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28 Mar 2024

Keeping the wheel turning at Barry Mill

Keeping the wheel turning at Barry Mill


Three speakers: Mike Metcalfe, Visitor Services Supervisor; Frances Swanston, Conservation Maintenance Surveyor; John Wallis, Managing Director, Dorothea Restorations

I am Mike Metcalfe. I'm the Visitor Services Supervisor at Barry Mill.
Barry Mill's an 18th-century watermill. It has life that goes back, as far as we know, to 1539. People get really enriched with a visit to Barry Mill.
It's a relaxing place; everybody comments on that. It's a fantastic place to visit.

My name is Frances Swanston and I'm a Conservation Maintenance Surveyor for the National Trust for Scotland.
When the National Trust for Scotland acquired the building in 1988, it was very much the wish of the last milling family that the mill continued to operate, even if only for demonstration purposes.
30 years ago, when the mill was acquired, a lot of work was done and this is the next phase in ensuring continued operation into the future.

This perhaps now is the only working example left in Scotland, and it's wonderful that we are restoring it and maintaining it for our heritage going forward.
The education of life in those times is so important to keep its relevance and that, with this project, is I think what we're doing.
The aim of the current project here is to get back to demonstrating the working mill.
We have Dorothea Restorations, experts as millwrights at restoring mills, doing work to the waterwheel and to the milling stones.
The waterwheel requires a new axle, which is quite a big job, and that's actually what's happening here today.

We've been lucky enough to be asked to work on Barry Mill.
Over many years of use, it has gradually got to the point where it needs a little bit of care and maintenance.
So we're replacing bearings, replacing the main shaft into the waterwheel and generally setting it all back up again so it can mill and produce flour.
The major challenge we've found on this project has been the main waterwheel shaft that needs replacing.
It's almost certainly the original shaft here, although it has been slightly modified, but all of the wedges and everything that holds it in place were heavily rusted.
So it's been a real fight to get it apart, but we have; we've got it out.
The new shaft is going in today, so hopefully before long it'll be turning again.

I love old buildings, but I think this one is so unique for the Trust in that it's very small. I call it the ‘small and mighty’.
The fact that they have a complete working mill, with all the associated parts, I think is particularly special.

People who put them together, put them together well.
They were engineers who knew their trade, spent a lot of time learning their trade, probably as an apprentice.
So when we come to work on them, they are generally built well. They+'re built to last, which means that we can learn a lot from it.
We have apprentices working for us, so we can teach them; generally just carry on some of the traditional methods, which are still the only way to restore some of these waterwheels.

We had a visit from a member and he told us that he was donating a five-figure sum, which has kickstarted and enabled us to begin this project, which is just so generous and fantastic.
I think it's important to add that none of this is possible without the generous donation, without the help from our members and also without the contribution that our valued volunteers make in providing the end product, which is the visitor experience to our guests.
Everybody senses the magic when they come for a visit to Barry Mill.

We are making excellent progress on the conservation project at Barry Mill, including replacing the waterwheel axle shaft.

March 2024 has seen a big leap forward in the Trust’s project to introduce milling demonstrations at Barry Mill near Carnoustie, one of the last water-powered mills in Scotland.

Working with mill specialists Dorothea Restorations, we have successfully replaced the original axle shaft in the historic waterwheel, installing a new 11ft cast-iron shaft manufactured by the contractors to the original design – as we show in our film above. With the axle shaft fixed in place and other work completed on the wheel’s steel arms and braces, the structure is now turning smoothly again.

The current building dates to 1814, after the previous mill was destroyed in a serious fire, but milling has taken place on this site since at least 1539. The complex task of replacing the cast-iron axle shaft is a key stage in our longer-term project to repair Barry Mill and ensure its continued operation for many years to come. We hope to introduce regular milling demonstrations for visitors this summer.

A group of people stand on a snowdrop-carpeted bank on a bright spring day. One person has a large camera on a tripod and is filming.
Filming at Barry Mill in spring 2024

Our next steps in the restoration project, which follows a programme of repairs to the exterior of the building in 2022, include making repairs to the millstones inside the mill and realigning the internal machinery to help it run more efficiently. A local joiner is making replacement timber buckets for the waterwheel, and we will also carry out restoration work on the sluice gates along the mill lade (the channel that takes water to the mill) and the mill pond.

Mike Metcalfe, the National Trust for Scotland’s Visitor Services Supervisor at Barry Mill, explains: ‘Barry Mill is perhaps now the only working example of a water-powered mill left in Scotland, and it’s wonderful that we are restoring and maintaining this wonderful and now-rare example of engineering heritage for future generations.’

“We’re grateful to the generous support of donors, as well as our charity’s members and volunteers, who have made it possible for us to conserve Barry Mill, its stories and Scotland’s milling heritage, so that visitors of all ages can see it in operation and enjoy the magic of this very special place.”
Mike Metcalfe
Visitor Services Supervisor at Barry Mill

The project to repair and conserve Barry Mill has been supported by a donor from Fife who visited in 2023 and was highly impressed by the restoration work already carried out by the Trust, and the knowledge and enthusiasm of the team there. As a result of that visit and long-term involvement with the charity, he made a donation to facilitate major repair work to the waterwheel, and subsequently made a further generous donation to the National Trust for Scotland of £2.4 million. This second gift recognises the Trust’s work to protect, care for and share Scotland’s nature, beauty and heritage, and is being used to support our charity’s activity, especially in Fife, Angus, Perthshire and Aberdeenshire.

Historic Environment Scotland (HES) is also supporting the project to restore and maintain Barry Mill, through its Partnership Fund. This funding enables the National Trust for Scotland to undertake a programme of conservation maintenance at numerous sites around the country, use technology to better understand our built structures, and invest in further training and skills development.

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