This is the story of how the mills on the air event came into being. Enjoy.
NATIONAL MILLS DAY
YEAR ONE - 1996
Friday evenings are my evenings and I blissfully curl up on the settee, reading, watching my favourite gardening programmes, the odd naughty chocolate and best of all, a sneaky look at the RSGB News which is to be read the following Sunday morning.
Occasionally, you find something that fires the imagination such as an imminent d.x.pedition requesting persons who are interested in travel, working radio and best of all, in far flung lands. And, the chance to work all those amateurs out there who are chasing your particular location must be heaven. Not forgetting of course the rigours of getting there, and once you have arrived, setting up the station, besides all the day to day duties.
So, it was with excitement that on one of my Friday evenings that I spotted a request for assistance from the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) asking if any Radio Amateur would like to put a Station in at one of the Windmills or Watermill on their behalf. Oh bliss.
The following Monday, I telephoned the young lady in question (Lucy) at the SPAB and found that she had been unable to muster any enthusiasm whatsoever. I couldn't believe it, to be thwarted at such an early stage was not acceptable. I thought very hard about the situation, chocolates in hand. When I felt inspiration had struck, I went back to Lucy with a possible solution, and waited with fingers crossed. I must say, that her delight took me by surprise. I heard myself saying that I put would my ideas to my Amateur Radio Club the following Wednesday and I would be back to her as soon as I could.
The following Wednesday, in my usual 'full on' enthusiasm I broached the idea of the Radio Club taking on the actual running of the Event, in conjunction with the SPAB. The SPAB assured me that certainly there would be no more than a maximum of six (6) Mills who were likely to be interested. It hadn't occurred to me that not everyone would be overwhelmed by the idea, nor, that the Club either had the time or the bodies to take my ideas on board. A Diary had been arranged for the year and members can only do so much after all.
I had to admit I was disappointed that they had declined this AMAZING EVENT. What Planet was I on? However, I was so up for it that I had decided I could manage (6) Mills on my own, which because of my working background, I knew I would be able to cope with. Thankfully, besides my husband G4IOD there was individual interest from several club members, Brian G0BFJ and Kevin G1FYS, both experienced amateurs, and with get up and go. Other assistance from club members followed later on. This meant that I could go back to Lucy with a “ Yes”. Oh, the excitement.
My contact at the SPAB was delighted assuring me of their support and a huge thanks. In due course I received a lovely package which included all their documentation besides ours, which apparently they hadn't the time to deal with. And there we were, not only had we to organise enthusiastic amateurs to run these Mills for us, but to find Mills who were willing to participate.
The list she had sent was 32 pages in total (double sided). Mind you (6) Mills, and (6) Clubs, 'easy-peasy' as my niece would say. After chatting to the Mills, many of whom didn't know that this 'Special Day' existed, even though they were members of the SPAB. Finding the Appropriate Amateur Radio Club and their Current Official often proved difficult either because information was out of date, resignations over time etc., However, when this problem was sorted out, it was a case of could they find an interested body/bodies and did they have the time or the radio equipment? But, before we knew it the news had spread, as it does, and there we were, the interest was such that we had rocketed to 30 +/- Mills plus 30+/- Radio Clubs
I prayed that my trusty colleagues at Denby Dale were not going to be shocked at this new interest but they were tremendous and so supportive.
The number of chocolates was increasing.
I found it surprising that the majority of the Mills we contacted via the SPAB documentation not only did not know of this Special Day but didn't know how to pull visitors to their Mill or how to obtain advertising.
Whilst eating one of many chocolates, or maybe a Torpedo, another of my many failings, I realised that if a possible 30+ stations were to be involved, the QSL Cards needed to be unique. I do blame Denby Dale for my current weight, hi.
As a club we can always be relied upon to come up with Brilliance. I suggested that we get the Mills to supply a photo or line drawing of their Mill, together with their history etc., so that we could incorporate this on the front of the card and the relevant Station details on the back. Kevin came in to his own here. From the information I was giving him he designed a set of super cards, not an easy task and certainly very time consuming. Whilst Brian, designed a super Log Book which would be required by each Radio Station and ultimately be forwarded to them. Again, time consuming. Bill G4IOD didn't escape, and his contribution was to design a Certificate for those amateurs who worked 10 Stations or more, with the relevant cost to go to the SPAB. By this time of course other amateurs in our Club were rallying around for which I am truly grateful.
I have to say at this point that Kevin G1FYS who created the QSL Cards for me spent MANY hours on them so that all the photos/sketches plus information sent to us went out with a professional finish and a credit to him. As Mills were added, often at the last minute, this of course added to Kevin's workload of creating more Q.S.L. Cards.
Plus, each individual Wind/Water Mill had their personal documentation (package) sent to them so that they knew which Amateur Radio Club would be offering their assistance, and who would be presenting themselves prior to the day in order to introduce themselves and to sort out a suitable working location. In many cases we also advised the Mill how to advertise, get eminent dignitaries, how to use the press and the radio etc.,
Added to this, each Radio Station was issued with a list of the other Radio Stations involved, their location, Call Signs, plus, a drawing of the country with the above information highlighted.
The RSGB had been fantastic in providing, at our request, Call Signs that matched as near as possible, the name of the Mill i.e., GB2GW (Gleaston Water Mill). This is the first time that this request was received and given – a first for Denby Dale.
At the time we were running a Bed & Breakfast and Billy noticed that there was a Windmill on the box of the Milks and Creams we purchased. I contacted the Director of this Company and not only persuaded him to let us put on a Station at his private Mill, but, after hearing all about the event I put him in the direction of my new contact at the SPAB and I gather they would be receiving a donation from his company.
We had so many wonderful mills involved including the one in Holland.
Billy and myself decided to put on a station at Gleaston Watermill and our location was lovely with a Trout Stream at the bottom of a quite sizeable Car Park and which was located at the other side of a small road across from the Mill.
There was huge Rottweiller that expected a big hug for waking us up in the morning, plus rare breed cattle etc., You know, the cows with gigantic horns (so Billy found out) and the big old Pigs of yester-year. What with trying to get to sleep the previous evening whilst all the gigantic pigs jockeyed for position in one home instead of their own, and getting up to a big hug from this lovely dog, I have to say that we were left a little shattered.
The aerial was a challenge because of the location of the Mill. The Mill being one side of a very small quiet lane and the car park at the other side, not forgetting the animals up the field beyond and the car park itself, but it was fun. And of course a pot of tea and home-made cake didn't go amiss. Whilst erecting the aerial in question Billy had to join the rare breed long horned cows and pigs. Another story. Almost there we thought. However, whilst this 'Marshall Special' of an aerial was being completed, we heard a motorcyclist in the far distance, glancing quickly at each other, Billy galloped at 100 miles per hour down the field, across the car park and thankfully just managed to pull the aerial up higher than we had it in time before we garrotted the driver. We all stood in silence for a moment including the mill owner (radio amateur) and then breathed a sigh of relief. The owner had forgotten the 'rare traffic' which uses this quiet lane with all the excitement.
It was interesting to see that the owners of the Mill were in the process of converting out buildings, one being a rather nice small restaurant, with a large window at the end of the room which allowed you to see the wheel going round. Their site is also an area of interest to Archaeologists because of the varying periods in history associated with the site and the items found. The mill is owned by a lovely couple the husband being a radio amateur and had really enjoyed taking time off to assist.
All the Mills were unique either in their style of erection, or, for their individual history. One such mill was at Gelligroes in Wales where we had been notified that the original owner of the mill had actually heard the SOS from the Titanic but sadly his notification to the Authorities had not been believed. He later went on to hold a senior position with the Marconi Corporation.
The QSL Cards went down a treat and we found that the Amateurs calling in were not only enjoying the event but that they could in fact create a Collection of the cards. Lots of lovely comments for Denby Dale generally, and, because it was seen that they had created something very much out of the ordinary.
Denby Dale were amazed by the feed-back from the Mills, just how much they had enjoyed the day, what a fun day it had been for everyone and not only had they sold lots of flour etc., but many said they had seen more visitors in one day than in the whole of a normal working year.
What a lovely end to a super event with many new friends being made.
YEAR TWO - 1997
Here we were again. We coped last year, didn't we, of course we did. However, we were not prepared for the enthusiasm we had created. Chocolates in hand we were off again.
The second year was phenomenal and approximately 137 Mills and their Stations were activated. Just think, the same paperwork was sent out, but this time much more of it, and of course, the now famous unique QSL Cards had to be produced for the extra Mills and yes, even more Log Books and Certificates. The Club was being bombarded for information and the necessary paperwork.
There were of course, some clubs who were 'naughty' and wanted to create their own cards but that wasn't what the amateurs wanted. Their request was to collect the original style QSL cards for their collection so that they could increase the numbers they already had. So many amateurs had collected the original cards which they were delighted with and had commented on the originality and finish that it would have been mean to deny them their request to continue. A lovely compliment to both myself and Kevin who had worked so hard on all the information I had kept providing him with. Plus, this also meant all that extra work for Brian, Kevin and the other willing helpers.
Thankfully, on only two occasions were we let down at the very last moment by a Station, even the day before the Event. Thankfully another club stepped in so that the Mill would not be let down. True Radio Amateurs.
This year we had even more to offer the Mills and the Amateurs. There were lots of 'Special' Mills for the amateurs to work. Gelligroes was with us again. This time, one of the local Councillors who was a distant relative of the original Mill Owner, was presenting a beautifully scaled copy of the Titanic. A local dignitary was presenting this on the Councillors behalf.
A real coup came when Dame Judy Dench and her late husband were attending Outwood Mill who were having a re-launch and were there to present a plaque to the Mill on behalf of the SPAB. Yes, chocolates in hand. I had an idea. Dangerous you will be saying. I contacted her Secretary and she later confirmed that very graciously Dame Judy had agreed that she would be delighted under the circumstances to pass a message of greetings from GB2OWS to GB2GGM and which was to occur at 2.30p.m. on 3.710+/- I contacted the team of amateurs at her Mill who were thrilled to bits, and promised to make sure everything went as planned. The Clubs were to organise photographs which were to have been sent to us from both Mills. This was so that Kevin could create a circle around the photos and this then was to have been placed in the RADCOM. Ultimately, this wasn't possible because on the day the camera at Dame Judy's end failed much to their dismay, and although a super photograph was received later from a local boy, it proved to be too late for the printing of the magazine. The teams however, did a sterling job organizing the contact between the two Mills, which Dame Judy thoroughly enjoyed and was a lovely surprise for everyone on the bands.
Amongst the strange requests I received I was asked by Denver Mill GB2DM if I could organize a Fly Past on the actual day, bearing in mind that the event was still only running on a Sunday. The request was because this particular Mill had been used during the last war as the focal point for the pilots to aim for on their return journey, knowing that this was a sign of home. After a lot of talking to various personnel we almost made it. However, it would seem that the day in question (Sunday) had already been allocated but they would have accommodated the Fly Past if we been operating on the Saturday. Wouldn't this have been something. However, on the Sunday RAF Marham not to disappoint us came up trumps by presenting to the owner of the Mill a signed print of the Vickers Valliant which had been signed by their pilots stationed at RAF Marham. They were one of the many RAF Stations forever grateful for the existence of this Mill.
I was a bit naughty when a station in Northern Ireland asked was the Republic of Ireland involved and I said YES. When the Republic of Ireland asked the same question, I said YES. Well, at the time they weren't but it did get us stations in the whole of Ireland, hi.
The previous year a super Mill in Holland PA6JW Jacobus Windmill had been activated. This, our second year, the Mill in Holland again was keen to be added to the list again which now included Mills in Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Such lovely people to deal with and their enthusiasm and assistance, was overwhelming. We also had four South African Mills who were to be included to our list at the last moment which was a nice bonus. Because we now operated on a Saturday this meant that more Mills in Scotland could participate. We had so many types of Mill involved that this added even more interest to the Event.
This year Billy and myself moved location so that the local amateurs who had not been interested the previous year could take on board Gleaston and we moved up to Ravensglass where we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and where the Ratty Railway runs alongside the Mill. Very pretty, not as commercial, and it looked as if an aerial system would be a definite 'no' but after clambering amongst brambles etc., and on an acute slope, we finally managed to sort something out. Because the private road to the Mill runs up the side of the Mill, and even though we were on the top floor, we were actually looking at the visitors to the Mill passing us by. Mind you, I was a little quesy when we were told that the floor we were sitting on had in the past given way and the person had fallen through to their death below, we won't say how but I can tell you it was pretty gory. I didn't like to hear that. Thankfully, this was way back in their history and a new floor had been fitted.
Even so, we had a very enjoyable day. We had booked a caravan on a very pretty site situated amidst a small wood, lovely walks and the dog certainly enjoyed the smell of the rabbits etc., Plus, there was a rather good hostelry nearby. I am told by Kevin G1FYS that this Mill has now been sold and is in private hands.
Some of the other members of the Denby Dale Club, and friends, were busy at other mills and thoroughly enjoying themselves
FINALLY, we must not forget our endeavours to get the Laxey Wheel on the IOM activated. I have left this to the last and I am sure you will understand why. I desperately wanted to add this location and even after a lot of hard work I almost gave up the struggle. Not one local amateur was interested. In the end, I persuaded some amateurs from 'over the border' in Lancashire. Yes, I am being facetious, but you will soon understand why. After a lot of cajoling they offered to go over to the IOM if I could find a way of getting them there FREE. I ask you, hi. I don't think they thought I would manage it but then they don't know me do they, hi. Mind you, they were keen, and when I finally talked to the Steam Packet Company and explained what the event was all about etc., they offered to take the Group and return them FREE GRATIS with all their luggage and equipment. Obviously, they were delighted. Such a wonderful gesture from this Company.
They, together with all their equipment set off and on arrival had a whale of a time. Upon their return, I had a lovely telephone call one evening from one of their team saying how much they had enjoyed the whole event including their involvement with some of the local amateurs 'the old boys' who had kept them supplied with bacon sandwiches etc., and had been so kind and generous to them.
Oh yes, by the way, we have brought you something back Jasmine for all your time and patience? I played it like the lady I am and said 'oh how lovely of you' may I ask what it is?
He laughed and said – 'A Sick Bag'. They are now that lot from over the border, hi.
I received so much co-operation and patience from Brian, Billy and Kevin not forgetting the other members of the club who helped, and, in some cases put on stations themselves. For example Eric DBU who is sadly
no longer with us who organized the American Team at Menwith Hill to run a Mill in their vicinity and who had a ball. I cannot thank the Club enough for standing by me throughout the two years, it was a huge challenge and I had SO MUCH FUN.
A wonderful NEW and exciting Yearly Event for Denby Dale, and, one which they are still running very successfully.
You can contact the mills event organisers on firstname.lastname@example.org
Main club email address (for a faster response) is email@example.com
More info about S.P.A.B. here:- SPAB