The House Mill

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Ok so we've all heard of the Olympic Park which millions of people visited last year (not me!) so an outing to this historic mill south of the Park was a voyage of the unknown to the unknown.

The House Mill is this country's s largest surviving tidal mill. (London's like that – full of surpising, hidden gems).

Lying on the river Lea it was built in 1776 on Three Mills, a man-made island.. A Grade 1 listed building threatened with demolition in the 70's, having lain idle since the area was bombed in the Second World War, it was rescued by the River Lea Tidal Mill Trust.

I've always associated mills with flour milling (maybe because I'm a baker's daughter?) not gin. There was another resonanace for me: my mother always claimed, rahter romantically I suspect, that her paternal family's money came from 'gin and pawn broking'.

Gin it was that kept the wheels turning so to speak at the House Mill for many decades. Indeed with the prohibition of brandy from France in the mid 18th century, gin took over from ale and beer as the staple tipple of the masses. (Think of those Hogarth paintings).

When grain was short and banned from use in distilling, many mills closed. But not this one – the House Mill continued to produce flour.

Beyond the brick facade the five-storey building is actually timber -framed. Although there are lifts this is not really a place for people who find steep stairs tricky. The water wheels can be seen under the bridge on which the mill stands; these in turn drove the mechanism which turned the mill stones.

The Trust plans to restore the four original water wheels; one of which will be rebuilt to demonstrate the milling process. Alongside external turbines the others will produce hydro-electric power. to run the House Mill, with the surplus being sold to the National Grid.

If you enjoy social history, like old buidings, and are willing to venture to 'the East' then I think this is well worth a visit. I was impressed by the restoration work done so far, the enthusiastic commitment of the volunteers, the secret and picturesque location, which by the way has been used on film sets. I wished I'd brought my camera – it would be a fascinating pieceof Georgian and industrrial architecture to photogbraph.

The House Mill and cafe is open to the public on Sundays. It's also available for private groups. For times and how to get there visit their website

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