Visit to Bombay Sapphire Gin Distillery and Whitchurch Silk Mill on 6th March 2019

Waiting for our coach was not very pleasant as it was a damp morning but thankfully the coach was early and we were able to board before getting too wet.  After a short local detour to avoid traffic queues on the A40 we had a good journey to Laverstock.  Time was built into our visit to allow for refreshments on arrival.  The temporary café, a double decker bus, was quite a novel sight.  Suitably refreshed we were split into two groups. My group guide was Helen, who was witty, funny and very knowledgeable.  She made the point that of the normal shop price of £22, the Government took £12, so it was in our own interests to “keep on drinking”. Part of the tour was to the Aroma Room, where there were 22 glass jars with lids.  We were asked to smell the contents (called Botanicals) of each jar and any that we liked mark on a card that we had been given;  from this Helen was able to suggest which Gin based cocktail might suit us, when we reached the bar at the end of the tour. There was a choice 10 alcoholic and 2 alcohol free, and all agreed that whatever they tried, they were very nice.  

In the Doomsday Book it shows that Laverstock Mill was a corn mill. In 1719 the mill was converted into a hand-made paper mill.   The site was later expanded and was used to manufacture bank notes. Laverstoke Mill has been under the ownership of William the Conqueror, Henry VIII and enjoyed four royal visits, most recently Queen Elizabeth in 1962.  Bombay Sapphire is now part of the Bacardi group of companies.

Bombay Sapphire’s heritage begins in 1761 when distiller Thomas Dakin purchased a site in Warrington, with the intention of distilling gin. In 1831, having moved to Laverstock, the Dakin’s purchased a second still, and adapted it so that instead of adding the botanicals to the still they were used to flavour the Gin by capturing the flavours in the vapour as it passed through a second chamber – this is known as Vapour Infusion, and still faithfully used by Bombay Sapphire today.

At Laverstoke, every reasonable effort has been made to ensure the processes and buildings are as ecologically sustainable and efficient as possible. In recognition of this the distillery has been awarded the highly prestigious BREEAM Award for Industrial Design in 2014. 

The second visit of the day was to Whitchurch Silk Mill.  There being only a very limited café facility, we were nevertheless able to enjoy our packed lunches in a private room where we could also get Coffee and Tea. After lunch, we were split into 2 groups and taken round the site by tour guides.

Whitchurch Silk Mill was built on land owned by the Dean and Chapter of Winchester Cathedral. We know quite a lot about the different owners of the Mill but, unfortunately, the Mill records were destroyed by fire in 1955, making it very hard to know much about the number of employees, their wages and conditions through history.  What we do know, is that during the troubles in Europe in the early 17th Century many Huguenots’ came to England a few of whom came to Whitcurch and set up this mill. We were shown how the raw silk was turned into cloth and the various patterns, thickness of material, and colour combinations could be used to produce the very fine silk goods that we see today.  The cocoons are initially imported through Sudbury in Suffolk and distributed to this and other mills in UK.

The weaving machines are original ones that have been in use for well over 100yrs. The whole manufacturing process is very labour intensive which accounts for the high cost of Silk products.  The only cheap bit is the use of the waters of the river Test which drives the Water Wheel and through a system of gears, and belts etc the machines them-selves.

The journey home was trouble free, and despite a poor weather day, a good time was had by all.

Thank you to Henry for the article and to Janice, Martin and Frank for the photographs. (There are several similar but they are inclusive to those that submitted photographs).

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