Club Visit to
North Devon Sawmills
29th March 2017

Text by Michael Coleman; video by Keith White. 

A group of twenty club members travelled by shared cars to Exmoor to visit two historic water-driven sawmills, about 15 miles apart, which are maintained and demonstrated by volunteers. The visit came about at the suggestion of Dr Graham Wills, who is one of those volunteers who look after the watermill at Simonsbath, which is owned by the Exmoor National Park Authority.

In the morning, we first went to Cowbridge Sawmill at Timberscombe, owned, restored and run by Owen Rush and his family. There we split into two groups for guided tours of the remarkable restoration that has been done to the buildings and to the large water wheel that drives a wide range of working machinery through a belt system. An extensive and eclectic display of tools, implements and other artefacts, together with numerous photographs and explanation material, provides the context in which the working machinery can be viewed. A group of knowledgable and enthusiastic volunteers were on hand not only to explain the displays and answer questions, but also to provide drinks and refreshments to the visitors. We came away hugely impressed by the remarkable restoration of what had until recently been derelict buildings, all funded and carried out by the Rush family, assisted by their team of volunteers.

We then moved on to the 'Rest and Be Thankful' inn at Wheddon Cross for a hearty carvery lunch before driving through increasing mist and rain for 20 minutes to Simonsbath Sawmill. There, we were not only given a comprehensive guided tour and demonstration of the water-driven mill, but were also able to watch the impressive Ruston and Hornsby back-up engine being run.

Video of the Simonsbath Sawmill & Engine by Keith White

Two complementary visits which we all found fascinating and most enjoyable and a reminder of how things used to be done before first the internal combustion engine and then electrical power became the norm and rendered virtually redundant the water-driven mills that used to be commonplace.

We were very grateful to all those involved for giving up their time to make us welcome and give us such interesting visits, especially to Dr Graham Wills who was instrumental in arranging the programme.

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