Not so long ago the future of Whitchurch Silk Mill was doubtful. Of this Grade II listed building, built in 1815, Ptolemy Mann wrote (Issue 56) passionately about the special production of silks for films, pleading with the Hollywood and British film industry to ‘show some more concrete loyalty and appreciation.’ Those short lengths were gorgeous but time-consuming to weave and not ordered frequently enough to sustain the operation. It was a tricky time.
Then, in November 2012, Sue Tapliss was brought in to deploy her considerable experience as a heritage manager. By 2014 the operation had come a long way under a board chaired by Rupert Nabarro OBE. The team had completed a financial year that ran at a modest operating surplus for the first time in years. Soon winning a 1.7 million pound HLF grant, energetic fundraising boosted this to two million pounds and resulted in a renaissance of multiple strands. Today the building, the machinery, interpretation activities, training and product development are thriving.
There is a strikingly energetic atmosphere at Whitchurch, a positive ‘thrum’ due to far more than the delicious whirring of old winding machines, still able to be driven by the mill wheel that visitors can see – and hear – at work. Asked why he would also give time to do things mechanical, Trustee George Oakham, an ex-Courtaulds man, unhesitatingly declared his love for the mill. ‘It’s our mill. It’s magic on a plate: the throbbing heart of the wheel; the beating heart of the looms.’
Extract from the Renaissance issue. Words by Mary Schoeser.