Fears for future of Warwickshire’s only working water mill if tourism plans get go-ahead

Karl Grevatt, 35, Miller and business owner at the Charlecote Mill. Photo by SWNS
Karl Grevatt, 35, Miller and business owner at the Charlecote Mill. Photo by SWNS

There are fears one of Britain’s last working water mills, which is the only one in Warwickshire, will be destroyed if plans are approved to allow tourists to use the river which powers it.

The Grade II listed Charlecote Mill, which is in Hampton Lucy, dates back to 1086 and is one of only ten commercial mills still operating in the country.

GV of two of the water driven millstones inside Charlecote Mill. Photo taken by SWNS.

GV of two of the water driven millstones inside Charlecote Mill. Photo taken by SWNS.

It was mentioned in the Domesday Book and, following 30 years of restorations last century, it now produces 70 tonnes of flour a year.

The Avon and Navigation Trust are planning to deepen the river which powers the mill as part of a £650 million plan to boost tourism.

The plan involves creating a passable river route along the 12 miles between Stratford and Warwick to re-join the Grand Union Canal.

This would be achieved through increasing water depth and installing locks along the River Avon at the back of the mill.

Collect picture of the mill in approx 1940.  Photo taken by SWNS

Collect picture of the mill in approx 1940. Photo taken by SWNS

Miller Karl Grevatt, 35, who runs the mill, fears that plans to increase the depth of the river which powers the mill will literally sink his livelihood.

He said: “It’s mainly for tourism, it’s a £650 million tourism plan - pleasure cruising up and down the river, narrowboats, and those kind of things.

“I would have thought there’s enough canals around without this.

“They would have to deepen the river and connect the canals up.

Collect picture of the mill flooded in the early 1900's. Photo taken by SWNS.

Collect picture of the mill flooded in the early 1900's. Photo taken by SWNS.

“This stretch round here is the last untampered with part of the river - its habitat for wildlife is amazing round here, it has really not been messed with.

“To make this stretch of river navigable the watercourse will need to be deepened and altered and here lies the problem.

“If the water levels are adjusted and the water level is increased below the mill this prevents the water wheels being able to turn.

“Under the existing proposal the water level will increase by about two feet, which is enough to prevent the mill from running.

“Increasing the water level will effectively put a brake on the system’s operation and increase the risk of flooding.”

The mill, which is the only one of its kind in Warwickshire, operates a two-wheel system with a high take of water to the rear and low take to the front.

Mr Grevatt, who has run the mill for five years after taking over the lease in 2012, added: “I’ve not had contact with anyone about this.

“I’m completely in the dark about the whole thing.

“My concern is how are we going to protect the mill?

“But no one is putting my mind at ease and as no one is talking to me I’ve decided to take the argument to them.

“I work by myself - I do have volunteers who come and help me but I run it singlehandedly.

“I do the whole process, get the wheat from local farms, mill it, package it and deliver it as well.

“Seventy per cent of the flour we produce goes to the Asian market of Coventry, Leamington and Warwick for making chapatis but we are now selling more bread flour for the local community and retailers.

“There used to be over 10,000 mills like this in the country.

“Less than 100 still work and less than ten commercially.

“It’s a natural powered mill.

“It is in such good working order a Victorian miller could walk in tomorrow and start work.

“There’s only a handful left in the UK doing this, let’s not lose something so precious and rare.

“If boat loads of tourists want to use the river then all they’ll see is a derelict building where a perfectly restored working water mill used to be. It would be a tragedy.”

Mr Grevatt said Stratford MP Nadhim Zahawi told him he would oppose any extension of the Avon around the mill in the interests of nature conservation.

The current mill and mill house is owned by Edmund Fairfax-Lucy, of Charlecote Park.

He said: “Charlecote Mill has been a working mill for centuries, for all but 30 years after the war.

“Putting further locks in place will certainly jeopardise the mill as a working entity and make a beautiful site redundant.”

The mill lay derelict from the mid-1960s to the late 70s until its previous miller John Bedington devoted 30 years of his life working on its restoration.

There has been a water mill on the site since 1752 and the previous one to that was in the Domesday Book, compiled in 1086.

The Avon Navigation Trust has defended the planned work to open up the river for boats, claiming they will be no “detrimental impact” on the mill.

Chairman Jack Hegarty said: “The trust has had a long-held aspiration to extend the navigation from Stratford to Warwick which would bring significant benefits to both towns and wider south Warwickshire.

“We are already in dialogue with Charlecote Mill and any design solution would ensure that there are no detrimental impacts on the mill or the river levels.

“Our engineering director, Roger Clay, plans to meet parish council and mill representatives shortly.”

The trust say there are persuasive economic and tourism benefits to the project.

Stratford District Council’s ‘Developing Stratford District’s Strategic Infrastructure Projects’ document said: “The new navigation route would add value to the very successful River Festival held in Stratford every summer which could be extended to Warwick.

“It would revitalise the waterways, have a significant impact upon the local and regional visitor economy, and create a wealth of new enterprises and local jobs.

“Indications are that the project could realise around £650 million of local tourism benefit.”

Councillor Peter Richards, the council’s housing and infrastructure portfolio holder, said: “The Upper Avon Navigation project has a number of technical issues that will need to be considered as work on the project progresses, the ongoing use of the Charlecote Mill being one of those.

“The miller has been in contact with the district council and we are holding a meeting with him, the Avon Navigation Trust and both the chairs of Hampton Lucy Parish Council and Charlecote Parish Council in early September to fully understand the history of the mill, its current use and any potential issues.

“As further work is undertaken on this project we will be working with the miller and the parish councils to find a suitable solution to the technical issues that arise.”