Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Biodiversity in our waterways

Reintroduction of plantlife

As well as providing our Licence for Water Abstraction to generate electricity, Environment Agency have so many different functions and are helping us in so many ways:
  • sharing our concern with the Millpond leak and are advising us, where possible and practicable;
  • offering talks to groups, and also providing pictures and information for publication on our stretch of the River Dour environment, including all wildlife, invertebrates, water plants, brown trout, and many other species of animals and plant;
  • watercourse and waterflow management because over the years the way the river flows through and passed the Mill has become uneven and needs to be properly managed and maintained again, equally on both sides of the Mill;
  • EA Operations Delivery staff have used a small machine to enhance the depth of a low - flow channel in the river and have hand raked the riverbed to re-create natural meanders and pools. This should enhance the biodiversity in river and improve the spawning sites for wild brown trout;
  • this is also beneficial improving the efficiency of the waterwheel by reducing backwash. The wheel no longer sits in water, the way it was originally designed to work.
At this stage, of particular importance is the introduction to the River Dour a plant which is typically a characteristic, defining water plant of a chalk stream or river. It is curiously absent from the River Dour and is being reintroduced in our stretch of the river first.

Water Crowfoot - "Ranunculus" - is like a missing part of the puzzle of the natural habitat, most unusual. Some of the benefits are that it grows submerged in the channel, it cleans the gravel for trout; it has beautiful white flowers in the spring and helps aerate the water. It is good for invertebrates to eat and it substantially increases biodiversity.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006


Crab Apple (‘Malus’) described in Trees For Life by Frank P. Matthews as “the most diverse of garden trees; flower, foliage, fruit and autumn colours.”

Mill Garden Restoration: It’s thought that Crab Apples have been grown here for over a thousand years and have a close association to the name ‘Crabble’. Even in Roman times Crab Apples were stored as ripened and dried fruit, also crushed to produced cider or the liquid sold as a culinary item called “verjuice”. It’s also thought that early mills here pressed apples into cider as well as ground grain into flour.

Brogdale Horticultural Trust in Faversham ‘Home of the National Fruit Collections’ with over 2,300 varieties of apples are helping us create The Collection. We have chosen a selection of 16 varieties of Crab Apple trees, each with their different attributes of blossom, leaf, fruit and shape of tree. These are to be planted in the gardens of Crabble Corn Mill.

Our trees are to be grafted onto dwarf stocks whereby they will each reach a maximum height of 3 metres (10 foot) after 10 years growth. Grafting will take place shortly and we will know by March/April how well the grafts have taken. Brogdale will nurture our trees through the spring and summer next year for us to plant in the Mill gardens in autumn 2007.

Sponsorship for each tree is £37 to cover these costs. Each tree will have a small plaque and each sponsor will receive a Certificate with photo of their tree type in recognition.

:: Celebrate a birth ::

:: Mark a marriage ::

:: Commemorate a loved one ::

Species, Harry Baker: dark pink blossom, ruby fruit 'til mid-Oct. Sponsor Patricia & Harry Reid, dedication "The Reid Family".

Crittenden: pale pink flower, scarlet fruit into winter. Sponsor Claire & Robin Sedgwick, dedication "name".

Golden Gem: pure white scented flower, yellow apple. Sponsor The Walters Family, dedication "name".

Sun Rival: weeping, pink white blossom, bright red fruit. Sponsor Mark, dedication "name".

Trilobata: white flower/maple leaf, late June onwards. Sponsor M. Phillips, dedication "name".

Prairie Fire: purple red flower. Sponsor The Old Rectory Residential Home, Dedication "The Residents of The Old Rectory, Ash

White Star: white blossom, golden fruit into December. Sponsor Ant Reid, dedication "Honey, Huskin, Chi, Striker".

Butterball: white blossom, butter-coloured apple. Sponsor Butterworth Family, dedication "Pee-Tree."

Pink Glow: white flower, bright pink apple makes good jelly. Sponsor Glyn & Gigi Thomas, dedication "name".

Gorgeous: pure white flower, glossy red apple until November. Sponsor Mrs E Fincham, dedication "Buster".

Laura: pink/white blossom, maroon apple makes good jelly. Sponsor Violet & Fred Gore, dedication "name".

Rudolf: single pink flower, summer. Sponsor The Goldup Family, dedication "Ray".

Toringoides: cream white blossom, red/yellow pear-shaped apple. Sponsor N Anthony, dedication "for Jo".

Liset: crimson flower, small blood-red fruit. Sponsor Mr & Mrs A. Womar, dedication "in memory of Sheila Howes".

Transitoria: yellow blossom, small and abundant in apples. Sponsor Colin & Maureen Hall, dedication "name".

Admiration: waxy white flower, red-bronze apple to December. Sponsor Miss B Harden & Mrs V Tinley, dedication "A Christmas Tree To Last A Lifetime".

Contact the Mill,
sponsor your tree.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Bio-combustibles :: part one

New Heat Plant that doesn't cost the earth

Before the Restoration Project the Mill never had a heating system, other than the small wood-burning stove in the Milling area. We installed the present wet system to heat the lower two storeys. It's a gas-guzzler! It's very inefficient, difficult to regulate and also very expensive to run in the winter. I'm sure most people know this only too well.

Following a recent survey carried out by the Biomass Project Manager for Creative Environmental Networks, it looks feasible for us to get rid of the old boiler of the current system and replace with an environmentally friendly biomass boiler, a mini ‘power-plant. This could burn cereal grains which are not for human consumption, forest wood chips as well as industrial wood chips, wood pellets, also logs and is one of the most flexible systems available. The literature of the preferred system even describes the use of rape, sawdust, and coal among other fuel possibilities.

Of the cereal crops oats have been found to be the best type of grain to use. Wheat can also be good when mixed with 1% limestone flour. A corn mill using grain also as an efficient fuel source makes an interesting connection and another good educational link for our Eco Project.

The biomass twin heat system has in-built fuel stirrer and auger-feed, computer control and sensors, water-cooled combustion tube as well as other safety devices including a sprinkler system.

It is so versatile that it will be able to deal with both the present low demand of the Mill and later a larger peak demand once we complete the new project which includes heating the renovated cottages too. This will obviously depend on the levels of efficiency of each building, but the potential is there!

It'’s likely we are eligible for Low Carbon grant funding and we are also looking into other sources before looking at the full spec. However, at the moment it IS looking optimistic and achievable.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Mill Architecture

Form and function

Evidence suggests that corn milling at Crabble goes back to thirteenth century. Most likely there was a natural spring-fed pond or a widening of the river at this pont. It being an ideal site, mills have been built there ever since.

Being functional structures they were built, not to look pretty on the landscape, but a practical utilitarian job to do using whatever materials were available locally and cheaply, often reclaimed, secondhand timbers and so on. Certainly, in our Crabble Mill there still remains some timbers which pre-date the Mill, most likely older ships timbers.

Our Mill was build in a number of stages and the 1812 version did not look like this. Certainly there was no annex (the two storey extension), it could have been five storeys not six, and it had a different waterwheel configuration. This Mill originally co-existed with the previous little mill (mentioned in a previous post), and as business grew and technology improved the Mill grew and was extended a number of times.

The rooves were made of tar and papier mache as they had to span large areas with small internal roof supports, and also the pitch of the rooves were very shallow. Therefore, slates or tiles were unsuitable. Paper would have been plentiful, probably sourced from the paper mills down stream. Now, in our Restoration in 1990 we replaced tar and papier mache with a more practical solution and covered the rooves with a coated stainless steel.

The building structure of this 'machine' comprises 2.5 storeys made from brick in order to provide a strong and solid base to house the prime movement of the waterwheel, the main internal gearings and the millstones. There is a massive about of weight and movement for it to 'hold'. The upper 3.5 storeys are timber framed with weather cladding. This is not because they ran out of bricks! It's because this has to be much more flexible and be able to move and absorb the energies more of the mechanisms contained within i.e. the seperators, cleaners and graders. It also has to contain all the different storage bins. So, you can see that the upper storeys had a different function that the lower.

The brickwork is laid in 'Flemish Bond' which contrasts from modern style brickworks. There's no cavity walls. Some of the headers are a metallic purple which is caused by vitrification in the kiln.

The windows are sash with the tradition of twelve panes and set in an approximate symetrical configuration. Shutters are required for practical purposes.

The lucam is the top housing projecting out, which protects the hoist gear. Almost beneath it on level 4 a hood covers the vent extractor system. On the opposite side of the Mill on the top level there's another vent which is connected to the smutter. Our old pictures show that the smuts were not just blown out into the atmosphere but were taken down a long trunking to the river.

The most recent necessary alterations to the Mill are the stairtower and the bridge. Both were added in the 1990's Restoration in order to meet modern requirements (and convenience) to allow public access into the Mill and up through the Mill tower.

The entrance to the Tea Room, previously was simply a door to enable the miller to access the waterwheel enclosure and also up the centre bank ("bund") to use the regulating sluice between the pond and river which probably had to be done twice a day.

The weir is zig-zag shaped to allow a slow 'overflow' of surplus energy with minimum disturbance. As well as the dam walls which need maintenance, there are also 4 sluice mechanisms. The main waterwheel sluice to power the Mill is located at the midpoint of the wheel (hence the it being a 'breastshot' type). There should be a sluice to control the flow between the millpond and the river, there are also two sluices regulate the water levels of the both the river and the pond.

The built waterways are a 'headrace' to feed the waterwheel, a 'by-pass' to take away energy surplus to requirement, a 'tailrace' to guide the outflow from the Mill downstream to the point of convergence meeting the by-pass.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Site layout

Production & Operation

Here's the 'lay of the land' as to how the Mill complex worked in some of it's busy years.

Evidence suggests that the previous Crabble Corn Mill was still in tact and working but with just one set of millstones (this is in close proximity to where the Tea Room is located now). It's likely, around this time that the 1812 mill was upgraded with a new waterwheel and governor systems, and additional millstones added.

Ancillary Buildings: The barns, granary, drying kilns and maintenance workshops were all on the other side of the river by-pass.

Millyard: In the yard were also two of the mill cottages along with, we understand, a stable for "Smiler" the horse and a small coach house for the cart. Cottage refurbishment and creating a permanent 'home' again for the cart is part of the next stage of the Regeneration Project.

Watercourses: The miller used the flowing water of the river Dour during the early part of the working day. When the river flow depleted, he would use the 'reserve tank of energy'. He opened the regulating sluice between the millpond and the river to allow the stored energy toward the waterwheel. At the end of the day he would drop the sluice again so the millpond would replenish overnight.
The weir allowed energy, surplus to requirements, to flow passed the mill and rejoin the river further downstream. It's zig-zag shaped to give a larger surface area so as not to cause a drag, pulling water the from where it's needed most, at the waterwheel.
There are other two regulating sluices along with the main sluice-board to the waterwheel.

All of this is subject to an elaborate conservation and management development plan in consultation and partnership with the Environment Agency and Rivers Authority, among others.

So much of the locality has been developed for housing in recent times and the mill ancillary buildings are either demolished or converted into more houses. It's important, for many reasons, to hang on to what remains and prevent this reduction happening further. One fundamental reason is the conservation and protection of England's sites of important industrial archaeology, such as this Mill. Hence it's Grade Two Star listing. The local designated Conservation Area is because of the Mill property, including it's remaining built structures, it's environs including the pond and the natural habitat of the flora and fauna.

Site plan, courtesy of Doug Welby

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Flour Power: wholemeal from organic grain

"Separating The Wheat From The Chaff"

The millstones at Crabble are the finest french burr quartz, quarried from the Champagne region of France. There are five sets of stones which, in the 19th century was an enormous capacity, and all powered just by the slow turning of the large waterwheel. We have restored three pairs for potential operation, but usually just use the one set. We still mill to produce flour by using waterpower. Our organic wheat is a mixture to produce a high quality stoneground wholemeal flour available in various sizes:

1.5 kg & 500g bags handy for domestic use
32 kg & 16 kg sacks mainly for commercial bakers

Our range of flour and bread mixes are:
  • Strong White Flour
  • Stoneground Wholemeal
  • Light Brown Flour
  • Dark Brown Flour
  • Sunflower Seed Bread Mix
  • Organic Mixed Seed Bread Mix
Crabble Mill has always been proud to manufacture a premium Kentish product as you see from this label, "1st Prize Loaf made from Mannerings Gold Medal Meal, at The Confectioners Bakers & Allied Trades Exhibition, London."

Another label "Pure Bread - The millers W & E Mannering guarantee that the flour supplied for this bread is free from chemical or gas treatment and is the pure product of the wheat berry."

If you'd like to try baking some of the Crabble recipes, or would like current prices of flour just ask.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

What's in a name

"crab apples by the water hole"

Whilst we were restoring the Mill, Doug Welby was also researching and writing his book (currently available at the Mill Shop). Doug descibes Crabble as "the place where crab apples were grown." He goes on to explain ....

"In Old English this appears as 'Crabble hol' ('hol' meaning lying in a hollow). By the 13th centrury this had changed to 'Crabbe hole'. Over the centuries Crabwell and Crabblewell have emerged suggesting a source of obtaining water.

"'Crappol Myll' would also indicate the existance of a mill in earlier times, whether to grind corn or to crush crab apples is speculative. However, it is most likely that crab apples had been grown at 'Crabble' for more than a thousand years. Even in Roman times, crab apples were stored as ripened and dried fruit, and also crushed to produce cider or the liquid sold as a culinary item called 'verjuice'."

Reflections Of River, The Kentish Village
by Doug Welby
ISBN 0-906124-17-4

Diary Dates

More reasons to celebrate more

Check out events at the Mill. The Crabble Beer Festival 26 & 27 May. It's also not too late to sponsor a barrell of beer at the If this interests you contact graham@crabblecornmill.org.uk.

Or, just come along on these key national dates of celebration:

National Bread Week, 11 - 17 April

National Mills Weekend, 13 & 14 May

British Sandwich Week, 14 -20 May

National Vegetarian Week, 22 - 29 May

National BBQ Week, 29 May to 4 June

National Food Safety Week, 12 - 19 June

English Wine Week, 27 June - 4 July

The Great British Beer Festival, 1 - 5 August

National Organic Week, 3 - 11 September

British Food Fortnight, 23 September - 8 October

British Cheese Week, 30 September - 8 October

National Seafood Week, 6 - 13 October

Apple Day, 21 October

If I missed any important days or there's others to add, please let me know.