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Channel 4's Restoration Man charts Stone couple’s bid to restore part of our borough’s industrial history

By Staffordshire Newsletter  |  Posted: January 06, 2014

  • Alan and Dora Appleby's efforts to restore The Flint Mill in Stone will feature this Wednesday on Channel 4's Restoration Man at 8pm

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THE FLINT MILL in Stone began its life as a flint-grinding business serving Josiah Wedgewood’s factories in the Potteries.

It has been in use, as a mill, a haulage repair business and a storage facility.

Now it houses yet another business – and has a new lease of life, writes Tony Lennox.

Alan Appleby has a loose-leaf folder, crammed with rough pencil drawings which he sketched while pondering the future of a broken down old mill building in Stone.

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And, as the nation’s television viewers will discover at 8pm on Wednesday night during The Restoration Man on Channel 4, the pictures on the scraps of paper bear a remarkable resemblance to the finished project –not only a unique and highly desirable home, but a fascinating relic of the area’s industrial heritage.

The Flint Mill in Mill Street, Stone, is a fascinating relic of the county’s industrial past - and an illustration of how one building can be reborn over and over again as a venue for diverse business and trade.

The mill, which is a Grade II listed building these days, was erected some time in the 1770s, at the height of the Industrial Revolution in England. . . and only a few miles from the bustling manufacturing boom town of Stoke on Trent.

An enormous wheel, powered by a fast-flowing stream, turned vast grinding stones - not for flour, but for flint - hence the mill’s name.

Flint, it was discovered, when ground and mixed with china clay, was the perfect ingredient in the industrial process of making pottery.

Indeed, when Alan checked the records at Stafford’s Salt Library, he discovered that the produce of the Flint Mill was shipped, via the adjacent canal, up to Mr Josiah Wedgwood himself.

“The history of the mill mirrors the changes in industry and business in this area over the years,” says Alan.

“This old building has been rocked to its roots over the decades, but it’s given good service to a number of trades and industries.

“Now we’ve given it a new lease of life, not only as our home, but as a base for my own business.”

There is an appropriate symmetry in rescuing an historical “business” building for the purpose of continuing its life as a centre for business, albeit one very far removed from its original function.

Alan, a chartered surveyor, came across the building several years ago. It was almost derelict.

“It was being used to store. . . just stuff, I suppose,” says Alan. “It took a very long time to clear the place so that we could begin to restore it as a home.”

Work began on its restoration in 2011, after Alan and his wife Dora bought the place.

Dora, who was born and bred in Stone, already had a family connection to the Flint Mill.

Her uncle, Alfonso, was an Italian prisoner of war who was imprisoned in a building further along Mill Street during the war. He later worked on local farms, including on land owned by the Weaver family, who owned the mill at one time.

Channel 4’s George Clarke, who presents The Restoration Man, became interested in the couple’s plans to turn the old wreck of a building into a unique dwelling - so the project had regular visits from George and the film crew.

The resulting documentary was shown on Channel 4 last night, but is available on 4oD if you missed it.

“It was interesting, being followed by a film crew,” says Alan.

“And, at times, it was fairly intensive, but George (Clarke) was a great chap. He was very genuine, and took a proper interest in the project, and the history of the Mill.”

Indeed, at the end of filming, George presented the couple with a bound book charting the progress of the restoration, and a specially commissioned Emma Bridgewater two-handed mug with an engraved drawing of the Flint Mill as a memento of the whole event.

While Alan did a fair amount of the work himself, the bulk of the construction work was carried out by Stafford builder Peter Simmons.

He also sourced some of the industrial bits and pieces that now form parts of the interior of the house, including solid iron benches which have been converted by Alan into kitchen surfaces.

A good deal of the interior contains original brick and timber work salvaged not only from the Mill itself, but other local industrial buildings.

The house is deliberately fashioned,thanks to its history as an industrial building, with solid items reclaimed and restyled for a new use – and it adds to the feeling of age and solidity.

It is, however, a truly 21st Century home, with sophisticated electrical systems and an air-flow arrangement which keeps the place warm in winter and cool in summer.

“We’re still bringing the place to completion,” says Dora.

“I get the feeling that the house actually tells us where to place things. Everything finds its natural position. We love it.”

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