North Furzehill Waterwheel
Did you know there's a waterwheel in the Lyn Valley? The North Furzehill is one of the area's little secrets, tucked away on a farm just outside Barbrook. The following is the story of the wheel and a bit about their recent open day.
We moved to the farm on St Valentines Day 1992. We knew that there had once been a waterwheel on the farm, as the wheel pit was just visible under years of accumulated rubbish. The 1900 map had the legend aqueduct on it showing where the leat arrived at the back of the barn.
We explored around the mill pond and discovered signs of sluice gates and ditches. In and around the barn were the original layshafts, chaffing machine and animal feed mill. We found out that the mill pond banks burst on the night of the Lynmouth Flood, and that the wheel had not been used since.
Richard is an engineer and there was no doubt in our minds that one day, we would restore the wheel and mill. Slowly, by talking to local people, especially John Leworthy, we began the restoration. At that point we were told that the original farm's 14ft overshot wheel was on a farm in Brendon. We persuaded the owner, Peter Hedges, that the wheel should come back to the farm, and thankfully he agreed.
The first job now was to clean out the mill pond, and start to repair the leat. We were most fortunate to secure "seed corn" funding from Exmoor National Park and advice from the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.
The next job was to find a blacksmith to make replicas of the damaged sluice gates and to build a new launder. We found Mr Tucker in Challacombe who did just that! We again had help from John Leworthy, who remembered shearing his first sheep, as a lad of twelve, by waterpower. Richard took the wheel hub to Bristol to have the shaft repaired; Leslie, the Lynmouth engineer made new bearings for us and many others helped; and so we put the wheel back together. We were able to source new oak buckets from Filleigh sawmills, so things were definitely coming on.
The 14ft diameter wheel is made of cast and wrought iron; it was made and installed by Garnish and Lemon from Barnstaple. We had a party to celebrate the first running of the wheel. The next stage of the project was to restore the machinery in the barn. We visited farm sales, rural life museums, and picked the brains of anyone we could find. The shearing station came from a local farm, and the existing chaffer and mill were restored with the help of Alec Gannon from Timberscombe, who restored the Simonsbath sawmill. Alec helped us in so many ways, fitting the belt drives, and making all sorts of vital pieces of gear.
At last we were able to run the machinery as it must have been run in the 1890s! To celebrate the event we will ran the wheel and used the equipment for a special open day at the end of May.
Photos are with thanks to John McGowan. The text is based on the article previously published in the Lyn Valley News.
The mill itself is not generally open to visitors, however should further open days take place we will of course endeavor to post a note about them on this website and on the Lynton & Lynmouth Facebook Page.