The Tide Mill: still standing the test of time
PUBLISHED: 11:18 19 August 2019 | UPDATED: 11:42 19 August 2019
One of the last remaining working mills in the UK, the Tide Mill in Woodbridge is a symbolic sight across the River Deben
It has been a landmark of the riverside since the 12th century, although not mentioned in the Domesday book in 1086, there is an official document recorded in 1170 regarding access to the property.
With its 850th anniversary next year, it's almost become an institution in its own right and has stood the test of time with a rich and diverse history of ownership.
Although not confirmed, it is thought the Normans originally owned the building and that the Catholic church came in to possession of the mill for approximately 350 years until Henry VIII came to power. It was then bequeathed to his daughter and subsequently granddaughter Elizabeth I.
In 1564, Queen Elizabeth handed over the property to prominent lawyer Thomas Seckford, born in Woodbridge in 1515, who at the time was a Member of Parliament and an official of the Queen's court. Thomas Seckford has been prevalent in the foundations of Woodbridge, building the Shire Hall to serve as the local court and owning the mill for 100 years.
The construction you see today is actually the third version of the mill built at the site in 1793. Perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the mill's story is that of local lady Jean Gardner, who was married to Rodney Gardner, a managing director of Yardley & Co. Ltd, the famous soap and perfume purveyors based in London.
By 1968, the mill took an unfortunate financial turn for the worse and was essentially bankrupt and destined for dilapidation leading to the edifice being put up for auction. In swooped Mrs Gardner, who saved the mill from rack and ruin by buying the property and gifting it back to the people of Woodbridge.
After many renovations and much support from community volunteers, the mill was reopened to the public in 1972 and has been standing strong and resplendent ever since.
Chairman John Carrington explained: "Shortly after meeting Norman Scarfe, a local historian and spokesman for the mill, Mrs Gardner bought the property. At that time, the preservation of our environment, our history, was 'on the up'. Things were being rebuilt generally because of the war and we were merging in to a brave new world. Following that, the amount of enthusiasm that developed for this place and the way the community rallied together to form the original trust was amazing."
Sadly Mrs Gardner died in June 1996 but her generosity and support will always be honoured in Tide Mill history.
Milling demonstrations are still ongoing today on a twice weekly basis led by head miller Dan Tarrant-Willis and his co-worker, Mary Shuttleworth where they produce two types of high quality flour which you can purchase on location. Mr Tarrant-Willis spoke of his love for the mill and said: "People are quite obsessed with this place. With over 800 year's history, I think I'm the 35th generation of man who has lived in Woodbridge as a miller. And I like that. I like being the miller at Woodbridge."
Speaking with Ms Shuttleworth, it's clear that she enjoys her time milling saying: "I came in here with my sister and they said they were looking for a miller and I thought, why not? And that was it. It was not on my radar at all. It's very therapeutic. I think Woodbridge is very lucky to have it."
Dependent on the tides, the mill is run by mother nature and completely controlled by the River Deben and its tidal movements.
With the current climate focused on the environment and the steps we can can take to ease ecological damage, it's perhaps overlooked that the Tide Mill is entirely sustainable using the natural resources of the moon's domination over our waterways.
The giant wooden wheels and cogs operating the production are also in alignment with the natural flow of the land and makes the Tide Mill a very unique and treasured part of Suffolk history.
Holding regular school and group visits as well as being open to public visitors, the Tide Mill Living Museum, capturing a moment in time, makes for a tranquil and fascinating trip.
Opening hours are 11am to 5pm until October 1st with entry costing £5 for adults and £2 for children. For more information visit here