A major heritage project in the Humber Bridge Country Park is nearing completion.
The main aim of the project was to improve the physical and intellectual access to the natural, industrial and social heritage of the Humber Bridge Country Park, a former chalk quarry known fondly in the locality as Little Switzerland.
The project has seen the refurbishment of the Humber Foreshore’s Hessle Mill, a rare example of an early nineteenth-century whiting mill that once ground chalk from the nearby quarry.
A £724,000 grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund funded most of the £968,869 project, with the council covering the remainder of the costs.
The mill forms part of ‘The Chalk Walk’ heritage trail, which follows a path through the oldest area of the quarry, continuing inside the mill’s tower.
Visitors are able to enjoy a fully interpreted chalk walk trail running from the Humber Bridge car park (which is currently being used for COVID-19 testing) down to the foreshore and newly refurbished mill.
Dr Alex Ombler, Quarry to Country Park heritage project officer, explained:
“The walk takes you on a journey of natural, industrial and social history exploring the Country Park’s former use as a chalk quarry, and explains in detail how this supplied the raw materials required for the mill to produce whiting.”
“It also explores the social history of those working in each environment and how the quarry evolved into Little Switzerland and the Country Park you see today. Many people do not make the connection with the mill, and vice versa.
“The exterior of the mill features a new stepped plaza area and millstone seating, as well as relevant interpretation panels lighting and benches. The mill is fully interpreted inside and includes a display screen with media footage.”
Unlike the windmill at Skidby, which ground corn and wheat to make flour, Hessle Mill was an industrial ‘whiting windmill’ designed to crush chalk from the nearby quarry that now forms the Humber Bridge Country Park.
The exact date of the mill’s construction is not known, but based on the design of the tower and the cap and sails (which were removed in 1925) it was likely built sometime between 1810 and 1815 when it replaced an earlier horse-powered mill.
The crushed chalk was used to manufacture a purified powdered form of chalk called whiting. During the nineteenth century, this was mainly used as a filler in paint or mixed with linseed oil to make putty; later it was used more extensively in the production of rubber, paint and plastics.
Chalk extraction stopped in 1970 and the wider quarry area returned to nature. The construction and opening of the Humber Bridge in 1981 brought a new focus to the site, which had been purchased by Humberside County Council during the previous decade.
In 1982 the whiting mill acquired grade II listed status and four years later the Humber Bridge Country Park was opened by the local council as an attraction for the thousands who visited the area. In 2002 the Country Park was also designated a local nature reserve due to its wildlife value and importance to the local community.
“I am delighted that work is now very nearly complete on this exciting and fascinating project. I would once again like to thank the National Lottery Heritage Fund, and National Lottery players, for the funding we received.
“When more normal times return, the project will eventually unlock the tourism potential of this beautiful nature reserve, which is already popular with local people, by investing in the country park’s heritage assets. The work will help showcase the area in a visual way and allow people to explore the park’s history.
“Current restrictions mean we cannot yet open all the features of the mill, and of course we ask all visitors to ensure they maintain social distancing when visiting the Trail.”
David Renwick, Director, England, North, for the National Lottery Heritage Fund, said:
“The combination of rare natural and industrial heritage is an important part of the Humber Estuary.”
“We are delighted that National Lottery players were able to support the preservation of Whiting Mill, improve access to the site, and enable a programme of activities to help uncover the geological, natural, and industrial heritage of the area, providing greater accessibility and understanding for the community, volunteers and visitors.”
“By investing in iconic mills such as this, The National Lottery Heritage Fund not only contributes to the vitality of each of these buildings but also to the wider places in which they sit, stimulating pride in communities and economic growth.”