About Parndon Mill

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Early Project Space construction View of Parndon MillParndon Mill maintenance workParndon Mill flagpole
Parndon Mill studios and gallery


Parndon Mill, nestling on the banks of the river Stort on the outskirts of Harlow, is a centre for creative activity. Since the sixties it has been occupied by artists and craftsmen who have gradually restored the premises. On the top floor of the mill there are studios for painting, sculpture, weaving, calligraphy and print making, the first and second floors being occupied by designers in various fields and architects. Workshops on the ground floor include the skills of guitar making, ceramics and glass blowing, fusing and casting, while in the outbuildings and old stables a variety of other crafts flourish, including jewellery, porcelain and carpentry and there is a blacksmith who in his spare time is restoring a Dutch barge.

The history of Parndon Mill goes back some time. It was mentioned in the Domesday Book. Successive buildings have stood on the site, milling flour from the grain grown on the rich farmland around. Flour can be very combustible and there have been numerous fires over the years; the last one in 1897 destroyed the mill. Construction on the current building was completed in 1900. A state of the art flat turbine mill wheel was installed in 1904. It is still in position in the wheelhouse, but stopped turning in 1960 when the well respected miller Neville Smith died. For a few years Bill Twynham, who was a great character, produced animal foods at the mill and continued with the coal business. It then became empty and disused and was taken over by the Harlow Development Corporation who erected a security fence, allowed the weeds to grow and searched for a new purpose for the buildings. Something to do with the arts was favoured.

In 1968 Sally Anderson was earning a living making pottery in her Harlow Corporation home and desperately looking for a studio. A colleague from the Technical College told her about Parndon Mill. At first sight there it was, overgrown and desolate in the late summer rain. And it seemed enormous. The mill building on four floors and the six bedroom house were surrounded by three acres of elderberry bushes and broken trees intertwined with brambles. These almost hid the numerous outbuildings. Here was rather more than a potential one man pottery studio but of course it could all be shared by other artists.

So the vision evolved and the work started. There was plenty of space, so this was traded for goods and services. Before long Roger Lee came to take a few photos and was given a small studio in return for numerous jobs to do. He never left. All the wiring was condemned so there was no electricity except to pump water from the well. A wire sneaked from the pump gave one light in the kitchen. The first priority was to wire up the kilns and get the pottery going. It had to be candles at bedtime for a long while yet. To see a light in every window of the mill was still a dream.

The factory inspector insisted that the open staircases of the mill be enclosed before spaces on the upper floors were let. Health and Safety and the Fire Inspector also made stipulations. Harlow Council imposed business rates. It soon became apparent that reasonable rents for the studios would be necessary to make ends meet so, as well as fine artists, tenants who ran businesses based on craft and design moved in. From those early days, Alan the blacksmith and Barry the carpenter are still here. Eventually one Autumn day when the clocks changed and it was dark before the end of the working day, there was the mill, all lit up.

On New Year's Day 1970 Sally Anderson received a commission for tiles for all the bathrooms in an international hotel in London. It was a huge project. Sally Anderson (Ceramics) Ltd was formed and in due course Roger Lee became a director of the Company. Being already general manager at the Mill, part time stockman, odd job man and general factotum, Roger describes himself as wearing many hats. Now Roger and Sally were in the tile business and this was to be a continuing success for many years to come. For over thirty years they designed and manufactured tiles for palaces, luxury liners, prestigious hotels and indoor swimming pools.

In May 2004 Sally and Roger decided to retire from manufacturing tiles. The studios where the tiles were made have now been refurbished as workshops including three glass studios. For a long time it had been an ambition to have glass artists working at the mill and especially a hot glass studio. The only suitable space for this was the mill's old boiler house which latterly had been the kiln room for the tile business. It is now a fully equipped studio for glass blowing.

In the early days one of the very first priorities at Parndon Mill was to open a gallery to sell the work from the pottery and other artists and craftsmen, but other commitments overtook this venture. Now at last the area which was the tile showroom has been converted to The Gallery at Parndon Mill which presents a series of exhibitions displaying a wide variety of paintings, original prints, sculpture and skilled craftwork, all of a consistently high standard. Most of the work shown is chosen from the many talented artists and craftsmen who live and work in the vicinity including, of course, those who have studios at the Mill. An annual exhibition of works of art in glass exhibits pieces by some of the best artists in this popular medium. The Gallery has become a focus for the resident artists and for others from the area, and as it is open to the public five days a week, it can no longer be said that Parndon Mill is Harlow's best kept secret.