Whitchurch Silk Mill has launched a Crowdfunder appeal for £6,000 for urgent and unexpected repairs to the waterwheel that powers the site. The mill is the last example in the country of a silk mill that is still producing silk using historic machines and training highly skilled weavers to use these pieces of living history. Built in 1813, it is Britain’s oldest working silk mill and each year is visited by thousands of people who discover its role in the nation’s industrial silk revolution.
Last restored in 2014, the eighteen months of COVID lockdown and inactivity has hastened the deterioration of many of the wooden parts of the cast-iron waterwheel. The ‘starts’ which attach the planks to the iron frame need replacing, as do the ‘floats’ which make up the paddles. Replacing the timber is a significant undertaking as each piece had to be specifically cut to fit the old wheel – no socket is identical, so each of the 90 oak starts has to be individually shaped. Similarly, each float (paddle) has to be modified to accommodate the drop-in ceiling height over time. It will also be necessary to replace the bronze bearing which supports the end of the axle of the wheel and allows it to turn freely.
The waterwheel provides a vital insight into water power and the industrial heritage of Whitchurch, the River Test, and Hampshire. It powers the historic machines used to weave the silk fabric. To ‘keep the wheel turning’ follow this link to donate: