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Heritage Open Day a great success

On Saturday 8th September, the Mills Archive hosted a very successful Heritage Open Day. The event kicked off with much excitement to the arrival of Anoushka Williams, the BBC Radio Berkshire presenter! She and her assistant decided to visit us as part of their journey on ‘The Peach Quest’ – a madcap dash around Reading and the surrounding areas, which tests the listeners’ knowledge of Berkshire as they solve clues to get Anoushka from A to B on her county-wide treasure hunt.

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After I’d given them a brief description of what the Archive does, Anoushka headed upstairs to our Founders’ Room, where our exhibition on Extraordinary Women in Milling was laid out ready for the visitors. Mildred highlighted the three extraordinary women that our display focussed on – including telling Anoushka about her own milling days at Mapledurham.

It was great to have regional coverage advertising our Open Day, and we were very honoured that out of all the Heritage Open Day events, they chose to visit us!

We opened our doors to the general public at 9.30am, and soon began the steady stream of visitors. The theme of the Heritage Open Days events nationwide was Extraordinary Women, and naturally the Mills Archive put a milling twist on the theme. We showcased three extraordinary women in milling: E.M. Gardner, a watermill enthusiast and audacious campaigner for women’s votes; Helen Major, one of the Archive’s first volunteers whose legacy built the Founders’ Room; and our very own Mildred Cookson, founder and trustee of the Archive, and a miller for 30 years. I think people particularly appreciated being able to talk to Mildred and hear her fascinating facts and amusing anecdotes: meeting a real-life miller makes people realise that milling isn’t just a thing of the past.

The display also featured a timeline of women in milling stretching through history, back to the several thousand year-old beehive quern that we had on display which would have once been operated by Iron Age women.

The exhibition was held in the Founders’ Room, which was renovated in 2014 to reflect the 18th Century style of Watlington House, part of which was built in 1763. It truly is a beautiful room, and provided the perfect backdrop to our exhibition.

It’s safe to say that our visitors were thoroughly impressed by everything we’re doing here at the Archive. It’s really encouraging to know we’re doing work that people find genuinely interesting and helpful, as that is our ultimate goal; there is no point in preserving our heritage unless it is used and valued today and in the future.

With this being my first Heritage Open Day, I hadn’t known quite what to expect – and I was very surprised and pleased at the huge turnout of visitors! Over the whole day, we estimated that we had nearly 300 people through the doors, and at several points there was hardly any space to move in our Founders’ Room. For me, the best thing about the day was hearing the fascinated exclamations from visitors as they read about our Extraordinary Women in Milling, and their compliments on how impressive and informative they found it.

We hope that Heritage Open Day will help to generate more interest in our Archive, and in milling – we’d like to say a warm welcome to our new blog readers who have come to us as a result of the day: we’re very happy to meet you and excited to take you with us through all the progress we have planned for the future! The day was thoroughly enjoyed by all, and we’re looking forward to an even bigger and better event next year.