Hunsett Mill is a remote water pumping mill located in the historic Norfolk Broads National Park, situated beside the river and upstream from the Sutton Broads. The house was a residence for the keeper of the mill until 1900 when the advent of electricity rendered wind powered pumps obsolete. Since the end of its working life, the house has been used as a private residence, but has remained as an important piece of local heritage, standing adjacent to the well-known historic grade 2 listed Hunsett Mill.
Since the whole area around the mill constitutes protected conservation land, the aesthetic and sustainable value of the property is and has been of the utmost importance, and this is why we have recently completed a full restoration of the listed windmill and a renovation and extension to the mill keeper's cottage.
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History:16th to 19th century
A stone is embedded in the brickwork of the mill, inscribed Hunsett Mill 1649. It is presumed that this stone is a remnant from earlier incarnations of the mill, indicating that Hunsett Mill was the location of a pumping mill for at least 400 years. Pumping mills were a common sight in the Norfolk Broads since the 15th century to drain the peat bogs and to enable agricultural use of low lying fields. Wind power was used to drive water-turning wheels, constantly pumping water from the drainage dykes into the adjacent rivers and broads. The current mill structures are presumed to date to about 1840, and this is the only period for which more detailed records are available.
The first record of Hunsett Mill appears on the Stalham Tithe Map of 1841. Plot 427 on the map is described as a mill and well. There is no mention of the cottage, although this is clearly shown on the map and there is also a circular building which appears to be a mill. Another plot adjacent, plot 28, is described as Cottage Garden, and the combined area of both plots was "I rood 32 poles" which is just under half an acre. It was owned by the Rev. Richard Johnson. After 1841, a significant extra area of land was acquired further down the river, whilst the land outside the present gate was given up, presumably when the pump house was built. The 1841 census for Stalham shows there were probably only about four properties at that time in the area known as Chapel Field. Two of these were likely to be the farms, but there is no record of who occupied the mill. However a strong candidate is William Jeary, described in the 1861 census as an engine driver for a threshing machine. Stalham at that time had 181 properties within the parish and a population of 750 people.
In 1871 Thomas Pratt, an agricultural labourer aged 22, lived in the mill with his wife and two young children. By 1881, the number occupying the mill had grown to nine with Thomas Pratt and his wife and seven children and in 1891 there is a clear reference to "a cottage by a river" but now with ten inhabitants as the Pratt family continued to grow. The census shows that the cottage had three rooms being occupied.
The 1901 census is the first that defines the various properties clearly, and the mill is shown, although it is spelt as HUNSLETT MILL. The occupants at that time were still from the Pratt family, now registering 13 children although some had moved on and two grandchildren had arrived. The census shows that there were four rooms in the cottage, so presumably there had been an extension since 1891.
It seems likely that the mill at this time was a tied cottage, and as well as working on the farm the occupier had the responsibility of looking after the mill. The occupier of Chapel Field Farm at that time is described as being a Farm Bailiff and it seems likely that this farm and the mill were all part of Whitehouse Farm. The number of houses in the Parish had now grown to 231.
Because so few people were allowed to vote until the early 1900s, the electoral rolls give little help in finding out who might have occupied the mill in its early days. The first occupants that were found after the Pratts were Ernest and Beatrice Starling who appear for the first time in the October Electoral Roll for 1920. It appears that they occupied the mill until 1929.
In 1931 the occupants were Frederick William Walker and Sarah Jane Walker, who occupied the mill until 1938. After a period of apparent vacancy, the property was sold by Ellen Mary Sands on 7 January 1946 to Madeline Edgcumbe. Ellen Sands is thought to have been the owner of Whitehouse Farm as the property was sold with the benefit of restrictive covenants in favour of the lands known as Whitehouse Farm and Chapel Field Farm.
The Edgcumbes lived there until Madeline's death, her husband having passed away in 1975. Subsequent inhabitants were Roderick & Christel Cowan until 1987, Andrew & Tessa Worthington until 1996 and Keith Adams and Natasha Wall until 2004.
The current owners purchased Hunsett Mill in 2004 and bought an additional piece of land from Chapel Field Farm in 2007 to allow for extensive flood defence works to be carried out.
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Architectural Interest:Throughout its life in the 20th century, the mill keeper's cottage unfortunately suffered from a series of ill conceived and poorly constructed extensions, that negatively affected the setting of the original house and caused subsidence and repeated flooding.
When the current owners of the house realised the extent of the damage to the property and also needed more space than it afforded at the time, it was decided not to add yet another incremental extension, but to reinstate the tiny 19th century mill keeper's house to its original proportions with only a single extension added to one side.
In order for the new extension to retreat behind the listed setting of the mill, the new addition is conceived as a shadow of the existing house. By adding a dark volume to the existing brick volume and by virtue of the chosen façade geometry, the exact shape of the extension volume seems ambiguous from afar. When inspected at closer distance, the radically modern approach is balanced by the images of the pitched roofs and dark timber boards that are a historic part of the Broads vernacular language. The massing and proportions of the new addition are configured to remain sub-ordinate to the original building, yet the charred timber cladding helps it to settle into its context.
The extension is made entirely from solid laminated wood, exposed as interior finish and clad in charred cedar boards externally. The extension overcomes the requirements of appropriate planning restrictions by creating a very open ground floor lay out with three double height spaces that create an impression of spatial generosity and allow for the placement of large windows looking out towards the mill and over the marshes and fields.
A fireplace and changes in floor level to create distinct kitchen, dining and living areas, structure the open ground floor. The first floor contains all of the five bedrooms as well as the two bathrooms, interspersed with the voids created by the double height space. The bedrooms make full use of the space under the roof pitches, with full height mirrors on some walls, large external windows, as well as internal windows into the void and towards the ground floor living rooms creating a feeling of spaciousness.
All internal walls and ceilings consist of the exposed timber structure. Where doors are required in timber walls, they are built to match the thickness and finish to create a continuity of material feel and appearance. Space is optimised by integrating fittings, wardrobes and the fireplace into the timber walls. Limestone tiling for the bathrooms is colour-matched to the exposed timber so that there is little visual distinction between them and the rest of the house.
The main staircase is designed to be as light and unobtrusive as possible, manufactured from thin steel plates sunk into slotted recesses in the solid timber wall. The majority of floors are finished with limed, dark baked oak planks to complement the golden hue of the timber walls.
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Hunsett Mill has been designed to be almost independent, with electricity the only off-site resource connected to the property. The use of energy efficient and motion activated fixtures assure that electrical consumption is very low relative to the size of the house.
Wood Burning Stoves:
The design strategies reduce dependency on artificial heating for much of the year, yet during the winter months, a wood fired stove is used as required as a carbon-neutral method of maintaining internal comfort. Fuel is harvested from the garden and local woodland by the Owners.
Ground Source Heat Pump:
The property employs a Veissmann ground source heat pump to provide domestic hot water and central heating services. The site has a very shallow water table; as a result the buried slinky pipes have excellent ground coupling connectivity and will enable the heat pump to operate at maximum efficiency. Under floor heating is used throughout with zonal controls providing local temperature control and monitoring.
Passive Solar Heating:
Domestic hot water provision is complemented by the inclusion of two square metres of high performance vacuum tube solar thermal collectors to the roof, providing upto 60% of the domestic hot water requirement of the property. This equates to a 6% contribution in terms of overall renewable contributions.
Where possible, the building takes a decided "low-tech" approach to its internal environment and servicing. Orientation, insulation and fabric, and the positioning of windows maximises internal daylight. The heart of the house is a double height area, flooded with light, affording dramatic views of the wilderness outside. The fundamental design move was to ensure maximum daylight and solar exposure during the winter months to benefit from free solar passive heating. Conversely, passive stack ventilation and argon-filled "Pilkington SunCool" solar control glass prevent summer overheating. By leaving the internal surfaces of the laminated timber as a finish, its thermal mass capacity is best utilised, to harness the heat from solar gain captured during the day for steady release in the evenings. To precipitate natural ventilation in warmer months, several double height spaces with individually controlled outlets create stack effects, drawing in fresh air. These passive techniques, married with the use of self-sufficient heating and servicing facilities, create redundancies so that the internal environment of the new extension is always pleasant, whilst consuming a small fraction of the energy of the spaces it replaced.
Hunsett Mill operates in total independence with regards to water management. Fresh water is sourced from a dedicated domestic water bore hole located within the garden with the associated pumps and filtering located within the riverside boat house. The owner has minimised water usage by the use of efficient fittings - toilets are dual flush, domestic appliances are AAA-rated and water connections are "low flow". The use of fresh water is further minimised by capturing rainwater on site, harvested via the nearby windmill pond. The water is used for irrigating the local planting and garden. Foul waste is treated on site via a low maintenance extended aeration treatment tank. This system processes effluent in a self-contained chamber designed to actively encourage bacterial breakdown of sewerage. The system operates purely on gravity and has no moving parts. The final discharge is into the adjacent water course with full EA and Broads Authority consent.
Hunsett Mill sustainability was shortlisted for the "Making Sustainable Development Happen" award 2009 as one of the five most sustainable projects with a budget under £2 million by the UK Green Building Council and Building Magazine.
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Flood Defence Works:The marshes behind Hunsett Mill are considered an environmentally sensitive area and part of the Broads National Park. Though attempts have been made to cultivate the land in the past, it was decided that the land should be returned to its natural marshland state, under a "Higher Level Stewardship" agreement with Natural England.
The mill, cottage and low-lying marshes were previously protected from flooding by an embankment running parallel to the river, starting from Sutton Broad and running some 5km upstream to Wayford Bridge. In recent years the condition of the flood bank has progressively worsened, resulting in instances of flooding at Hunsett Mill and the adjacent fields and forests.
Given the difficulty in access, and poor ground and material conditions, it was decided that the most sustainable scheme to achieve a more natural marshland state was to abandon the existing line of defence downstream of Hunsett Mill compelling the owners to construct a series of flooding countermeasures as an integral part of the project, which included the constructing of a new bank immediately behind the buildings. The new flood bank is a small, secure and easily maintainable defence whilst at the same time allowing the abandonment of subsequent downstream defences, thereby returning 25 hectares of forest and grassland around Hunsett Mill to its pre-industrial marshland condition.
This land will form an extension to the adjacent Sutton Fen Nature Reserve of the RSPB, adding to the existing tranquil oasis of Wetland wilderness, full of rare and endangered wildlife in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the modern day Broads. Species like the swallowtail butterfly, Norfolk hawker dragonfly, bitterns, marsh harriers, bearded tits, and common cranes can now be observed in the increasingly wet marshes behind Hunsett Mill.
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