Houghton Mill is the most important of the few remaining water mills on the River Great Ouse, because it is the only working mill capable of producing stoneground flour froma water powered wheel. The mill, which towers five stories high above the water, sits in the centre of the river and is approached by bridges from both sides.
The present mill dates from the mid 16th century, with 19th and 20th century additions, but its origins are ancient. It is recorded that in 974, Ailwyn, who together with St Oswald had founded the great Benedictine Abbey at Ramsey 10 miles north of Huntingdon, had in 969 purchased a meadow and mill at Houghton and gave them to the Abbey as part of its endowment.
Houghton Mill, Grade 11, was acquired by the National Trust through local subscription in 1939 and leased to the Youth Hostels Association until 1983. To further protect the setting of the Mill, in 1983 the Trust purchased the C19th Mill House and 0.72 ha of river frontage by local fundraising and a Countryside Commission grant. The acquisition of a further 3.39ha of land , (Heritage Lottery Project 1997) to the north of the millpond and covenants over two islands to the south, ensures the Mill sits in its own unique landscape;
“In its surroundings it has quite unusual beauty ” (SPAB 1938)
“It is noted for its picturesque setting and is frequented by landscape artists”
(The Mills listing description 1951)
“Of splendid homely stateliness, presiding over foam flecked swirl of waters”
(The Shell & BP guide to Britain 1966)
As part of the Heritage Lottery Project, the northern water wheel was re-instated in 1998/9 and a turbine installed to produce “green” electricity from waterpower. This provides an exciting contrast for interpretation, showing both modern and traditional uses of waterpower. Power generation could be increasingly important to the sustainability of the Mill as the world’s fossil fuels diminish. The ownership of the northern banks of the river enables the Trust to protect the backdrop of the Mill. Upstream the riverbank is an important landscape setting and provide valuable public access opportunities as well as an income flow for the maintenance of the Mill. Houghton Mill is at the centre of a network of footpaths, bridleways and cycleways and is a much loved landmark in a designated “area of best landscape”. The restored mill, together with the caravan park, tea room and riverside walks provide a green “oasis” of recreational and education opportunities for villagers and visitors.