.

The Coppleridge Hotel, our home for the next two days. The bar (with excellent real ales) 
is on the left. 

The comfortable rooms are in 'chalets' arranged around the courtyard

There's even a friendly hotel cat!

On Friday morning we took a taxi to Cann Mills. John Cook of SPAB comes out of the house to welcome us. John runs a windmill (Fosters Mill) near Cambridge, where he mills flour commercially. Cann Mills is run by Michael Stoate, whose family has run this mill and others before it for several generations.

Some bagged flour at Cann Mills

Grain and flour is moved around the mill by air power (blown or sucked), and by vertical bucket elevators. Here is a grain hopper.

Michael Stoate is working on one set of stones, and has removed the plastic cover from them. These covers (known as 'furniture') are traditionally made of wood. Note the flour stuck to the inside of the cover. This happens when the stones are run for long periods (as Michael's are) and the heat generates condensation. Plastic 'furniture' is less prone to condensation than is wood, which is why Michael uses it. 

Michael has several traditional milling stone sets, remarkably similar to what we have at Nether Alderley; surprising for a modern commercial mill. Though all of Cann Mills output is stone ground, some is milled in modern 'Euro Mills' rather than these traditional stones. The picture shows the grain falling from the shoe, which is shaken by the damsel, just as at our mill. 

Cann Mills is powered by electricity and by this overshot waterwheel

This is a modern electrically-powered 'Euro Mill'. But it works exactly as do traditional mill stones, but using composite man-made mill stones rather than traditional stone.

Here is a typical mix of grains for one of Michael's flour blends

This is a sifter, which separates the fine white flour from 'semolina' brown flour. The semolina is sifted again to extract more fine white from it. 

At lunchtime we enjoyed some lovely egg, ham, and cheese sandwiches, the bread made with Cann Mills flour of course. These were washed down with some delicious elder flower cordial. Opposite on the right is Bob, my fellow Nether Alderley guide, and next to him is Ursula and Brian from Clyston Mill, Devon. Ursula and Brian recently enjoyed one of my tours at Nether Alderley (very much enjoyed, they said!). Standing, with his back to us, is Michael Stoate. 

Other mills represented by course attendees were Heckington Windmill near Sleaford, Clodock Mill in the Welsh Borders, Oldland Windmill in West Sussex, and The Gower Heritage Centre Mill.

One of Michael's French burr stones (the top one of the pair, the 'runner stone') removed for dressing. This restores the 'milling' surface by opening out the 'eye' where the grain enters and sharpening up the radial cutting edges. The traditional tool (an adz) is top left, but an angle grinder (centre right) with a diamond tipped disc is quicker and more effective. Note that Burr stones are not made of one piece of stone, but several 'segments' fitted together and held by a shrunk-on iron band at the periphery.

Michael's Adz is tungsten-tipped. The length of wood is used with red oxide marker to show any high points on the stone which will need to be smoothed down. 

This device on the perimeter of the stone is the 'sweeper', which collects the milled grain ('meal') as it falls of the edge of the stones, and pushes it round until it reaches the chute out of the 'furniture' to the collecting sack or hopper

The runner stone is supported above the bed stone (the bottom stone, which does not rotate) by the vertical drive shaft. The shaft bears on this metal insert in the stone known as the 'rind'. The drive is transferred from the shaft to the rind by the 'mace', the steel component resting on the stone in the picture. It can be seen how the slot in the mace engages with the rind, and the mace is rotated by the drive shaft and therefore rotates the runner stone in turn.

The wooden 'level' is constructed to minimise warping

A man-made 'composite' mill stone

French Burr, showing the segmented construction

Next to the composite and the Burr, nearest the camera, is a gritstone mill stone. These tend to shed more stone dust into the flour than does Burr, hence Burr replaced gritstone from 19th century onwards.

General view of Cann Mills. The concrete building replaced an older structure burned down in the 1950s. The 'tin cap' upper storey was added recently.

Some of our group in the courtyard. The building on the far side of the yard is the grain store.

Cann Mills mill pond

Our hotel yesterday evening, in better weather than Thursday's

The view across Blackmore Vale from the hotel

This morning, in the Dorset rain after breakfast, Bob and I travelled by taxi to Gillingham from where we returned home by train. We both agreed the course far exceeded our expectations, filled a lot of gaps in our milling knowledge, and extended that knowledge into areas we had previously little or no knowledge of, such as flour and grain types, minimising pest occurrence, food hygiene, and stone dressing techniques.

I look forward to putting as much of my knowledge as possible into practice at Nether Alderley not only as a miller but also as a better-informed guide, as I'm sure Bob does.

UPDATE: On Thursday 24th October 2013 I did my first rostered turn as 'Miller' at Nether Alderley Mill.


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