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Norfolk’s key role in Pakenham water mill restoration project

PUBLISHED: 15:13 24 August 2011 | UPDATED: 09:13 25 August 2011

The wheels are turning: Piece by piece the 115 year old buckets on the giant water wheel at Pakenham Water Mill have been replaced and yesterday the last of the 140 was slotted into place.; Nigel Barnett, owner of Framsham Forge near Dereham fits the last of the buckets they have painstakingly made to measure

The wheels are turning: Piece by piece the 115 year old buckets on the giant water wheel at Pakenham Water Mill have been replaced and yesterday the last of the 140 was slotted into place.; Nigel Barnett, owner of Framsham Forge near Dereham fits the last of the buckets they have painstakingly made to measure

A team from a Norfolk forge and casting company from the county have been at the heart of a project to restore the last working water mill in Suffolk.

Pakenham Water Mill, near Bury St Edmunds, is able to hold onto its title thanks to work to replace all 140 buckets on the wheel which dates back more than 100 years.

Highly-skilled craftsmen from Fransham Forge at Great Fransham, near Dereham, have just completed the project to replace the rusted buckets following six months of work.

In their place are buckets made of corten steel – also used to make the Angel of the North sculpture – which should last for 300 years.

East Coast Casting company, in Watton, cast the shoe plates, nearly all of which had to be replaced. The plates hold the buckets onto the wheel.

The Grade II*-Listed water mill, which is owned by the Suffolk Building Preservation Trust, is run by a team of dedicated volunteers.

David Eddershaw, water mill curator, said it was really “quite a landmark” to have finished the project, which cost about £35,000.

He said they were “very happy indeed” with the work.

He said: “We are really thrilled. It’s prolonged the life of this wonderful mill. We can be proud of what we have contributed to its very long life.

“The mill has been here for 1,000 years and it’s this work which will ensure it will be here for another 1,000.”

Mr Eddershaw explained how there had been a mill at the site for 1,000 years, with the current building dating back to 1814.

The wheel was made by a wheelwright in Bury St Edmunds called Walter Peck.

Mr Eddershaw said: “It’s amazing. This wheel is 111 years old this year and this is the first time its had any major repair to it in all that time.”

He said the replacing of the buckets – believed to be made of wrought iron – which had developed holes was carried out for three days a week to enable the mill to continue producing its stone-ground wholemeal flour and so visitors could still come at weekends.

He said their flour was in “huge demand”, but the mill only produced about 10 tonnes a year as it was run by volunteers.

Nigel Barnett, an artist blacksmith from Fransham Forge who specialises in restorations as well as art commissions, said the project had been “great”. “You need a lot of patience and skill to do it properly,” he said.

Mr Eddershaw said Pakenham Water Mill was “very special” due to it being the last working water mill in the county.

He added: “And it’s a beautiful piece of Suffolk and part of the county’s history.”

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