The Mill in the Suffolk Garden
What do you do if you move into your new home, knowing that alongside the house is a seven-storey mill that is heading for dereliction unless you do something about it? A mill in your garden that has concrete render falling from it and a leaking roof that had allowed the rain to penetrate the brickwork and woodwork.
That was the situation for Edward and Penny Creasy in 1999 when they moved to Burgh near Woodbridge.
“It was a bit of a mess when we first saw it,” said Edward, ruefully. “All the brickwork needed sorting out. It had been rendered with the wrong type of surface and there was a single tree growing out of the top! All the wood was rotting, and it was open to the elements. We were told by the surveyor that it needed barricading off in case anyone was injured. There were a number of years when the mill and I would have a conversation about how much money it would cost to put it right….”
Edward, who is this year’s Suffolk High Sheriff, always knew that eventually he and Penny would have to do something with the mill if it wasn’t to end up a pile of bricks on their lawn.
Built in 1842 to replace an earlier post mill, the 57-foot fantail tower cornmill was originally by Francis and Frederick Buttrum, of Woodbridge.
“Woodbridge’s Buttrum’s Mill is this mill’s baby sister and they were built around the same time. It’s a bit smaller but kept its sails for much longer,” added Edward.
“It was the coming of electricity that really did for windmills,” explained Penny. “The mills of Suffolk and Norfolk were no longer needed.”
Burgh Mill was already missing its sails when the Creasy’s moved in. In 1925 the owner, Amos Clarke, had removed the internal machinery and the cast iron went for scrap. He added an asphalt roof, the two upper windows were bricked in and a water tank was added to supply the house.
“It was only by these fortunate means that the tower survived; in the same year three other Suffolk tower mills, including one at nearby Hasketon, were entirely demolished,” as the display boards in the mill explain.
Another board tells the story of how during World War Two the mill tower was used as a look-out post by the Observer Corps.
“It was Station B2 and was manned by people from the local villages who stood at the top in the freezing cold, looking for bombers coming from Germany and ringing through to London to give advance warning of air raids,” Edward elaborated. “They were all local and we still have their names on the top. One of them was the headmaster of the village school.”
In 1988 the mill tower and granary was assigned a Grade Two Listing.
So, what do you do with a mill you have acquired?
“The mill is in the Suffolk River Valleys Environmentally Sensitive Area and Penny talked to the DEFRA officer responsible, who mentioned that grants had been made available to historic agricultural buildings in the ESA so they could be preserved. The mill is obviously an historically important building, so in 2002 we applied for grants and were also given one by Suffolk County Council. It was Mark Barnard, Suffolk County Council’s Historic Buildings Officer, and Chris Hulcoop, the Suffolk millwright, who designed and supervised the work. Of course, without the sizeable grant from DEFRA, we couldn’t have done the job.”
In 2004 work began to repair the tower, replace the windows, and doors and fit a new roof and viewing platform. It took 18 months, with 7000 bricks replaced, and others repointed.
“Chris Hulcoop was the person who knew all the people who were needed for the project. He is a millwright and is absolutely passionate about these buildings; and has done so much single-handedly to keep Suffolk’s mills in the condition you see them now. He designed, built and installed the new roof as a vital part of the project.”
Unfortunately, even now the mill is still without its sails.
“It was beyond my chequebook to replace the missing sails and, if you do have sails, you need someone here the whole time to look after them, pointing them to the wind so the top doesn’t blow off! They take a lot of maintenance so it’s no mean undertaking. As much as I love my mill, I wasn’t going to do that!”
“The mill is not open to the public but anyone who is interested is welcome and we are very happy to take them round.”
When asked which is his favourite part of the mill, Edward stops to think.
“It’s the big room on the second floor,” he decided, “as, with a bit of imagination, it gives such a good idea of what an industrial site it was; you can see in the little kinks in the wall where there was machinery and chutes. Grinding corn was absolutely essential to the making of bread and mills were a really crucial part of rural industry.”
This July, representatives of some of Suffolk’s charities will be invited to the annual High Sheriff’s reception which Edward and Penny will host at the mill.
There are 55 High Sheriff’s in the country and the history of the unelected, unpaid and non-political role, dates back 1000 years when they were responsible for law enforcement and the courts, on behalf of the monarch. Today, still representing the Queen in judicial matters, like other High Sheriff’s, Edward will be supporting Suffolk’s institutions, the courts and emergency services, as well as visiting charities to thank them and hear about their plans.
“I previously worked at Lloyd’s of London Insurance and commuted there from Suffolk for 24 of 43 years. Recently I have focused more heavily on charity work. During my year in office, my aim is to visit Suffolk’s charities and organisations in person, thanking them for their work during Covid and encouraging them to continue in the future.”
As a long-term member of Pilotlight, a London based charity which brings together experienced managers and small charities to help the charities become more sustainable and effective organisations, Edward will also be working during his year in office to set up a Pilotlight programme in Suffolk.
But of course, being able to share his wonderful mill, as he and Penny host a thank you party for the charities, will be a highlight of his year.
(This article was first published in Suffolk Norfolk Life magazine in July 2021)