A volunteer at an historic Mid Devon Mill has been awarded the British Empire Medal in the Queens New Years Honours List
John Jasper has been working at Coldharbour Mill Working Wool Museum in Uffculme for the past three decades and has made a considerable contribution to Devon’s industrial heritage.
“His knowledge, expertise and commitment has been invaluable to the development of Coldharbour Mill,” said Martin Halse, Chief Executive of Coldharbour Mill Trust. “His work as a volunteer since 1990 has left a remarkable legacy of heritage conservation and restoration for visitors to learn from and enjoy.”
Historic England describe Coldharbour Mill as ‘one of the best-preserved textile mill complexes in the country.” The Mill was a commercial enterprise between 1797 and 1981. Upon closure, although the fabric and power machinery were in a poor state, a local independent trust was established to save the grade II* listed site and open it to visitors.
In 1990 the whole steam complex including the 1888 and 1910 Lancashire boilers and the 1910 Pollitt and Wigzell engine were not working nor had they been for several years.
“John assessed their condition and set about gathering a team of volunteers to restore the boiler to get it back into commission,” said Mr Halse. “Without him, it is doubtful that anyone would have had the knowledge or commitment to return the steam plant to operation.
“John’s substantive contribution has been as the driving force to return the Mill’s rare and original steam plant and associated engines to full working order, to lead a team of volunteers to operate the complex for the public at regular steaming events throughout the year; manage the labour-intensive annual insurance inspection process, continue the improvements to the museum by managing regular work days of volunteers.
“Undoubtedly, his greatest achievement has been the rescue, installation and restoration of the 1867 Kittoe and Brotherhood Beam Engine in the Beam Engine House, (replacing the original beam engine that had sadly been scrapped in an earlier era).
“Having discovered the abandoned and unwanted beam engine in Wiltshire where it had lain in a transport yard, neglected for many years. John realised its potential significance to the steam collection of the Museum.
“He gave his time to draw the plans for the foundations, working out how it would fit and then overseeing the haulage and delivery.
“To not only assemble it but then for it to successfully steam for the public to enjoy into the future is a terrific legacy and an amazing achievement.
“Not only has he overseen the return of immobile, rusty and static engines such as the stationary fire pump and Marshall engine to running order, and installed a boiler feed pump and re-seated the 1910 boiler for use, he has also created policies, procedures and operating documents, taking responsibility for Health and Safety.
“His achievements are all the more remarkable given that most of this volunteer activity has happened while he was working a demanding full-time job as an engineer.”
In addition, for 30 years John has contributed his talents to many other aspects of museum. He led a team to clear the waterways and rescue the pipes from the Gas Retort House from the millstreams. He provided technical information to the contractors who restored the Mill’s unique waterwheel.
As volunteer Steam Curator, he has continued to train and lead volunteers in the ‘Steam Team’, who not only maintain and operate the restored steam engines, but also assist with the maintenance and display of the Mill’s collection of textile machines, both working and non-working exhibits.
He has built up a reference library to assist with solving problems with the old machinery and has learned, and passed on, traditional skills. He has also given tours to the public. In the last few years, he has served as interim Volunteer Coordinator, and also joined the Board of Trustees and stepped in as Acting Chairman in 2018.
“His many admirable qualities include unflappability and complete dedication to the tasks he undertakes,” Mr Halse added. “All this is testimony to a most remarkably modest man who has continued to quietly donate his skills, energy and ingenuity in the service of heritage for a sustained period. As such, he is richly deserving of this national honour.”
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