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Fingle Mill vegetation removal: a clear cut success!

A second update from Steve, our archaeology intern, about the clearance of Fingle Mill.

Day three to five saw the final layers of overgrowth stripped away from the mill thanks to our teams of super-efficient volunteers. Uneven footing and loose rocks meant extra care had to be taken, there was a lot to think about and discuss as returning walls, collapse patterns in the rubble, and other features were revealed.

Figure 1: The west-most wing of the house undergoing transformation. Ben and Drew are discussing details they have just revealed.

Figure 2: The East wing of the house is starting to look really different; the back wall contains many loose stones as the result of pressure from the track behind it. The decision was taken not work on this area until it can be reinforced with a scaffold.

Figure 3: Working outdoors can be the perfect remedy to the ‘midweek office hump day’, just ask Chris!

Figure 4: There is lots to be shifted and chipped or burnt, this is just a tiny percentage of the total removed.


The waste products can still be useful, for example, some of the larger branches and holly trees will remain on site to be used as ‘dead hedging’, this will help direct walkers away from sensitive areas while retaining a ‘natural’ look for the site.


Figure 5: The east-most rooms of the mill can now be seen in much more detail.

Figure 6: Looking south-east from inside the mill, the vegetation is being cleared from the base of the walls and internal areas of the mill. Thanks to this effort we can start to see where the machines fitted. These fittings will be featured in the next blog entry as my phone’s memory ended up rather full.

Figure 7: The students from the Princes Trust returned once again and blazed a trail along the leat and tail-race, helping to preserve the precious few stones that remain in situ on these areas. Their work restored the open view that the mill enjoyed during its working lifetime.

Figure 8: The job they did was more than impressive, the holly didn’t stand a chance!

Figure 9: The collapsed section in the house’s west wing has been cleared revealing a returning wall and a collapsed fireplace, this is one of two possible areas where the fire started that destroyed the building in 1892.

Figure 10: In the east wing we can really see what’s what now. Drew is pointing to an oven in the corner, this is the second place the fire may have started.

Figure 11: An awkwardly snapped image shows the remarkable level of preservation inside the domed brick oven.

Figure 12: With the main buildings cleared efforts turned to the leat, here we are looking north-west toward the divided channels and sluice gates.

Figure 13. Thursday afternoon we were thinner on the ground but thanks to Hannah and Charles we had time to concentrate on the back wall and other areas, revealing potential information on the location of outbuildings which have left traces under all that moss.


Later that afternoon we were joined by Tim Harrod who came to the site to help analyse and identify the stone in the various areas of the site. Acid tests and Tim’s knowledge of the local geology has helped suggest possible origins for most of the stone, some of which is revealed to have come from freeholder George Ponsford’s quarries in Drewsteignton. This may help determine which of the outbuildings belonged to which freeholder.

At the end of week it feels like we are looking at a completely different site, transformed from a series of disconnected walls among the plant-life to a coherent and recognisable milling and living complex. It is now possible to perform a full photographic survey and identify the parts of the site most in need of protection. We can see more clearly the workings of the mill and the materials used to build it. Roots, brambles, trunks and branches no longer threaten to demolish the structure. Water erosion from the overhanging vegetation has ceased, the site is visible and accessible and the mill has a much brighter future ahead of it. I can’t stress this enough, this is all down to you. Your time, efforts and interest is what made this possible and I think we should all be proud of that achievement – thank you!

Since the memory on my camera ran low and I feel it needs a whole blog entry to do it justice, the ‘before and after’ shots will follow in next week’s blog so you will all be able to see more clearly the difference this community project has made. It has been fantastic to meet and work alongside such enthusiastic volunteers, it is really encouraging to see how much people care about our communal past and heritage. I can’t wait to see what we can achieve in the next phases of the research and restoration.

By Steven Guy-Gibbens



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