Visit to Shelsley Walsh Water Mill and Hill Climb – August 2023
On a sunny early September morning, the North Worcestershire village of Shelsley Walsh (population circa 45) appeared calm and tranquil as the group of sixteen members of the Pershore Civic Society arrived for a visit. Then the silence was broken by the sound of several powerful car engines revving up. Glimpses of sometimes colourful and exotic vehicles were seen waiting in the pits to test their stamina on the adjacent hill climb -the oldest motorsport venue in the world still to run events on the original course.
Upon arrival our group visited the recently restored Water Mill which dates back to 1308. Until 17 years ago, the Mill had been silent, its last job to grind animal feed in the 1920s.
The Mill was taken over by the Shelsley Water Mill Society (a registered charity) in 2006. This group consists of volunteers (mostly retired) and who are affectionately known as the “Dibnahs” (named after the late backstreet mechanic Fred Dibnah). Undeterred by the scale of their task, this group of 20 “men in sheds” cut back the undergrowth, excavated the millpond, re-channelled the millstream, and then restored the mill to full working condition – all within a period of 5 years.
The recent failure and subsequent replacement of the main timber pit wheel has brought milling operations to a temporary standstill – but the Dibnahs have replaced the wheel at a cost of £20,000 and are hoping to re-commence milling operations soon.
Montagu Taylor bought the estate including the mill from Lord Ward in 1890 leading to the use of the hill at Shelsley Walsh as a major sports venue, and some 115 years on to the formation of the Shelsley Water Mill Society, with the preservation of the mill including 2 pairs of millstones. The grinding stones in the mill are very noisy and called “chattering damsels” apparently!
The mill is located near the foot of the hill-climb course and adjacent to the Norman church of St. Andrews which we also visited. We saw the circular Norman font, a floor of mediaeval tiles and the 1596 wooden tomb of Francis Walsh and his wife, painted to resemble marble.
The hill course is run by the Midland Automobile Club. Our own Dr. Chris Perks (now retired and formerly of Pershore Medical Centre) was originally involved in a medical capacity for some years. Since retirement he’s been involved as a volunteer and gave us a guided tour (up a very steep path) alongside the course where cars had started to practise. Uphill speeds of more than 150mph can be achieved and the 1,000 yard course record currently stands at 22.6 secs!
A most enjoyable and informative visit rounded off by lunch in the adjacent Water Mill Restaurant. Many thanks for Catherine Cadbury for organizing this visit.