North’s only millwright set to work on historic Dales factory

Moulin Gayle. Pictured: John Illingworth.

The only millwright in the north of England is set to be engaged at one of Britain’s most historic mills to continue its restoration and help secure the future of the heritage asset.

Cultura Trust, owners of the 18th century Gayle Mill near Hawes, said hiring blacksmith and farrier Steve Green as a trainee millwright would help preserve these particularly rare traditional skills and knowledge.

The trust says millwrights are ‘an endangered species’ in Britain, with none based north of Nottinghamshire, and that the shortage of skilled historic trades is a national concern.

According to him, the program aims to prevent industrial heritage, such as three unique generations of turbines instead of water wheels and belt-driven woodworking machines instead of grinding stones, from being completely blocked.

Working in partnership with Historic England and funded by a grant from the Hamish Ogston Foundation, the trust will undertake a five-year heritage building skills programme, providing funding to encourage new trades and reskill more experienced participants in the north of England.

After receiving a £60,777 grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Cultura designed training and activities to improve the skills of the trainee millwright and enable as many people as possible to meet them and learn skills.

It is hoped the initiative will see the restoration of the factory’s 19th century machinery, including its very rare twin vortex turbines, as well as vital health and safety checks on other elements of the heritage property.

Additionally, the Trainee Millwright will be responsible for training the team of mill volunteers to operate the machinery, so that it can transition from a museum to a working mill.

Stuart Parsons, factory manager, said one of the main impacts of the initiative would be to enable the factory to significantly increase its revenue.

He said it would produce a series of positive consequences which could benefit the factory in the future as much as the work following the building’s plight which would bring national attention to the BBC’s restoration program in 2004.

Mr Parsons said: ‘The millwright will almost be a knight on a white loader for the mill. It is vitally important for the various factories in the region that someone has the technical knowledge and understanding to operate them within a car journey.

He said while the trainee millwright would work at a number of historic factories, including Heron Mill in Oldham and Warwick Bridge near Carlisle, the program would allow volunteers at the factory to illustrate its significance as a historic regional production center .

Mr Parsons, who is also a North Yorkshire County Councilor, said: “This is a very exciting project as it holds out the prospect of a completely new future for connected heritage sites.

“We have a lot of visitors who have said that as soon as the machines are running we will be back.”

Mr Green said he applied for the millwright job because he wanted to learn the mysteries and techniques of the ancient trade.

He said: ‘You read about millwrights in archives and old business listings like Kelly’s directories, but the trail gets cold – they’re just not there on Google or anywhere else. Millwrights must be proficient in all trades – mechanical engineers, carpenters, metalworkers, masons. It really rained.