Water-mill at Merton Abbey Mills (video)

Yesterday I went to Merton Abbey Mills. The old waterwheel was turning and I shot some video of it.

There has been working waterwheel on this site for hundreds of years. Originally used to grind corn, the waterwheel later powered machinery used in the dyeing and printing of fabrics, most recently by Liberty’s of London - until 1972.

During this time the wheel was used to drive the rinsing spools and associated drying machinery inside the wheelhouse. After extensive renovation, this wheel - now the only working waterwheel in London - is now in service again, driving a potter’s wheel and generating electricity for lighting the wheelhouse and recharging Merton Abbey Mills’ electric vehicles. The output of the mill is about one and a half horsepower (1.2kW).

Merton Abbey Mills is a former textile factory in the parish of Merton in London, England near the site of the medieval Merton Priory, now the home of a variety of businesses, mostly retailers.

The River Wandle flowing north towards Wandsworth drove watermills and provided water for a number of industrial processes in Merton. Merton Abbey Mills were established by Huguenot silk throwers in the early eighteenth century; there were already textile works nearby from 1667. The Abbey was restructured for textile printing in the early nineteenth century and was acquired by the artist and textile designer William Morris in June 1881 as the new home of Morris & Co.'s workshops. The complex, on 7 acres (28,000 m2), included several buildings and a dyeworks, and the various buildings were soon adapted for stained glass making, textile printing, and fabric, tapestry, and carpet-weaving. Morris refused to destroy existing buildings, and adapted them or built new ones.

Morris employed a number of former Spitalfields silk weavers at Merton Abbey to produce hand-woven textiles, and used the gardens to grow dye plants and the water of the River Wandle to dye and rinse his fabrics.

Liberty & Co. had been involved with the site since the 19th century, as their popular ranges of fabrics for dress and furniture were nearly all made there by Littler and Co, Morris's immediate neighbours to the south. In 1904 Liberty & Co took over the Littler site, and then in 1940 the Morris facilities as well. They continued to operate the Merton Abbey Mills until 1972, and textile production was continued by other firms until 1982. During World War II part of the site was used to construct gun-turrets for the Bristol Blenheim fighter-bomber.

Today Merton Abbey Mills is a crafts market and the site of a summer theatre and music festival called Abbeyfest. A number of buildings from the Morris period, and even earlier, survive, and there are displays on the history of the site. A water-mill still turns in the summer, and the "colourhouse", a mid-18th century industrial building, is now a children's theatre.