See how heritage meets hi-tech at Oldland Mill this weekend

An historic post mill in Hassocks is opening up its 18th century operations to reveal 21st century technology inside.

Saturday, 10th May 2014, 5:41 am
Oldland Mill, Hassocks

Oldland Mill, at the end of Oldland Lane, Hassocks, is participating in the National Mills Weekend on May 10 and 11 which will see 300 windmills and watermills opening their doors to the public nationwide.

However, in Hassocks, volunteer millers are keeping up with the times by using 21st century technology to track the weather.

An array of sensors calculate the optimum position of the mill relative to the wind, the speed at which the sweeps - the Sussex term for sails - are turning, and the distance between the millstones.

Stuart Meier, a member of the Oldland Mill Trust explained the rationale behind the project.

“A traditional miller could fly by the seat of his pants, feeling the vibration through the floor and judging the speed of the sweeps by the flicker at the window.

“We are trying to understand and replicate how they used to do it, using modern technology to make up for our lack of experience.”

The Automated Weather Station installed in the mill keeps them informed of the wind speed and direction on site (as opposed to at a Met Office weather station miles away), meaning the amateur millers can get out and grind flour whenever conditions permit.

Combined with a sophisticated electronic compass relaying information about the direction the mill is facing, the millers are able to keep it pointed into the wind – the safest position in stormy conditions.

Former professor of engineering and now chairman of the Oldland Mill Trust, Fred Maillardet said: “In a strong wind, the stones turn at 90rpm. We can grind safely at half that speed. We are trying to step it up a notch - we want to run the machine at full tilt.

“The mill is a very sophisticated piece of machinery. The initiative came from asking ourselves, ‘what do we know and understand about how the mill works?’”

“Some of the technology is absolutely stolen from Formula 1,” said Meier,

“Like an F1 car, first you put the machine together, then you spend weeks commissioning it, fine tuning it and fixing bugs.”

The enthusiast said that like a rev counter in a car, sensors measured the speed of the sweeps and the distance between the millstones.

“We analyse every turn of the wheel,” he said.

Through a series of levers, it was possible for a skilled miller to adjust the stones to a fraction of a millimetre but without the experience of a lifetime, they could not always get it right.

“What the high tech approach gives us is the ability to reproduce his results every time,” said Meier.

The team have further ambitions to measure the rate of flow of the grain into the millstones.

The Oldland Mill Trust are not shy of boasting about what they have, but say they want more.

“We feel we have the most beautiful mill in Sussex but we want to mill as regularly as possible,” said Meier.

Oldland Mill opens to the public on May 10 and 11, and on May 4 a beer tent and morris dancers will also entertain visitors.

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