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Grand Designs: Couple transform 200-year-old former Blacking Mill

A couple hope to transform a 200-year-old former blacking mill on the verge of collapse in just 18 months and with a £250,000 budget on Grand Designs – but have to rebuild it around their new structure after being told it’s too dangerous to repair.

Most of us would shudder at the thought of transforming a crumbling, structurally unsound ruin into a home, especially doing it yourself and on an extremely tight budget.

But in tonight’s episode of the Channel 4 show, adventurous, super optimistic young Cumbrian couple Rob, 31, and Ruth, 27, explain how they’ve fallen in love with such a building: a 200-year-old former Blacking Mill that’s also been made a scheduled ancient monument by Historic England, meaning that any modifications require consent from the secretary of state.

Having purchased the site for £110,000, their bold vision is to conserve as much of the original structure as possible and within the walls slot in an entirely new timber clad, sharp-edged modern building – giving the impression that it’s peeping out from the original craggy mill ruins. 

In tonight’s episode of Channel 4’s Grand Designs, adventurous, super optimistic young Cumbrian couple Rob, 31, and Ruth, 27, transform a 200-year-old former Blacking Mill on the verge of collapse in just 18 months for £250,000

The 200-year-old former Blacking Mill was made a scheduled ancient monument by Historic England, meaning that any modifications required consent from the secretary of state.

Pictured, the dining area after the impressive transformation

The couple hope to complete the epic, complicated restoration and new build hybrid in 18 months, with just £250,000.

Pictured, the living area after the transformation

They hope to complete this epic, complicated restoration and new build hybrid in 18 months, with just £250,000.

‘I found it and have been obsessed with it for the last seven years.

It’s almost like a bit of a magical place,’ says Rob, to which Ruth adds: ‘Rob took me here the first time I came to meet his parents. I fell in love with it. It’s the perfect location with a river running through it and a lot of green trees.’

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Over the last 200 years, the building has had a variety of uses – as a water mill, a blacking mill producing charcoaled dust for iron forges and finally, a pig sty.

Speaking to presenter Kevin McCloud about how they explain the project to people who have never been there, Rob says: ‘It’s a derelict wreck that we’re plonking a lovely new contemporary style building inside that’s going to be half house and then half a workshop and office.’  

Over 200 years, the building (pictured, after the transformation) has had a variety of uses – as a water mill, a blacking mill producing charcoaled dust for iron forges and finally, karenroterdavis a pig sty

Rob describes the project as a ‘derelict wreck that we’re plonking a lovely new contemporary style building inside that’s going to be half house and then half a workshop and office.’ Pictured, the study area

Within the existing walls, Rob and Ruth hope to avoid trashing the place by conserving the dilapidated characterful mill buildings as they are – and hope to slot in an entirely new timber frame structure – as though the new is growing out of the old. 

‘First, because these are protected buildings at risk of imminent collapse, they need to be made structurally sound,’ explains Kevin. ‘A job fraught with difficulty and some danger.’

‘If this first conservation phase is a success, Rob and Ruth will lay new building foundations inside the old structures, and slot new insulated fiber frames within them – all capped off with a fibreglass roof.’ 

He continues: ‘The south building is to be a workshop and architecture studio.

The larger north building will become the centrepiece of this project – a 250 square metre, two-storey home. 

Kevin McCloud praises how nothing gets in the way of the spectacular views, adding it’s like ‘standing inside a gallery.’ Pictured, view from the kitchen

The couple set about keeping the ruin’s original atmospheric magic while giving the building a modern update.

Pictured, the study

Upstairs includes a bedroom for Ruth and Rob (pictured, after the transformation) along with three further rooms

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Kevin goes on to describe how the ground floor will contain a large open-plan kitchen-dining room and living room, with a very large seven-metre wide window that’ll visually connect the building to the beautiful river valley that is just outside. 

‘There will also be a more private snug with a woodburner,’ he adds. 

Meanwhile, upstairs, he notes there will be a bedroom for Ruth and Rob, along with three further rooms. 

‘Above that will sit a roof terrace with food growing, a dining table, plenty of seating and a pizza oven,’ he continues.

But the couple’s optimism is tested to the limit straight away when Historic England tell them the Blacking Mill is too dangerous to repair.

Suddenly pitched into Plan B, Rob and Ruth are required to painstakingly re-build the ancient mill-buildings around their new timber-frame structure. 

Short of money, trying to do as much as they can themselves and faced by a series of setbacks, the project drags inexorably on. 

During the show, the couple’s optimism is tested to the limit straight away when Historic England tell them the Blacking Mill is too dangerous to repair.

Pictured, the kitchen

And by the time Kevin McCloud checks on the couple’s progress, it’s almost three years on from when they started the bonkers scheme.

‘Wow, that is the set for the Game of Thrones,’ he says.

‘I mean that in a really, really complementary way – it’s brilliant.’

Speaking to the couple, he jokes: ‘Look at you both – you’re like building goblins. You’ve really grown to be a part of this place. Look at the pair of you – you’re slowly turning the same colour as the entire valley.’ 

However, in the end the question still remains, once finished, what will be left of the ruin’s original atmospheric magic…

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