The only millwright in the North of England is set to be taken on at one of Britain’s most historic mills to continue its restoration and help secure the future of the heritage asset.
Cultura Trust, the owners of 18th century Gayle Mill, near Hawes, said taking on blacksmith and farrier Steve Green as a trainee millwright would help preserve such 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.
Its says the scheme aims to prevent industrial heritage, such as the grade II* listed property’s unique three generations of turbines in place of waterwheels and belt-driven woodworking machines in place of millstones, from seizing up entirely.
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 people and re-skilling more experienced participants across the North of England.
After receiving a grant of £60,777 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Cultura has designed training and activities to upskill the trainee millwright and enable as many people to meet him and pick up skills.
It is hoped the initiative will see the restoration of the mill’s 19th century machinery, including its very rare double-vortex turbines, as well as see vital health and safety checks on other elements of the heritage asset.
In addition, the trainee millwright will be tasked with training the mill’s team of volunteers to operate the machinery, so that it can move from being a museum to a working mill.
Stuart Parsons, the mill’s manager, said one key impact of the initiative would be enabling the mill to significantly increase its income.
He said it would produce a range of positive consequences that could benefit the mill’s future as much as the works following the building’s plight coming to national attention on the BBC’s Restoration programme in 2004.
Mr Parsons said: “The millwright will almost be a knight on a white charger for the mill. It is vitally important for different mills in the region that somebody has the technical knowledge and understanding to keep them running that is just a car journey away.”
He said while the trainee millwright would work at several historic mills, including Heron Mill in Oldham and Warwick Bridge near Carlisle, the scheme would enable the mill’s volunteers to illustrate its importance as a historic regional production centre.
Mr Parsons, who is also a North Yorkshire County councillor, said: “This is a very exciting project as it holds the prospect of a completely new future for connected heritage sites.
“We have got lots of visitors that have said as soon as the machinery is up and running we will be coming back.”
Mr Green said he had applied for the millwright role as he wanted to learn the mysteries and techniques of the ancient trade.
He said: “You read about millwrights in archives and old business lists like Kelly’s Directories but then the trail goes cold – they’re just not there on Google or anywhere. Millwrights have to be a master-of-all-trades – mechanical engineers, joiners, metalworkers, masons. That really appealed.”