Mapledurham and Meeting the Miller:
“The Stately Homes of England
How Beautiful they Stand…”
Mapledurham House, an Elizabethan stately home in Oxfordshire, has belonged to the same family since 1490. Today, beautifully renovated by the current owners and inhabitants John and Lady Anne Eyston, it is an amazing testament to the tenacity and strong will of members of the Catholic faith in England. A recusant house, complete with priest hole, Mapledurham provides a fascinating insight into life for Catholic families during times of persecution. My recent trip involved a very short visit to the house itself and a look at the Mill. The house with all its heritage deserves a longer visit than we had time for on this occasion, but hopefully I will be able to re-visit and write in more detail in the future. We spent slightly more time in the old mill and I was particularly interested to learn a little about the artisan flour mill and to see some of the machinery.
There’s been a watermill here since Domesday and the present Mill dates from 1626. It was out of operation from 1947 till 1977 when it was restored. At Mapledurham mill, only one side of the mill itself is operational at the moment and the ancient waterwheel (which you may remember from ‘The Eagle has Landed’) looks rather fragile. But grain is still processed traditionally, fed into the hopper at the top and then ground between two massive millstones
Now, the miller, Corry Starling isn’t as scary an individual as my photo suggests, in fact he’s rather a friendly chap who explained that after working for the National Trust for some years and then moving to Mapledurham , he took over a lease for the Watermill this year. As the only remaining working watermill on the River Thames, Mapledurham has a special place in the artisan food world and, the mill house aims to encourage visitors to learn more about traditional flour milling.
I was fascinated by the bell on the side of the millstone. It’s the only way that the miller knows when the grain is running low – kept out of contact with the ‘damsel’ part of the main machinery by a strap held down by the weight of grain. As the grain is processed and the weight reduced the strap is released and the bell falls against the ‘damsel’ and rings.
At that point the miller needs to halt the grinding. He explained that if the millstones continued to grind without grain, it could potentially cause a fire as well as destroying the carefully dressed millstones.
Beside the flour mill, where you can book a morning and try milling yourself, there’s a small shop with various flours and semolina/bran mixes on sale together with recipes and baking packs. And outside, an amazing and very modern device for generating electricity for the estate. The Archimedes screw turbine is similar to the ones used by the Queen at Windsor but, at least to me, a considerably more subtle addition to the landscape than, for example, wind turbines. And it should produce 500,000 kW hours per annum!
With many thanks to John and Lady Anne for the brief introduction to Mapledurham and to the Miller for the short but fascinating tour of the mill. Both the Mill and the house itself are worthy of a visit, the former to understand a little more about artisan food production in the UK and the latter for the role the house has played in English History. And of course, both are great examples of the beauty and charm of rural England.
Mapledurham House is open at weekends during the Summer. In addition the Watermill only is open in the mornings on the first and third Sundays of the month. Please check the main Mapledurham site for exact opening times before visiting.