Monday, 7 March 2011

A visit to Redbournbury Watermill, St Albans

Rebournbury Watermill, St Albans

Now before you think I am a complete mill geek, let me explain.  Having spent the last three weeks in Somerset visiting some amazing food suppliers, producers, farms and farm shops, I was intrigued to know what was available on my doorstep. Surprisingly, it has taken me 20 years to do this, but I guess I was too busy working to take notice of anything else, which is partly why I decided to quit my job and join the School of Artisan Food in the first place.
Anyway, so I decided to visit my local working water mill in St Albans. If you are interested in bread, stone ground flour, milling or general historic events, this place is well worth a visit. It’s a small mill (comparative to Shipton and Sharpham), but it’s absolutely steeped in history. A mix of museum and working mill on 4 floors. I was quite literally stunned by how many old records they have, dating back as far as 1650. In fact there was a mill recorded here in the Domesday Book of 1087, so the original foundations are likely to have dated back as far as this.
Ivy Hawkins, lady miller

For me, the most inspiring thing was reading about Ivy Hawkins, who was the only lady miller in England. Ivy took over the mill from her father in the 1930s and continued to operate in complete solitude up until 1985. This lady must have been extremely strong both mentally and physically, and was likely to have faced extreme challenges. 
On one occasion she apparently slipped and got stuck in the waterwheel for several days until she managed to escape. 

Waterwheel where Ivy got stuck
I wonder during moments like this whether Ivy ever broke down and had a little cry? Her coat and shoes are laid out along with some other personal possessions.  I was fascinated at these and looked a little closer, I smiled, there on the shelf was 3 yards of extra strong strength, boiled knicker elastic, a ¼ inch thick….I couldn’t resist a snapshot!
For when things
really got you down!

Stoneground flour from the mill
I bought every type of flour they made and did some baking at home. The best loaves were the walnut and raisin using mix of rye & white flour and the white loaf I made using fresh yeast with the unbleached white stoneground. I tried the wholemeal spelt to make fruit buns, but they turned out a little rock cakeish due to the heaviness of the wholemeal spelt…better to use white spelt or maybe sieve to lighten it a little. 

Walnut & raisin + white loaf

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