Archive | June 2014

Linda’s chickens

Our friend Linda is not only a very generous chicken-egg-giver, but also a very talented chicken artist (is that a thing? Well, it is now): she has a Flickr album of the terrific drawings she has done of her chucks using her iPad.

So now I can match the eggs to the chicken:

Linda's eggs: left to right blue ones

Eggs from Linda’s chickens: left to right blue ones = Cotswold Legbar, little cream ones = Australorp; big white pointy ones = Ancona.

Cotswold Legbar by Linda Coleman.

Cotswold Legbar by Linda Coleman.

Australorp chicken by Linda Coleman.

Australorp chicken by Linda Coleman.

Ancona chicken by Linda Coleman.

Ancona chicken by Linda Coleman.

Favourite websites: APOD

After a couple of gloomy posts about the poor hedgehogs, I thought I should feature something wonderful and lovely and spirits-raising. And so … here’s a mention of one of my favourite websites to brighten things up: NASA’s APOD site, otherwise known as the Astronomy Picture of the Day.

It pretty much does what it says on the tin: every day it features a wonderful photo to do with the skies above us. Sometimes they are Hubble space telescope shots, sometimes they are photos by the legion of talented amateur photographers who photograph our skies by both day and night, sometimes they are photos taken from the International Space Station; whatever the source they are invariably beautiful shots that fill me with wonder and joy.

M16: Pillars of Creation. Pillars of evaporating gaseous globules emerging from pillars of molecular hydrogen gas and dust in the Eagle Nebula, which is associated with the open star cluster M16. Photo by J. Hester and P. Scowen.

M16: Pillars of Creation. Pillars of evaporating gaseous globules emerging from pillars of molecular hydrogen gas and dust in the Eagle Nebula, which is associated with the open star cluster M16. Photo by J Hester and P Scowen.

I am completely unscientifically-minded, but I love learning about the natural world about us, whether it is the worlds beyond our planet, or the geology and meteorology of our own. NASA has some fantastic websites, and this is one of my favourites. Click on the links in the text written by professional astronomers that accompanies the photos, and have a truffle round in the archive (link at the bottom of the APOD page)—you’ll lose hours but you’ll learn so much!

The Milky Way, photographed at Bryce Canyon, Utah, USA. Photo by Wally Pacholka.

The Milky Way, photographed at Bryce Canyon, Utah, USA. Photo by Wally Pacholka.

Sun with solar flare. 13 April 2013. Photo by NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory.

Sun with solar flare. 13 April 2013. Photo by NASA Solar Dynamics Observatory.

Crossing Dingo Gap on Mars, taken by the indefatigable Curiosity Rover near Mt Sharp on Mars.

Crossing Dingo Gap on Mars, taken by the wonderful Curiosity Rover near Mt Sharp on Mars.

Hedgehogs and badgers, part 2

Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus). Photo by Jörg Hempel.

Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus). Photo by Jörg Hempel.

This morning I was woken at 1.15 am by hedgehog cries, horribly familiar as two nights ago two hedgehogs were attacked by a badger up our lane. This time the badger was attacking a hedgehog in a neighbour’s garden. I was able to get right up to the badger before it ran off through the hedge into another garden. I rolled the poor hedgehog onto a shallow dish (plant pot saucer) and took it into our garden. As I was watching it, more hedgehog cries came from the garden into which the badger had ran. I climbed over the fence (not very dignified), and rescued another hedgehog from the badger and brought it into our garden and put it by the first one. I went back to bed cursing the badger. I think it’s a young one, from the size of it, and am pretty sure it’s attacking the hedgehogs because the ground is so dry and it can’t get at any worms. Chap slept through all the racket, amazingly.

Sad news this morning. Chap found one of the hedgehogs dead on the lawn. As hedgehogs are in serious decline, this is doubly sad. At least the weather forecast is for rain this evening and overnight, so I hope the badger will be able to get at some worms and leave the hedgehogs alone.

RSPCA website link.

Wiltshire Wildlife Hospital website link.

Hedgehog (and other wild animals) rescue charity website link: St Tiggywinkles.

Wholemeal bread

I wanted to use the lovely wholemeal flour we bought the other week from Sturminster Newton Mill, and found a recipe online for Dutch wholemeal bread which seemed straightforward and hopefully foolproof. I haven’t had much success with bread making (we’re talking bricks, not airy doughy delights) and so approached with trepidation. I have doubled the amounts to make two loaves.

Ingredients (makes 2 loaves):

1 kg wholemeal flour
20 g salt
600 ml cold water
40 g tbsp live yeast
additional 200 ml water
olive oil

Preparation:

Measure out the flour and salt and mix into a pile on a clean flat work surface. Using your hands, make a well in the middle, making sure that all sides of this ‘dike’ of flour and salt is of an even thickness, so that the dam won’t break when you add the water. The well should measure about 8 inches across (about 20 cm), which is roughly the length between the tip of your thumb and the tip of your pinky finger when your hands are stretched out and your fingers are spread as wide as they can go.

Dissolve the fresh yeast in the water, by rubbing the yeast between your thumb and your forefinger until it’s completely dissolved. Add the water to the well. Just add a bit at first to see if the dike holds, and if it does, add the rest. Using the tips of your fingers start amalgamating the inner edges of the flour with the water and upping your tempo keep mixing until it starts forming a thoroughly mixed dough.

The well in the flour with the yeast and water mix added.

The well in the flour with the yeast and water mix added.  Mud pie time!

Now start kneading the dough, pushing it away from you with the ball of your hand and using your fingers to bring it back towards you. Try to keep a good tempo here and knead for 15 minutes (you can also use a mixer with a dough hook attachment). Add up to 200 ml of additional water, making sure the dough is wet but not sloppy. After 15 minutes of kneading, the dough should feel wet and supple (spongy), but not sticky. If you stretch the dough into a ball you shouldn’t be able to see cracks on the surface and you should be able to stretch it (this means that the gluten has been activated).

Form a ball with the dough and wrap it in a (clean) warm, damp tea towel. Allow to rise for 30—45 minutes at room temperature. The dough will increase by about ⅓ in volume. Remove the tea towel, pummel the dough with your fists and then form it back into a ball, wrap in the tea towel and again allow to rise for 30—45 minutes.

After the second proving. Looks like elephant skin!

After the second proving. Looks like elephant skin!

Grease a bread tin with olive oil. Wet the work surface with some water. Remove the tea towel from the dough and press the dough flat onto the wet work surface. Form the dough into a sausage shape with your hands, so that it is roughly the same length as the bread tin and place into the bread tin. Cover the bread tin with the warm moist tea towel and allow the bread to rise for another 30 minutes until it has increased by ⅓ in volume.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 220º C. Reduce temperature to 200º C and place the bread in the oven. Bake for 35—40 minutes. Remove the bread from the tin. If you knock on the baked bread it should sound hollow. If it doesn’t, return to the oven and bake a little longer. Allow to cool on a wire cooling rack.

The finished bread. I had to cut the crust off the second loaf  (slices shown) as the nonstick finish in the loaf tin had stuck to the crust. Grrr! (Bad tin is now in the recycling bin).

The finished bread. I had to cut the crust off the second loaf (slices shown) as the supposedly nonstick finish in the loaf tin had stuck to the crust. Grrr! (Bad tin is now in the recycling bin).

The bread is absolutely delicious, largely due to the wonderful flour used. The Sturminster Newton Mill flour has a deep, nutty flavour. The recipe needs nothing added—neither sugar nor other flavourings. It is just perfect as it is.

Recipe via Karin Engelbrecht by kind permission of Fred Tiggelman, the owner of Hartog’s bakery in Amsterdam.

Hedgehogs and badgers

Chap and I had a broken night’s sleep last night. At about 3.30 am we were woken by the most horrific piercing screams, a sort of cross between an agitated baby’s cry and that of a cat shrieking.

I had a good idea what it was—years ago I had rescued a hedgehog that had been attacked in a next door garden. At the time we didn’t know what had attacked it, but the vet said it was most likely a badger. That surprised us, as we’d never seen badgers—or traces of badgers, such as spoor, footprints in mud, or setts—close to the village.

Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus). Photo by Marek Szczepanek.

Hedgehog (Erinaceus europaeus). Photo by Marek Szczepanek.

So I chucked on my dressing gown and headed out into the lane. Chap arrived shortly afterwards (he’d got dressed) and there just by our cottage was a large hedgehog curled into a tight ball, screaming, panting and grunting. It sounded like it was in considerable distress. The noise was terrific and we thought we’d move it off the lane up to the allotments for safety’s sake, and also to get it away from the cottages and their sleeping inhabitants.

Chap gingerly picked it up using gardening gloves and a fleece. As we walked up the lane with it, we saw the back end of a badger sticking out from under a neighbour’s beech hedge, and heard more shrieking. As we approached the badger scarpered at a lick, up the path towards the allotments, leaving its second victim under the hedge. So now we had two potentially-injured hedgehogs, and the allotments clearly weren’t the place to leave them now Mr Brock had headed that way.

Badger (meles meles). Photo by Chris P.

Badger (meles meles). Photo by Chris P.

So we put the one from the lane in our neighbour’s garden, not too far from the one under the hedge, which had stopped shrieking and was still in its tight ball. We reckoned if they were still there in the morning we’d take them to the vet or contact the RSPCA or local wildlife rescue. Ballou and Hecate had come out with us to see what all the fuss was about, and we all headed back inside. I washed my feet as I had rushed out barefoot, and then back to bed. But not for long.

About 15 minutes later the shrieking started again. Repeat procedure, only this time I went out armed with a washing up bowl as well as torch, gloves and the fleece. The hedgehog was in the lane again—we couldn’t tell which one it was—and heading towards the High Street. So we scooped it into the bowl and let it out in our garden, which is jungly and full of slugs and snails for it to eat, and away from traffic (and hopefully badgers). It trotted away into the flowerbed and didn’t seem to be injured so now we are wondering whether the shrieking the second time around was to do with the badger, or perhaps a mating cry?

By now it was getting light. We went back up the lane to check on the other hedgehog, but both were gone from our neighbour’s garden. Meanwhile the cats were barrelling up and down the lane at a great lick. They clearly thought all these crepuscular shenanigans were splendid fun.

Badger tracks in snow. Photo by James Lindsey.

Badger tracks in snow. Photo by James Lindsey.

We have only had occasional hints that badgers live around here: the attacked hedgehog in the next door garden; then years later Chap saw one trotting up the same garden one evening; and some years after that another neighbour called me round to look at some bloody paw prints on the lower part of her house wall. I have a book on tracks and trails and spoor and was able to identify the paw prints as those of a badger. Maybe he had cut his paw while trying to get at a hedgehog? So in the 22 years we have lived here, last night was only the third positive badger sighting. We don’t know of any setts close by, so wonder where it came from.

We also wonder whether the recent prolonged dry spell has meant badgers are turning to other food sources as their usual diet of worms isn’t available, as the worms have all gone deep into the soil.

RSPCA website link.

Wiltshire Wildlife Hospital website link.

Hedgehog (and other wild animals) rescue charity website link: St Tiggywinkles.

Mary Thew, Arts and Crafts jeweller

Mary Russell Thew (1876—1953, née Mary Russell Frew) was a Scottish Arts and Crafts jeweller, perhaps best known for her free-flowing use of silver wire, with trails and beads, as well as using materials such as abalone and cabochon semi-precious gemstones. Her work is in the collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Mary Thew.

Mary Thew. Partly gilded silver brooch with abalone, jade, turquoise and citrine. In the collections of the V&A.

Mary was born in Hillhead in Glasgow in 1876. She studied for a short time at the Glasgow School of Art in the mid 1890s, becoming friends there with Jessie Marion King and Jessie’s husband E.A. Taylor, before marrying her husband, James Mursell Thew, in 1903. James was an engineer, and enjoyed silversmithing as a hobby and making pieces for Mary; she soon began making designs herself. James died after only a few years of marriage, and with a young son to support, Mary decided to turn her hobby into her career. She took a short course of four lessons in jewellery making from famed Arts and Crafts jeweller Rhoda Wager, who had also studied at the Glasgow School. This must have been some time before 1913, as after that date Wager emigrated, first to Fiji and then to Australia, where she was to live for the rest of her life. Mary became a member of the  ‘Greengate Close Coterie’, a group of friends and artisans who came to live for extended periods in the village of Kirkcudbright, where King and Taylor had settled in 1915. From 1911 Mary was a member of the Glasgow Society of Lady Artists, and she won the Society’s Lauder Award for a case of jewellery in 1925. She also exhibited at the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool. An undated jewellery box of Mary’s is marked ‘Mary R. Thew, 704 Anniesland Road, Glasgow W.4.’  She also lived in Helensburgh at some point in her life.

Mary Thew.

Mary Thew. Silver brooch with a galleon design, set with freshwater pearls, amethysts and citrines. Sold by Tadema Gallery. Source: Zorn Karlin 1993, 143.

Mary Thew.

Mary Thew. Silver and abalone galleon brooch. Sold by Dukes Auctioneers.

Mary Thew.

Mary Thew. Silver and abalone galleon brooch. Sold by Van Den Bosch.

Mary took much inspiration from the jewellery of foreign countries whenever she travelled. She also designed Celtic-inspired pieces, as well as making jewellery with the popular Arts and Crafts galleon motif. Her freeform wirework pieces are perhaps her most iconic, though: trails and beads of wire wrapped to form a circular frame, on which are mounted cabochon semi-precious stones or abalone plaques or freshwater pearls.

Mary Thew.

Mary Thew. Silver and carnelian wirework brooch. Sold by Sworders Auctioneers.

Mary Thew.

Mary Thew. Silver, chalcedony and freshwater pearl wirework brooch. Sold by Tadema Gallery.

Mary Thew.

Mary Thew. Silver, chalcedony and moonstone wirework brooch. Sold by Bonhams.

Mary Thew. Brooch recently sold on eBay.

Mary Thew. Silver and amethyst wirework brooch recently sold on eBay.

Mary Thew. Sold by Van Den Bosch.

Mary Thew. Silver and lapis lazuli wirework brooch. Sold by Van Den Bosch.

Attributed by the sellers to Sibyl Dunlop, but I am pretty sure this is by Mary Thew.

Attributed by the sellers to Sibyl Dunlop, but I am pretty sure this is by Mary Thew. Moonstone and Biwa pearls wirework brooch, with what looks like gilded silver (hard to tell as the photo isn’t the best). Sold by Dreweatts & Bloomsbury.

In 1939 Mary was living in Milngavie, a small town some 10 km (6 miles) north-west of Glasgow. Here Nan Muirhead Moffat, a newspaper reporter, described her workshop:

The desk is surmounted by shelves from which hang the numerous tools required for this complicated craft. The jeweller sits on a high Windsor chair … Within easy reach are her bottle of sperm oil and sulphuric acid, borax (used as a flux), a polishing lathe, a rolling machine, a vice, and a sandbag for hammering repousse. In the sketch, the artists is shown revolving a ring, on a wire ‘wig’, in a Bunsen-burner flame, while she uses foot bellows. While working, she always wears a leather apron and another is fixed under the desk to catch any jewels or pieces of metal which might be dropped.

Mary Thew at work in her studio in her garden.

Mary Thew at work in her studio in her garden.

The reporter then went to look at Mary’s jewellery:

Brooches, pendants, rings, ear-rings, chains, bracelets, buckles and links shimmered and glowed in the afternoon sunshine. I also saw beautiful crosses, showing Celtic influence, with characteristic inter-lacings and whorls, and I admired silver butter-forks, spoons and key-rings.

Mary Thew. Matirx turquoise and silver Celtic cross pendant, signed on the back with Mary's 'T' mark. Her signed pieces are very rare. For sale on Etsy: click on photo for details.

Mary Thew. Matrix turquoise and silver Celtic cross pendant, signed on the back with Mary’s punched ‘T’ mark. Her signed pieces are very rare. For sale on Etsy: click on photo for details.

Mary Thew opal and pearl-decorated Celtic cross. No mention in the description if it was signed on the back. Sold in 2006 by Lyon and Turnbull.

Mary Thew opal and pearl-decorated Celtic cross. No mention in the description if it was signed on the back. Sold in 2006 by Lyon and Turnbull.

Mrs Thew told me that once she had to make silver hinges for an old book, belonging to Professor Latts, the cracked covers of which were made from the wood of an old battleship. Recently she had been making a great many hand-wrought silver tops for the fashionable embroidered handbags. She had also made copies, to order, of antique jewellery.

The artist has an instinct for creating a pleasing balance between space and decoration in her work, and she has a fine colour sense. She neither overloads with ornamentation nor allows her devotion to detail to detract from the general effect of her design. 

Entrancing treasures

In the drawers a heterogeneous collection of gems from all over the world was mixed in an entrancing disorder—American jade from Salt Lake City, Scottish pearls, Connemara marble, New Zealand shells, Mexican fire opals, corals, malachite, crystals, moss-agates, green pebbles, and magic moonstones.

Mary Thew.

Mary Thew. Silver, abalone and freshwater pearl brooch. Sold by Tadema Gallery. Source: Zorn Karlin 1993, 143.

Mary Thew.

Mary Thew. Silver and abalone brooch, for sale at Tadema Gallery.

Mary Thew. Silver and abalone brooch. Sold at Bonhams.

Mary Thew. Silver and abalone brooch. Sold by Bonhams.

Mary Thew 10

Mary Thew. Silver and Abalone brooch. Sold by Auction Atrium.

Mary Thew didn’t often sign her work, but when she did it was usually in the form of a ‘T’ punched on to the back of the piece.

Celtic cross pendant signed by Mary Thew: a 'T' made of punched dots, punched through from the other side before the matrix turquoise stone was set. Signed pieces are very rare. For sale on Etsy: click on photo for details.

Celtic cross pendant signed by Mary Thew: a ‘T’ made of punched dots, punched through from the other side before the matrix turquoise stone was set. Signed pieces are very rare. For sale on Etsy: click on photo for details.

Her work is now very sought-after, and is sold by specialist jewellery galleries in London such as Tadema Gallery and Van Den Bosch.

I was very lucky to find an unattributed Mary Thew brooch, which I sold in my Etsy shop. It wasn’t signed but had the characteristics of her work, including freeform wirework, trails and beads, as well as an abalone plaque. The Director of Decorative Arts at Lyon and Turnbull in Edinburgh corroborated my identification. The day I found that brooch was a very special one indeed, and for a short while I was the proud possessor of a Mary Thew masterpiece! I’m pleased to report that it has since returned to Scotland, its ancestral home.

The Mary Thew brooch I sold in my Etsy shop.

The Mary Thew brooch I sold in my Etsy shop.

Another view of my Mary Thew brooch.

Another view of my Mary Thew brooch.

Mary Thew (attrib.) silver and abalone brooch, sold on eBay in November 2015 and a companion piece to my brooch.

Mary Thew silver and abalone brooch, sold on eBay in November 2015 and a companion piece to my brooch.

Another view, showing the trails and beads and flowers.

Another view, showing the silver trails and beads and flowers.

Given the wide range of jewellery types that Mary Thew made, as mentioned in the 1939 article, it would be wonderful to see more examples of her non-brooch jewellery. Tadema Gallery has sold a bracelet of hers, but apart from that, and the two Celtic cross pendants above, the only pieces of which I have seen records have all been brooches. (The pendant/necklace below was made recently, using a Mary Thew brooch.)

Mary Thew. Silver, jade, goshenite and peal pendant and necklace. Sold by tadema Gallery.

Mary Thew. Silver, jade, goshenite and pearl pendant and necklace, made using the original brooch below and sold by Tadema Gallery.

Mary Thew.

Mary Thew. Brooch from which the above pendant/necklace was made. Tadema Gallery ref 7172.

Mary Thew. Silver and opal doublet bracelet. Sold by Tadema Gallery.

Mary Thew. Silver and opal doublet bracelet. Sold by Tadema Gallery. (Looks like lapis lazuli, but I assume that’s the colour reproduction).

Mary was also a talented artist and musician. She died in 1953 in North Wales.

Sources: Jewelry and Metalwork in the Arts and Crafts Tradition by Elyse Zorn Karlin, 1993, 142-3; ‘Round the Studios: 7. Mrs Mary Thew – Jeweller’ by Nan Muirhead Moffat, The Glasgow Herald, 18 May 1939, 8; Mary Thew entry at the In the Artists’ Footsteps website; Mary Thew entry in Artists in Britain Since 1945—Chapter T by the Goldmark Gallery.

Further reading: Glasgow Style by Gerald and Celia Larner, Paul Harris Publishing, Edinburgh, 1979; Glasgow Girls: Women in Art and Design 1880—1920 edited by Jude Burkhauser, Canongate, Edinburgh, 1990; Tales of the Kirkcudbright Artists by Haig Gordon, Galloway Publishing, Kirkcudbright, 2006; Glasgow Girls: Artists and Designers 18901930 by Liz Arthur, Kirkcudbright, 2010.

Making space for nature: Orchids in the allotments

The top part of our village allotments has been left as a small nature conservation area. About eight years ago I seeded it with a calcareous soil wildflower mix from Emorsgate Seeds, on behalf of our local conservation group. The area had been overgrown with rank grasses, which grew so strongly that other wildflowers were not able to get a proper foothold. In the seed mix was yellow rattle, a plant that parasitises the roots of neighbouring plants and so weakens them, and which is used as a natural method of controlling the rank grasses. It has been interesting watching the development of the meadow area. In the spring we get a fantastic show of cowslips, followed by black medic and yellow rattle and white and red clover and ox-eye daisies and all sorts of pretty flowers.

The conservation area of the allotments - a beautiful wildflower meadow.

The conservation area of the allotments – a beautiful wildflower meadow, photographed this morning. If you click on the photo you can just make out a small clump of pyramidal orchids in the centre of the grassy area. The white drift behind them is a patch of ox-eye daisies (Leucanthemum vulgare).

Even before we sowed the seeds there were wild orchids growing on the allotments and in the conservation area: mainly pyramidal orchids, with a few bee orchids and a couple of common spotted ones.  The orchids have ‘on’ years when they flower well, and ‘off’ years when they sulk and don’t bother to flower.  This year is a ‘so-so’ year for the pyramidals, but there is no sign of the bee or the common spotted ones.

DSCF5145

Bee orchid (Ophrys apifera) on the allotments, 16 June 2008.

The well-named Pyramidal orchid on the allotments, 16 June 2008.

The well-named Pyramidal orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis) on the allotments, 16 June 2008. Black medic (Medicago lupulina) lurking in the background.

Common spotted orchid in our garden, 14 June 2006. The spots on the leaves, from which it gets its name, are visible.

Common spotted orchid (Dactylorhiza fuchsii) in our garden, 14 June 2006. The spots on the leaves, from which it gets its name, are visible.

We went for a walk there this morning and Ballou came with us. She adores Chap and howled pathetically when he wandered out of sight. While we were up there we met Charlie, our neighbour, with one of his cats.

Ballou on the lookout in the conservation area.

Ballou on the lookout in the conservation area.

Despite its name, the common spotted orchid isn’t at all common in our conservation area. We have a lone specimen growing in our garden, bought from a favourite local nursery, Nadder Valley Nurseries (they don’t seem to have a website so I can’t link), many years ago.

Sturminster Newton Mill

Last Sunday Chap and I headed south into Dorset. We wanted to visit the Fippenny Fair at Okeford Fitzpaine, but as that didn’t start until 2 we decided to take an amble en route. We stopped at Sturminster Newton Mill on the River Stour, with a view to doing a riverside walk, but to our delight found that the Mill was open, and not only that, it was one of its milling days. So in we went, paying our very reasonable entrance fee of £2.50 each.

Sturminster Newton Mill. Photo by Mike Searle.

Sturminster Newton Mill. Photo by Mike Searle.

The history of the Mill can be traced back for nearly 1,000 years, as it is almost certainly one of the four mentioned at Sturminster Newton in the Domesday Book of 1086. There may well have been a Saxon or even a Romano-British mill on the site before this. For most of its life the Mill was powered by two undershot water wheels working side by side; in 1904 these were replaced by a single water turbine, mounted horizontally under the water, which drove three pairs of stones. The Mill produced both flour and animal feed. It is owned by the Pitt-Rivers Estate, and was in constant use until 1970, when the last miller left and the Mill was boarded up and left abandoned for ten years. In the 1980s a Mill Trust was formed and several tenant millers worked there over the next decade. In 1994 it was decided to run the Mill as a visitor attraction, managed by the Sturminster Newton Museum and Mill Society, a volunteer-run organisation.

Sturminster Newton Mill.

Sturminster Newton Mill on the River Stour. South wing (flour mill) to the left and north wing (originally a separate fulling mill) to the right.

We were taken on a guided tour of the entire building, and all the while the turbine was powering various machines and of course the millstones. The whole building gently shook, and the air thrummed to the regular pulse of the machinery. Canvas drive belts span, flour was pouring down shutes made of old-fashioned ticking and hessian, and chaff floated lightly about in the air, like drifting snowflakes. The homely smell of freshly-ground corn (grain such as wheat, rye, and barley to transatlantic readers) was all-pervasive. It is a magical place, and a real time warp—just as if the last hundred years had never happened. On the ground floor is the meal floor; above that is the stone floor where the grinding was done, and on the top floor is the bin loft where the grain was stored prior to grinding.

The mill is an L-shaped building. The south wing is the flour mill, and the present building was rebuilt c. 1650, presumably on the site of/incorporating parts of an earlier building. We were told that one of the trusses in the roof has recently and tentatively been dated by architectural historians to c. 1350! The north wing was ‘originally a completely separate fulling mill, built in 1611, then demolished in the late 18th century and rebuilt in brick on its original stone base to join with and extend the grain mill’, so the Mill’s website explains.

Machinery on the Meal Floor of the Mill.

Machinery on the meal floor of the Mill: ground corn in the form of flour arriving from the floor above.

Machinery on the stone floor of the Mill.

Machinery on the stone floor of the Mill.  The pair of millstones are protected under the wooden vat or tun on the left.

Winnower in action on the stone floor.

Winnower in action on the stone floor.

Bag of grain arrived via the hoist through a well-worn trapdoor. Miller visible on the floor below.

Bag of grain (on its way to the bin loft) arrived on the stone floor via the hoist through a well-worn trapdoor. Miller visible on the meal floor below.

Millstone with tools to dress it when it had worn down too much.

Millstone with tools to dress it when it had worn down too much.

Bins for grain in the bin loft at the top of the Mill.

Bins for grain in the bin loft at the top of the Mill. The roof truss that possibly dates from c. 1350 is visible up against the gable wall.

Miller's workshop in the other wing of the Mill.

Miller’s workshop in the other (north) wing of the Mill.

We were able to buy some of the flour that had been ground that day and I’m really looking forward to baking with it. (Update: you can see how I got on with a recipe for wholemeal bread made with this flour here).

Flour from the Mill.

Flour from the Mill.

The Mill is open until 29 September on Mondays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays from 11 am—5 pm. Admission for adults is £2.50 and for children is £1.00.

According to the leaflet we picked up, the special milling weekends this year are on

12 and 13 July, 11 am—5 pm

9 and 10 August, 11 am—5 pm

13 and 14 September, 11 am—5 pm

and the same entrance fees are charged. It’s well worth a visit. The stairs are very steep, so only the ground floor is suitable for those with limited mobility. There is a picnic area at the back of the Mill where you can sit and watch the river.

A big ‘thank-you’ to the great volunteers who work there and who made our visit such a joy. It really is a very special place indeed.

I have looked to see if the Mill has been used as a location for films or television programmes, but can’t find anything. It certainly would make an exceptional location for a period production as it is so untouched by the 21st century (and barely by the 20th!).

Sturminster Newton Museum and Mill Society website link.  Also used as a source: Sturminster Newton Mill, by Peter Loosmore and Roy Clarke, 2010 (2nd edition), published by Sturminster Newton Museum and Mill Society.

Eggy brekky

Our lovely friend Linda keeps chickens, and the other day she kindly gave us some eggs. They are so pretty! I don’t think the photos do them justice – the colours are much more lively than in the photos, and the differences between them greater. (I really do need to get a decent camera, I think).

Delicious fresh eggs from happy chickens!

Delicious fresh eggs from happy chickens.

I asked Linda about the breeds, and she tells me, left to right, they are from:

The blue ones = Cotswold Legbar (a breed from the Cotwolds in England)

The little cream ones = Australorp (a breed from Australia)

The big white pointy ones = Ancona (a breed from Italy).

She also has Fayoumi chucks as well, but no eggs from them on this occasion. Fayoumis are an Egyptian breed.

So pretty!

So pretty.

Linda’s League of Nations chickens have a great life: they spend a lot of time wandering round her garden (and destroying her plants), and the eggs they produce are absolutely delicious and the best we have ever eaten.

Breakfast (one of the Cotswold Legbar eggs).

Breakfast (one of the Cotswold Legbar eggs, poached). Yum!

I used Marcus Wareing‘s foolproof method for poaching, as detailed here.

An elephant lullaby

A lovely video of the founder of the Save Elephant Foundation in Thailand, Sangduen “Lek” Chailert, lullabying an elephant to sleep.

I now know that elephants snore. Every day is a learning day!

The Foundation undertakes stirling work rescuing and rehabilitating maltreated and aged members of Thailand’s captive elephant population, as well as other projects. Lek is an inspirational woman.

Save Elephant Foundation website

This entry was posted on 16/06/2014, in Animals.