Starting at 13, Alan Stoyel MBE amassed one of the largest collections we care for in our archive. In each mill he recorded and repaired, Alan treasured the opportunity to open them to the public. Will you help make his collection available to the entire world?
The waterwheel captivates us. Its steady turning like the ticking clock taking us to a time before the modern bustle, a time of timbers creaking and water churning. Yet, even a century ago, these picturesque sights were disappearing from our countryside. Few people can make history accessible to the public; rarer still are those who can recapture this beauty.
Alan Stoyel MBE did both. Highly regarded as a miller, millwright, author and leading authority on watermills, he was also a founding member of our independent charity, The Mills Archive Trust. He repaired and recorded the unique attraction of our countryside’s mills for everyone to enjoy; so too must we, the world’s largest archive dedicated to milling, make his work accessible to the public. Will you help us to preserve his collection?
We have the honour of caring for Alan’s priceless artefacts, photographs, manuscripts and 1,700 books. An impressive collection requires a good eye. Alan had one from an early age. Recounting his 13-year-old Memories of Kentish Watermills in his book of the same name:
“The contrast between its present serenity and its industrial past was extraordinary and hypnotic.”
His career as a mining geologist, rather than a hindrance, gave him technical skills, the ability to travel and meticulously record the nation’s mills in his spare time.
To campaign for their preservation, he volunteered for English Heritage and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings’ Mills Section, serving as its Chairman between 1985–1988.
Alan directly repaired no less than a dozen mills, including at Court of Noke. With the millwright, Martin Watts; the blacksmith, David Perks; and others, Alan plied his skills to help restore its waterwheel. As a SPAB member, he pressed for the reconstruction of Stotfold Mill after it burnt down. Many more mills enjoyed his generous advice and assistance to turn again. So did the millers; he trained the new miller at Mortimer’s Cross Watermill after maintaining and operating the site for English Heritage. Alan’s personal project was the derelict Venn Mill, which he bought in Oxfordshire and saved from demolition to restore to working order and become its new miller.
Working order was the key. Striving to put mills in pride of place in their communities again, he opened Venn Mill to the public. His persuasive powers encouraged mill owners (16 in Oxfordshire alone) to do the same on National Mills Weekend. This drive to make heritage accessible earned Alan an MBE in the New Year Honour’s List for 2019.
The same ethos shapes our goal to allow everyone to learn from and enjoy Alan’s collection. We must now catalogue and digitise his work—no small task. Alan amassed over 40,000 photographs, 80 rolled plans, 31 artefacts and thousands more records. All of these require thousands of specialised archival packaging, the dedication of our staff, volunteers and renting our British Standard Archival store.
Milling has produced the food we eat, the clothes we wear and more. The world should be able to engage with this integral part of its history. We must take up this mantel left by Alan. Please help us to ensure that his legacy and work can continue to enrich our knowledge about this vital trade.