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Kersey: Couple’s dream to see mill working again

10:00 19 December 2012

Co-owner of Kersey Mill, Alison de Lara-Bell, is looking to restore the building to its former glory.

Co-owner of Kersey Mill, Alison de Lara-Bell, is looking to restore the building to its former glory.

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PEOPLE with a hankering for the past are being invited to help restore an historic Grade II* listed watermill to its former glory.

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Kersey Mill, which sits on the banks of the River Brett near Hadleigh, was bought by businessman Stephen de Lara-Bell and his wife Alison earlier this year, after the company which ran it went into liquidation with debts of more than £600,000.

The new owners of the mill house, watermill, and Grade II listed converted maltings set in 16 acres of grounds have leased the outbuildings to independent small businesses. But they now want to refurbish the original mill – which was historically a water and engine driven stone mill – to get it working again.

This will not be an easy task as the building has been left to deteriorate and has fallen into a dilapidated state. The mill wheel has not turned for 70 years according to Mrs de Lara-Bell, who described the refurbishment plans as a “very large project” which she believes is achievable with the right help.

The couple are holding an open day on January 5 for anyone with historic knowledge of the mill or an interest in helping to restore the property to attend. A representative from the Suffolk Mills Association will be there to give advice.

Mrs de Lara-Bell said: “We are local people who had driven past the mill on a number of occasions and thought what a gorgeous site it would be, so when it came up for sale we decided to buy it and get our teeth into restoring it. There has been a lot of damage over the years – it was deteriorating badly and was a sorry sight when we bought it. We have already done a lot of work to make it water-tight again and we had to have the walling along the river bank protected as it was caving in.”

Although planning permission was granted to turn the mill into a dwelling, the couple are looking to restore it as a functional mill which will be used for educational purposes and as a “working museum”. They see it as a personal challenge rather than a business opportunity according to Mrs de Lara-Bell, who until five years ago was co-owner of Frost’s estate agency in Hadleigh. She added: “We personally want to get the mill refurbished so we can see it grinding corn and producing flour again. It’s a beautiful building and it is our greatest wish to see it working again.”

She said it was important for local people to be involved in the restoration project, adding: “That is why we would love them to come along to the open day, listen to what Suffolk Mills Association has to say, and hopefully have an input into the refurbishment. Some older residents might even have memories of how it was when it was working and we would love to hear from them.”

The three pairs of engine driven stones were among the last and most sophisticated stone milling machinery produced in the late 19th century by Whitmore & Binyon Millwrights of Wickham Market. The lead from the mill’s valley roof was stolen around 50 years ago, which allowed water to pour through and cause extensive damage and rot.

The couple are in consultation with English Heritage, Natural England and Suffolk Mills Group. Anyone who would like to have an input can attend the open day on January 5 between 10am and 3pm or call 01449 741327.

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