Not so run of the mill in Stapleford, Chester
PUBLISHED: 01:55 18 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:39 20 February 2013
Meet the father and daughter who have breathed new life into a 12th century water mill at Stapleford, near Chester
As flat packs go, it's a nightmare. Caroline Jones, 30, and her 60-year-old dad Ben spent hours putting together a water wheel complete with 750 bolts as part of their new business at Walk Mill, Stapleford, near Chester.
Ben and Caroline, with help from mum and wife Sarah and brother and son, Mike, have dedicated the past six years to rebuilding a watermill complete with caf and bakery after discovering the footprint of one from the 12th century on their land at Walk Mill Farm.
The former dairy farmers, who still have a farm at Mollington, were planting 10,000 trees on their land in Stapleford near the River Gowy as part of a Forestry Commission project when they discovered the foundations of a building.
'We were digging out an area on the other side of the river and we found the old millstone,' recalled Caroline. 'We set about uncovering more of what was here and found the footprint. We looked back at some old maps and we discovered that there had been buildings here. To find out
it had been a watermill was very exciting and unexpected.'
Ben is now milling wheat into Walk Mill Flour and Caroline is using it to make a variety of bread, sour dough and cakes. Despite opening only a few months ago business at the mill, which they also want to transform into a museum, is going strong. Demand for their bread is high and local hotels, including the Chester Grosvenor, want to buy Walk Mill Flour to use on their menus.
Caroline said: 'It's going really well. It will be hotels like this that will help us get our name around. We're really popular with cyclists and we're a very welcome sight for walkers. We've also produced a leaflet showing all the pathways around here they can use which people seem to like.'
The land at Walk Mill is an historian's dream. During the building of the new water mill many artefacts were uncovered including a date stone from 1668 carrying the initials RW. It is believed this could relate to a member of the local Wilbraham family.
Also found was an original sack hoist, a damsel that is traditionally used to warn the miller when the grain hopper is getting empty, original handmade bricks which have been used to build a fireplace and the original floor tiles which have been cleaned and relaid on the floor of the caf.
The mill was occupied until 1958 but was pulled down in the 1960s. But Ben and Caroline, who have studied old photographs with architects to rebuild the mill how it would have been originally, are pleased they were the ones to revive it.
'We are part of history,' said Ben. 'It's incredibly exciting. There's a 12th century fort a few fields over, a huge hoard of Viking coins was found in this area and our water mill dates back to the 12th century and is mentioned in the Domesday Book. It records a mill here that had a value of 16 shillings.
'There are some people around here who can remember when people lived in the mill. We've heard lots of stories including how the kids used to be thrown into a bath in the corner of the room after the mum had done the washing. All of this is fantastic to find out. It would be great if someone from a local college were to do a dissertation on it and find out more for us.'
The development of Walk Mill has been nothing short of a labour of love for Ben and Caroline. It has taken them six years, numerous wrangles with planners and considerable back-breaking work. Now they have their eyes set firmly on the future.
Ben said: 'It's been frustrating trying to build here, especially when you think there has been a mill here for 800 years. But it's great now it's finished. I'm just loving being a miller. It's very easy, but it must be because people have been doing it for centuries. Joking aside, we're both now just looking forward to the future and making the mill a success.'
To check opening times call 01829 749373.