If you thought that the philanthropic company was a thing of the past, something which died with likes of Joseph Rowntree and William Lever, think again. In Shipton Mill it is alive and well.
Shipton Mill is hidden down a long unmetalled track deep in the heart of Gloucestershire. It has to be just about the most stunning location I visited on my travels around ‘alternative’ farmers and growers. The site, in Shipton Moyne Wood near Tetbury, has been producing flour since at least the time of the Domesday Book which records its presence. Today’s mill produces a wide variety of speciality flours, using both traditional grain and traditional methods, including a range of organic flour. The stone ground flours it produces are ground with traditional French Burr millstones, just as they would have been in mediaeval times.
Such activity has sadly not been continuous. When the present owners discovered the mill back in 1981, it was a shadow of its former self. No longer a working flour mill, the ruins overlooked the banks of a tributary of the Avon River. The river curved beautifully around the site, but the millrace was choked and the mill wheel was all but rusted away. Today, fully restored and functioning, stone ground flour is once again a product of the mill – with the corn sourced in part from the surrounding Cotswold landscape.
Whilst such regeneration speaks oodles for the owners of the mill, they do though only convey part of the story. There is also a wonderful belief in the company as benefactor of people and environment. So it is that alongside the mill, the river and millpond are home to a diverse ecosystem, including wild brown trout, kingfishers, damselflies and otters. Now that the mill wheel is restored and the sluice gates can close to create the millpond, the company is also working on generating its own electricity from the mill wheel
But………that’s not all. Enough of all this milling, what about the growing? The lovely icing on the cake so to speak is that in the gardens surrounding the mill, two young growers, Ella Hashemi and Emily Thomas, now have a job to produce vegetables on site which the employees of the mill are then able to pick and take – for free – just as they choose.
I’d met Ella at the Oxford Real Farming Conference in January and she had offered a look round Shipton Mill along with an introduction to many of the groups in Gloucestershire that I am now featuring in the blog. After studying for a BA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics, Ella completed a two year ‘apprenticeship’ in biodynamic horticulture and agriculture working with young adults in a programme of therapeutic education on the farm at Ruskin Mill College (as per Wheelbarrow Farm, my previous post). The biodynamic methods of Rudolf Steiner are key to Ella and her growing and she has since become a Board member of the Biodynamic Land Trust, alongside over the previous couple of years being heavily involved in initiating and establishing Groundspring Network – a contact network for young, entrant farmers and growers aligned to the Land Workers Alliance as the ‘senior’ network. Busy young lady!
Busy as she is, Ella found time to give me a fabulous afternoon at Shipton in the company of herself and job share partner, the somewhat less public but highly skilled, Emily. What with a stunning location, some glorious weather, two pretty young ladies and some lively banter, I had quite an idyllic afternoon. Oh dear probably something quite out of order re political correctness in that comment – what the heck, its was great fun and a real delight!
For more on Shipton Mill see the company website.
For more on Groundspring Network, see the organisation’s website
for more on Land Workers Alliance see the organisation’s website
[Double clicking on any of the images below will open up that image up in a slideshow format. You can then run the slide show using ‘left’ and ‘right’ buttons. Personally I prefer to go also to full screen having opened the slide show – F11 on my PC, don’t forget to get out of full screen is the same button , not ES