How our visitors care for Quarry Bank – the Bell Tower, the water wheel, cobbles and glasshouses

In two weeks the National Trust will have entered its Winter season, and many of the mansions and houses we look after will close to carry out important conservation works on the buildings and their collections. Whilst we reduce our open days from 7 to 5 here at Quarry Bank, we are also busy getting started on several important conservation projects, alongside our annual machinery tune ups.

Bell Tower Restoration

If you’ve visited us this week, you will no doubt have noticed that we are erecting scaffolding on the Bell Tower, part of the original section of the Mill built in 1784. This is to allow our Estate Buildings Team to assess the current state of the timbers supporting the Bell Tower dome, the structure of the bell, and the state of the clock face. This project is all about restoring as far as possible, and only replacing if there is no other option. We have worked with the local council’s Conservation Officer, as well as our Regional Conservator and Regional Buildings Surveyor when making the decision to repair or replace.

Clock Tower scaffolding

Currently the team expect to carry out the following work:

-Repairing and repainting the timbers which support the dome

-Replacing the lead of the dome using a specialist contractor

-Replacing the ball finial at the top of the dome

-Re-gilding the clock numerals and repainting the clock face using a specialist contractor

-Repainting the windows on the gable elevation

The Bell Dome needs serious restoration work
The Bell Dome needs serious restoration work

We’ve put in several safety measures to make sure the Estate Buildings Team don’t get the shock of their lives (literally): a temporary lightning conductor will be installed on the scaffolding, and we will also be stopping the bell from chiming so that the team isn’t deafened on the hour every hour!

Water wheel Blind

In November, our Premises and Engineering Team will be carrying out a project to replace the water wheel Blind. The Blind is an important part of the mechanism that allow the water wheel to turn, as it effectively acts as the “on/off” switch for the wheel, by controlling the flow of water from the headrace to the pentrough onto the wheel’s buckets, which makes the wheel turn. You can see a working model of the Blind in the Water Gallery.

The Blind is made of leather and has deteriorated over time, leaving a large hole which is allowing river water to leak through and turn the water wheel. This means we no longer have full control of the wheel. If the hole is allowed to get any larger, we won’t be able to operate the water wheel safely for our visitors. Our Premises and Engineering team have made temporary repairs, but a full replacement is needed. (I asked our Premises and Engineering Manager if there was any way to get a picture of the Blind, but it seemed far too complicated and involved a lot of ladders so I told him not to worry!)

Our water wheel is the most powerful working water wheel in Europe
Our water wheel is the most powerful working water wheel in Europe

We’re working with the Norfolk Millwrights Alliance to create a replacement Blind. Using traditional skills and specialist suppliers, they will use the existing Blind as a template to produce the replacement.

To create the new Blind, it will take:

-35 days of work

-9 buffalo hides per blind

– 42 galvanised steel bars and 2 lifting bars

-176 copper rivets per blind

-1,100 galvanised steel washers per blind

-1,100 leather washers per blind

The end result will be a Blind which will allow us to run the water wheel safely for our visitors for decades to come.


There’s quite a commotion in the Mill Yard over the next few weeks, as specialist contractors, Oldham Surfacing Ltd, work to re-cobble the yard from the Learning Office, across the Ticket Office, ending at the Pantry to effectively create an access ramp to these three areas. Instead of installing brand new ramps, we have chosen to turn the existing 19th century cobbles into a gradual slope. To do this they must remove the cobbles from their individual sets and re-bed them upon a small incline. Traditionally cobbles were bedded on limestone and cinder; however, Lynn and Richard are using a mixture of limestone and cement. This will allow water to pass through the cobbles reducing the risk of damage over time.

Our Visitor Services Assistant, Jass, tries her hand at cobbling
Our Visitor Services Assistant, Jass, tries her hand at cobbling, as Richard looks on wondering if he’s made a terrible mistake…

Thank you to our supporters

We couldn’t have completed any of these important conservation and improvement works without our visitors. Every time you visit, buy a gift in the shop, or have a delicious scone in the Café, because we’re a charity, your money comes straight back to us at Quarry Bank and into the proverbial piggy bank that we dip into to complete these projects. No matter how small your contribution, it really counts – in 2012 we were able to restore the small glasshouse in the Upper garden solely through funds raised from selling raffle tickets at the Garden Kiosk! A huge thank you then, is owed to every one of you who has visited us and allowed us to keep caring for this amazing place!

The small glasshouse before its restoration
The small glasshouse before its restoration
The small glasshouse was repaired using funds raised solely from raffle tickets
The small glasshouse was repaired using funds raised solely from raffle tickets


The glasshouse

Our next big restoration project will be the curvilinear glasshouse in the Upper garden, as I have mentioned in a few posts the glasshouse dates back to the 1830s, and acted as home to a variety of historic and exotic  and was made up of thousands of panes of glass, and every single one needs to be replaced. You can help by sponsoring a pane of glass for £50. Every sponsor will receive a commemorative certificate, and anyone donating £250 or more will have their name displayed on a plaque in the glasshouse once it has been restored. You can sponsor as many panes as you like – as unique gifts, in memory of a special person, or as a donation from your organisation and in doing so become part of the Quarry Bank story.

You can help save the glasshouse
You can help save the glasshouse

If you would like more information about becoming a donor call 01625 445 875, or download a donation form here:


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