ASHBOURNE SECTION CROCA – Jon Layne
In August 2007, nineteen of us spent an evening at Cheddleton Flint Mill in Staffordshire. Driven by water from the River Churnet, there has been a mill on the site since 1253, some of the current buildings dating from 1580. It was described as “two mills under one roof”, one being used for grinding corn, the other for fulling (smoothing) cloth.
By 1778, the Caldon Canal was opened and passed by the mill site which proved invaluable for the two-way transport of materials. At the same time, the River Churnet was diverted to provide extra power for the water wheels and the conversion in 1783 of the North Mill for flint grinding. This involved the building height being increased so that grinding could take place on the upper floor. By 1815, demand has risen so much that both the North and South Mills were grinding flint. Production continued until 1963. But why was there demand for ground flint ?
It was discovered in 1750 that the colour of natural flint (black/grey) could be changed to white by heating it to about 1,000 oC. If then ground to a powder, this could be mixed with clay so that pottery was no longer “earthenware” but white – hence the growth of the Staffordshire pottery industry. The raw flint was transported by canal from SE England and heated in simple but effective ovens – layers of flint being interspersed by layers of coal. After heating, the calcined flint was transported on simple plate ways to the mills for grinding. The grinding tubs were filled with flint and water and the process was effected by the paddles pushing large boulders over the flint. The resulting slurry could then be run off and dried for supply as a powder or left in semi-liquid state (slip) for some consumers.
The industry was a very profitable one with Cheddleton producing 5 tons per week at £100 per ton, the process operated by one man at a weekly wage of £2.50 in comparative terms.
The site has also a number of displays which explain the history of the site and the grinding processes, together with the mill worker’s cottage restored and furnished to represent its appearance about a hundred years ago. Our knowledgeable guide for the evening was Ted Royle MBE who has been involved with the restoration and running of the Mill for many years. There is no charge for entry although donations are welcomed. It is open all year on Saturdays and Sundays (2 – 5 pm) and on most weekdays from March to October. Telephone first to check – 01782 502907). Ted is also happy to open at other times (including evenings) to accommodate groups of visitors. The Mill is situated on the A 520 south of Leek; Cheddleton village is reached after about four miles and the Mill and car park are on the right – watch out for the brown tourist signs.
Further information can be found on www.people.ex.ac.uk/akoutram/cheddleton-mill