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Cranleigh DFAS visits Whitchurch Silk Mill
and Bombay Sapphire Gin Distillery

On Friday 21st April, we visited in the morning, the Whitchurch Silk Mill, the oldest working silk mill in the UK still in its original building.  Situated in a beautiful, rural Hampshire village, it comprises a Georgian water mill that weaves silk using 19th century machinery.  Some renovation has been undertaken to the fascinating building, and a Lottery Grant has been approved for further improvements.  It is located on the river Test, running over chalk, which is famous for its fishing.  The water is used by the Mill, which contains the largest wooden water wheel in the country.

The building itself is charming, and historic.  Old beams, low head room and full of what appears to be original machinery.  Our guide explained the process by which silk is made, which involves a great deal of spinning by hand.  Silk is imported primarily from China, as our climate is not suitable for the nurture of the silk cocoons.  One bobbin will contain 8 miles of silk!

Whilst I found the Mill of great interest, I would have preferred to see weavers actually using the looms so that one could have gained a better perspective of the work involved.

Following lunch at the Mill, we proceeded to the Bombay Sapphire Distillery, located nearby, at Laverstoke Mill.  For over 225 years, the Victorian and Georgian buildings astride the River Test produced bank notes, but now they house a state of the art distillery, which produces every drop of Bombay Sapphire gin.  In 1836 the Dakin family pioneered the vapour infusion method of distillation for their gin, differing from traditional gin distillation, which involved boiling botanicals directly into the spirit.  Mary Dakin introduced the method of holding botanicals in a perforated copper basket, through which the spirit vapour rises, thus capturing the distinctive flavours of the botanicals.

The botanicals comprise a selection of berries, barks, seeds, roots and peels.  Examples of some of these are grown in a magnificent glass house designed by Thomas Heatherwick.  In the dry room, we were invited to smell the jars of these botanicals, and decide upon our favourites, which would help to choose a perfect cocktail at the end of our visit.

Although we were left to explore the distillery at our own speed, assisted by several audio commentaries around the site, we did have an excellent guide to the Dakin Still House, who explained in detail the distillation process.  Our visit culminated in the Mill Bar, where cocktails were served using the botanicals which each had favoured.

I found the visit entertaining, interesting, and conducted with professional expertise.  I would happily re-visit, and even brought home the recipe card for my cocktail, with a bottle of Bombay Sapphire Gin!

Text by Philip Akroyd

Photos by John Wright



More photos ...

of Whitchurch Silk Mill



and Bombay Sapphire Gin Distillery