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Steele’s Mill stands to the west of the river Lyvennet on or near the site where the village watermill has stood for centuries, perhaps millennia. The nearby hill is called Milbers, the Old Norse name for Mill Hill, and suggests that a mill has stood here from c.900AD. The earliest existing record dates from 1321 in the post mortem valuation of Roger de Clifford’s estate. References to the mill and the millers’ families continue over the following six hundred years.

The present three-storey Georgian mill was built for Charles Tufton, 10th Earl of Thanet, in the early C19th hence the capital ’T’ on the date stone. It was probably built in response to the increased demand for grain created by the Napoleonic Wars. Sadly, the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846 is likely to have led to its decline. Joseph Dent was the last miller to mill grain here in the 1920s, though it continued to be used as a saw mill until the end of the Second World War.

The Conversion

Eden District Council Design Awards 2007
Highly Commended

The conservation of the Mill began in 2004 with both bat and archaeological surveys and the clearing of the site, this included the removal of 60 years of ivy, debris and  a large tree from the wheel house! To be sustainable the Mill would need a new function and it was decided this should be as a five-star holiday let sleeping four people (the upper floors could accommodate only one bedroom on each floor). Leonard Coulthard  BSc, B Arch RIBA ,of Binney Associates architects of Appleby designed the plans, and G.Mallinson and Son of Shap were the building contractors.

There were two guiding principles for the project: firstly, to maintain the integrity and simplicity of the building while preserving, as far as practicable, its original purpose and rural industrial past. Secondly, to use local materials and skilled local craftsmen. In several cases this involved the direct descendants of the original craftsmen. Charlie Lowis continued his family’s 100 year history as village carpenters, his work included replacing apple wood teeth for the workings that had been carved by his grandfather. Pigney’s Engineering now of Appleby were the blacksmiths in King’s Meaburn from 1840-1950, and David replaced iron work originally wrought by his ancestors.

Fortunately, the main roof had been kept quite sound and though it had to be completely re roofed, using the original slates, it had prevented the Mill from becoming a total ruin and had provided basic protection for the workings. The wheel house had to be rebuilt and the wheel, though never intended to turn again in the now empty mill race, was repaired in situ.

The internal workings remain in place on the ground floor and were restored, enclosed safely behind oak and glass, and uplit. The kitchen that now surrounds the workings was hand made by Staveley Kitchens of Kendal and the kitchen range stands within the beautifully domed stone-cut alcove where grain once dried.

All the fittings and furniture throughout the building were chosen following the simple rules of quality and good design and are generally of oak or cast iron. A policy of buying locally was strictly followed for the purchase of any goods, using the most local supplier, thereby supporting the local economy and community.

The fenestration throughout the Mill is typically Georgian and replicates the original but with modern seals to draught proof and minimise energy loss. The window catches are wrought iron and the deep window recesses have been gently rounded to increase light. All the curtains hang from iron curtain rails hand wrought by a local blacksmith and end appropriately in a simple ram’s horn design.

The staircase and upper floors are of oak grown within a mile of the Mill from trees planted by earlier generations of the Addison family. These trees were felled, planked and then kilned by Philip Richardson, a local cabinet maker. Philip built the staircase the simplicity of which belies the complex design challenges it posed. The impressive newel posts copy the octagonal post of the crank shaft in the internal workings, and echo a similar column that supports the roof of the covered area above the original arched entrance. Building Regulations required the stairwell to be enclosed for fire safety and on the first floor walls frames have been inserted of  oak and glass in three panel sections to maximise light.

The Mill was a “four pair” and two of those pairs of grinding stones were never moved from their first floor location. The conversion work took place around them and ultimately they were halved and laid into the oak floor of the sitting room. The twin bedded room on this first floor was once occupied by a funnel shaped void for holding grain as it was dried by the fire set in the domed alcove below. It now keeps guests warm and snug, and has an ensuite shower room adjoining it with a tiny central window looking out from the west elevation.

The master bedroom, and ensuite bathroom, occupies the whole of the second floor. Higher than any other part of the building this room has a magical celestial quality reaching up as it does into the sky with light flooding in from four windows.

Topping it all is a hidden bat loft only accessible by pippistrelle and friends through the triangular dovecote at the apex of the gable wall on the west elevation.

The roof of the wheel house, which looks across open pasture to the river, offered the perfect site for a first floor balcony. A glazed French door leads on to it from the sitting room it is flagged in village stone, and is enclosed by a simple modern surround of toughened glass with a minimal black balustrade. A happy marriage of contemporary design with traditional architecture. Guests will be able to sit here and watch as kingfishers dart; dippers dive and herons lanquidly fly past. While nearby otters play in the Lyvennet and red squirrels garner acorns in the woods.

The conservation and diversification of the Mill was a lifelong ambition of Steele Addison and was to be his final building project in a series of ten spanning fifty years. The Mill has been lovingly completed, and renamed, in his memory by his wife, and conservation partner Margaret Addison.

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