Whitchurch Silk Mill

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HCC Site ID: 1280 Parish: Whitchurch
Designations: Mill (LB II*), Conservation Area Area: n/k
Access: Public Access Ownership: Hampshire Buildings Preservation Trust

Location and Site

The small market town of Whitchurch lies south-east of Basingstoke at the junction of the London to Andover and Newbury to Winchester roads, and Whitchurch Silk Mill is located in the River Test in the centre of the town. The Silk Mill is the last working mill of its kind in the south of England. It is constructed on Frog Island, with the River Test on it’s northern boundary, and the millpond to the south east feeding the water race between the Mill and a garden that lies to the north east behind the cottages on Winchester Road. The Mill is a symmetrical, rectangular, three-storey industrial building constructed of red brick. The façade has a pediment gable containing a clock face. In the centre of the hipped slate roof is an open cupola, with a lead roof topped by a weather- vane. Glimpses of the cupola are obtained along streets and alleys in the town. The setting of this unique, historic building is enhanced by the adjoining, Grade II listed buildings at 15 Church Street (The Roos previously Ivy House) and 26 Winchester Street.

Historic description

Three mills in Whitchurch were recorded in the Domesday survey. The surviving mills of Town Mill, Fulling Mill and the Silk Mill may represent the sites of these medieval mills. The present Silk Mill dates from around 1800, and was initially used as a fulling mill – part of the finishing process in cloth weaving. In 1816 the Mill was purchased by William Maddick, a silk manufacturer of Love Lane, Aldermanbury, London. By the 1830s the Mill was weaving silk and passed in to the ownership of the Chappell family, and by 1838 it had over 100 employees, 39 of which were children under 13 years old. The tithe map of the early 1840s shows a small single building at this location on a much reduced site, but later maps – e.g. the 1872 OS 25”map, show a number of buildings, standing in an elaborate garden of beds and paths.
In 1889 the Mill changed ownership again when it was purchased by the Hide family. Based in Whitchurch, John Hide already ran a successful drapers business, and it was his son James who ran the Mill. The Hide family modernised production introducing powered looms, winding frames and a warping mill run by the waterwheel. A new larger waterwheel was installed to provide the necessary power.
The Mill wove linings for Burberry raincoats. Based in nearby Basingstoke, the Burberry’s were related to the Hide family by marriage. Production at the Mill was interrupted by the Second World War as supplies of raw silk were unavailable. After the War electric motors were installed on the Mill’s machines replacing water power. James Hide continued to manage the Mill until his death in 1955 aged 92. The business was then bought by Stephen Walters and Company, Silk Weavers of Suffolk. In 1971 it passed into the ownership of Ede and Ravenscroft, makers of legal gowns. The ottoman silk for legal gowns was woven at the Mill and the gowns were made up in the sewing room.
In 1985 the Mill was faced with closure, and the building and its contents were purchased by the Hampshire Buildings Preservation Trust which carried out extensive repairs, including renovating nearby cottages and selling them to fund the repairs. In 1990 the Mill was leased to the Whitchurch Silk Mill Trust, and is managed as a working museum where silk is woven for interiors, fashion and theatrical costumes.
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When the building renovations were completed, garden designer Hazel le Rougetel prepared a design for the Hampshire Garden Trust; a simple 19th century flower garden taking inspiration from the writings of John Loudon’s Encyclopaedia of Gardening 1822 and William Cobbett’s The English Gardener 1833, and the typical cottage gardens of the Mill’s opening decades of the 1830s.). Early Victorian trends have been followed. A Victorian ribbon border stretches along the bottom boundary of the garden where a succession of bright colours (lavender-blue, brilliant red, rusty orange and rich violet) provides interest over six months and links the garden to the Mill’s output of colourful ribbons.

Summary

The Silk Mill dates from about 1800 although a mill was most probably located on this site since the medieval recording of Domesday Book. The Silk Mill is the last working mill of its kind in the south of England and is open to the public. It is run by Whitchurch Silk Mill Trust – a conservation project that practically demonstrates the work of the mill while producing specialist silk materials for modern interiors and costume dramas.
Significance: The Mill is the last working silk mill of it’s kind in the south of England. The garden was designed by Hazel le Rougetel garden designer for the Hampshire Garden Trust.
Landscape Planning Status: Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council designated Whitchurch Conservation Area in 1978, in recognition of the special architectural and historic interest of the town. The mill is a significant building within the Conservation Area.
Research: EM Consultants, June 2010

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