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After many vicissitudes, an old gritstone millin the north of England has been domesticated by Peter Blundell Jones, prophet of Organic architecture.

Since mediaeval times, perhaps for a thousand years, there has been a mill at the bottom of Padley Gorge: first it used the power of the stream that carved the steep little Pennine valley to mill corn, then it became a lead-smelting works. In the middle of the eighteenth century, it went back to corn milling when the present building solid, rectangular and three storeys high was made. It became a sawmill, then a house, then a cafe and was bought by Peter Blundell Jones in 1994 in derelict and dangerous condition.

He was concerned to retain the essential elements of the place: local stone walls and slate roof. There was virtually no interior, and the heavy timber first floor beams were sagging. Blundell Jones put in a new steel joist to support them; he took out inappropriate metal windows and replaced them with oak-framed ones. The only obvious major change was a double-height cut in the north (garden) wall.

This move is key to the whole strategy. Because the site slopes steeply from north to south, the building appears to be three storeys high at the front, and two at the back. The lowest storey, where the mill wheel used to be (its axle is still there) is for workshop, boiler and storage. All the main action takes place on the upper two floors, and the big cut in the garden wall introduces light into the middle of the volume, which would otherwise have been extremely dark Coming in from the main door in the gabled east end, you are drawn forward to light and the stairs which ascend through the central void. The dining room is the symbolic heart of the house, full of light and generous in volume. Beyond is the kitchen which has a very thick glass window that looks out into the pentrough, a long narrow pool lined with massive stone slabs. Here, the miller could fine tune the flow of water to the wheel with sluice gates. The water level can still be changed with the valves that control the stream that flows throu gh the building. Sometimes water comes almost to the top of the window, making the room seem like a cave under the sea.

From the central room, the stair rises at an angle determined by the steel joist which is slightly skewed to avoid the front door. On the top floor, there is a sitting room that draws light from a projection into the big space and from the little old windows. A built-in sofa (homage to Scharoun's mid-period houses -- AR December 1983) focuses the space on the fireplace, inserted into the old shell in the middle of the nineteenth century. Throughout, the interior is lined white with recycled paper insulation. The new can be clearly seen as new, old, old. But they are in sympathy. The front door shows you what to expect. It is made of three wide planks of oak, bound together with galvanized strap hinges. New interior woodwork is in solid beech. All new stone was found on the site, and was dressed and laid by local craftsmen. Blundell Jones acted as general contractor, employing labour direct. Round the house, the silted-up mill pond was dredged and its surroundings repaved. A garage was made to the east in gal vanized steel and gritstone. Its concrete roof is covered by a new lawn at the level of the pool. The mill race still works, but the stream chatters by as it has always done in its steep rocky little valley under the trees. It is a rural scene that would have enchanted John Ruskin, the great critic who so much inspired the house and its construction. P.D.


Peter Blundell Jones

Draughtsman Steve Jones; Engineer Roger Plank; Mason and foreman Jez Taylor; Labourers Derek Houghton, Paul Gallimore, Mark Nixon; Carpenter Jim Buckley; Joiner Charles Woodiwiss; Steelworker Robert Kurcin; Plumber John Hancock; Excavator Mel Yates; Electrician Jeremy Ward; Glazier Stewart Shimwell; Photographs and drawings Peter Blundell Jones
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Title Annotation:mill turned into dwelling
Publication:The Architectural Review
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:4EUUE
Date:Jul 1, 2001
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