HOPES of removing scaffolding that has supported one of Britain’s most important historic industrial buildings for more than 20 years have moved a step closer.
An Historic England grant of £31,020 will enable architects and engineers to work out a way to repair the timber frame of the roof of the bridge house at Gunns Mill in the Forest of Dean.
The charcoal blast furnace near Flaxley dates to around 1682 when the Forest was one of the county’s most important centres of iron production in the country.
It was converted to a papermill in 1743 but had fallen out of use by the 20th century.
It is considered to be the best-preserved charcoal blast furnace in Britain but is on Historic England’s “At Risk” register.
The bridge house protected the charcoal and ore from the weather before loading into the furnace.
It is the only surviving bridge house for a furnace of this type – adding to Gunns Mill’s national importance.
The Forest of Dean Buildings Preservation Trust, which has owned Gunns Mill since 2013, is hoping to repair the building and find a new use for it.
A number of repairs to the structure have been carried out since the trust took ownership with support and funding from Historic England..
In 2020, a grant of £84,000 supported the repair of the mill wheel pit structure and in 2022, works to stabilise the north wall, a major structural issue with the building, were successfully completed with a further grant of £95,000.
Kate Biggs of the Forest of Dean Preservation Trust, said: “Once the architects and engineers have prepared a solution, we will fundraise for the work to be undertaken.
“This is a major step forward in the journey of this building and would mean that we could remove some of the scaffolding, after over 20 years!
“For many years the scale of the project and the masonry repairs required meant that this point seemed a very long way off.”
She added: “It now feels that goal is achievable for our small trust.”
Historic England’s south west regional director Rebecca Barrett said the grant will allow the Trust to plan the next stage of repairs.
She said: “Gunns Mill tells an important story about Britain’s industrial past and is vital to our understanding of the iron industry in the Forest of Dean.
“It is now very fragile and the next phase of repair needs to be carefully planned. Our funding will help the Trust to do that, and we look forward to supporting them along the way.”
Forest of Dean MP Mark Harper added: “I have previously had the pleasure of visiting this important heritage site and have been consistently impressed with the dedication of both the Forest of Dean Buildings Preservation Trust and Historic England in bringing this site back to its former glory.
“I look forward to returning to Gunns Mill to view the progress for myself and to a time when this significant piece of local history can be enjoyed by my constituents.”
Gunns Mill will be open to the public on Saturday, September 16 for this year’s Heritage Open Days festival from 10.30-16.30.
For more information about the event, go to www.heritageopendays.org.uk/visiting/event/gunns-mill-nr-littledean.