Winchester City Mill celebrates Real Bread Week and the National Trust’s 125th birthday with the launch of its new bakehouse café
In celebration of Real Bread Week (22 February – 1 March) and the National Trust’s 125th anniversary, Winchester City Mill has officially opened its first café, with the help of a very superior baking ingredient
– stoneground flour that has been milled on site for over one thousand years.
Benham’s Bakehouse, set in the heart of the mill, bakes its own bread, cakes and shortbreads, and many other items, using some of the 250 kilos of flour the mill produces weekly, just a few metres away. Everything baked on site is served in its café, from where visitors can enjoy watching the baker at work as they tuck into a freshly made breakfast, lunch or an afternoon treat.
The café is named after the Benham family, who were the last owners to mill here commercially, from 1820 until the early 1900s. It was saved from demolition and rescued by the National Trust in 1928.
Claire Skinner, Winchester City Mill’s manager:
“This feels like the final piece of the jigsaw; to be able to offer our visitors food that’s been freshly baked here, using our very own flour. It’s quite amazing, and our visitors are loving the experience!
“The production process is extremely environmentally friendly; 100% of the energy used to drive the machinery comes from the force of the water roaring beneath the mill – it’s a fantastic example of how our industrial heritage, and centuries-old methods of harnessing power can still play a role in our world today.”
Bread is a speciality at the mill, and the café uses its own unique sourdough starter, ‘Frederick Benham’.
Karl Prentice, catering manager: “Bread starters absorb yeasts from the atmosphere, so having our very own sourdough starter gives our bread a unique flavour and taste. It also gives us complete control over what goes into our bread – all our loaves are leaven without artificial additives.”
Winchester City Mill’s Benham’s Café offers a breakfast menu featuring ‘feel good’ foods such as Mill granola with fresh fruit compote, vegan croissants and homemade sourdough toast and preserves. The menu reflects seasonal changes too, its winter lunch choices including warm soups, breads, local cheeses and toasties served with fresh salads and pickled beets.
The mill works closely with local suppliers to incorporate the best quality locally produced ingredients. Its new sharing platters feature cheeses Salisbury-based family business Lyburn – their traditional hard cheese compliments the mill’s fresh frittata and salad platter. Hot smoked trout is provided by local business ChalkStream, from Hampshire’s famous Test and Itchen rivers.
Winchester City Mill is one of Britain’s oldest surviving working watermills that still produces flour today. Over 140kg of its wholemeal stoneground flour is also sold to visitors and local businesses every week – something the mill has done since 2004 when it was restored to full working order by the National Trust, with the help of millwright and engineer Ian Clark.
Our volunteer miller comments, “It’s a real privilege to come to the mill every week and make fresh flour in the way millers have done here for centuries,” says volunteer miller Bob Goodwin. “It’s a very rare thing, possibly unique, to be producing flour on a site with a history of milling dating back 1,000 years. Visitors find the process fascinating to watch, especially children – they love watching the wheels turning and the flour rushing out of the chute into the bags. This wonderful piece of Winchester’s heritage is very much alive and kicking, still supplying the people of the city with fresh flour after all these years.”
Winchester City Mill and Benham’s Bakehouse are open every day:
1 January – 1 March, 10am – 4pm
2 March – 1 November, 10am – 5pm
2 November – 24 December, 10am – 4pm
(Last orders half an hour before closing).
Family fun at the mill
The mill is a terrific place for families to visit, with lots of daily interactive activities on offer. Kids can make their own flour at the hand milling station and learn about the traditional machinery with pulley games and mini millstones. At weekends and on Wednesdays during school holidays you can chat with the millers too, as they harness the power of the River Itchen to turn waterwheels, gears and millstones to produce traditional stoneground flour.
If you follow the stairs down beneath the mill you’ll see the huge water wheel in action, and experience the exhilarating ‘Thrill of the Mill’ as water roars through the building.
Otters visit the mill on pretty much a daily basis and you can see what they get up to on the ottercam. You’ll find more wildlife in the little island garden, which is visited by birds hunting for insects that flit down the river rushing along on either side of the garden. Little ones will be rewarded for nature-spotting too, with the National Trust’s 50 things to do before you’re 11¾ challenges – pick up a trail sheet when you arrive and get cracking.
Pooh Sticks anyone?
What’s up over February half-term?
The Mill’s new February half-term insects trail will have kids tracking down all the different insects that live in this ancient building. Complete the trail booklet and solve the quiz to qualify as an Insect Investigator (10am-3pm, donation). 15-23 Feb.
About Winchester City Mill
Winchester City Mill has been at the heart of Winchester for over 1,000 years. This historic watermill is situated on the famous River Itchen chalk stream, where a mill has been on site since Saxon times. The mill has been owned by a fascinating collection of people. In the 10th-century it was owned by the Benedictine nunnery of Wherwell Abbey, before being passed to the Crown. It was gifted to the City of Winchester by Queen Mary I as part payment for her wedding in Winchester Cathedral.
City Mill looks like it does today because of the money invested by James Cooke in the 18th-century. He invested huge sums in the building, adding lead to the windows and replacing the thatched roof with tils. Many of the mill’s current structural timbers date back to the 14th- and 15th-centuries though. The mill caught the eye of JMW Turner, who painted it in 1795. From 1820 the Benham family owned the Mill. They were the last owner to Mill commercially and it remained in the family for around a century. The Mill passed to the Trust in 1931 and was leased as a Youth Hostel until 2004 when the conservation charity took it back in hand and made it a working mill and museum – which is how it is today.
A. Winchester City Mill, Bridge Street, Winchester, SO23 9BH
T. 01962 870057
About the National Trust
The National Trust is a conservation charity founded in 1895 by three people who saw the importance of our nation’s heritage and open spaces and wanted to preserve them for everyone to enjoy. More than 120 years later, these values are still at the heart of everything the charity does. Entirely independent of Government, the National Trust looks after more than 250,000 hectares of countryside, 778 miles of coastline and hundreds of special places across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Almost 27 million people visit every year, and together with more than 5.6 million members and over 65,000 volunteers, they help to support the charity in its work to care for special places for ever, for everyone.
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