The past and the future in Cromer & Cottered

PUBLISHED: 01:16 11 April 2011 | UPDATED: 19:10 20 February 2013

The past and the future in Cromer & Cottered

The past and the future in Cromer & Cottered

In rural East Herts, in a village and hamlet with barely 600 souls between them, Richard Young finds the vibrant legacy of Agnes Baden-Powell and the last engineering marvel of its kind in the county...

Planning for the future

WITH a passion for giving young people valuable life skills, Carole Barker has been helping to run the county Girl Guide HQ in Cottered since it opened 15 years ago.

A guider for 33 years, Carole is responsible for bookings and day-to-day management at the Hertfordshire Guide Centre, which is used by dozens of Girl Guide and Brownie groups, as well as Scouts and Cubs.

All done on a voluntary basis, Carole and the management team provide a base for weekend and holiday camping, trekking and adventures for around 2000 young people a year from across the county and beyond.

Herts Guides bought the centre as a campsite and holiday house in 1996, says Carole, who has run guide units and camps as well as being a division commissioner for Stevenage in her time as a guider. It was an ideal building for us as it used to be the village school and is child friendly and set in a pretty village. It now also houses our guide county office and county secretary. The local pre-school group, Jumping Jacks, also uses the centre in the week.

Brownies, Guides and Rainbows come to stay in the centre at weekends and in the school holidays. The field is also used for camping and other activities. It is also used by other organisations such as Scouts, Cubs, Beavers and Duke of Edinburgh groups from schools and colleges.

Always busy, last year was a particularly eventful one at the centre, Carole says, as it was the Girl Guide movements centenary.

We had various celebratory events including a very large weekend camp of girls from Ware. This year we are busy with bookings for pack holidays for Brownies, camps for Guides and Duke of Edinburgh groups.

Being an active bunch, the group has made many improvements to the former school since taking over, including an office extension, toilet and shower block for campers as well as an activity centre. Carole says this should ensure the site plays a part in the movements future for a long time to come.

We hope that the centre and facilities will be well used for the next 100 years of guiding.

Get in touch

To get involved with Hertfordshire Guide Centre, girl guiding and the many other activities that go on at the Cottered centre, contact Carole at

Preserving the past

AN engineer is helping to preserve an endangered species that stands proud over the tiny hamlet of Cromer.

Robin Webb, a former de Havilland and British Aerospace engineer, turned his hand to a much earlier form of mechanics when he retired, fulfilling a dream he had held since stumbling across a watermill on his honeymoon.

He is a custodian of the last windmill in Hertfordshire, the lovely Cromer Mill, beautifully restored by enthusiasts over a period of more than 30 years.

He became involved with the mill in 1998, as the last phase of restoration was starting, when he volunteered to keep a photographic record of the work. He then went on to become a guide and eventually a custodian. Today he organises the upkeep of the mill as well as guides for open days.

The mill was built in 1681 and has been rebuilt several times since then, the 76-year-old enthusiast says. Its whats known as a post mill - the oldest type of English windmill. The body of the mill is a big square box perched on top of a massive oak central post.

Although much of the windmill has been replaced, the original post is still in use and dendrochronologists have dated its felling to the spring of 1679.

After centuries, the mill last ground flour in the 1920s, a time when its position right next to the road did not inconvenience cars, something todays operators have to consider, when putting it into operation.

It is so close to the road that it actually hangs over it, Robin says. It has always been like it. Up until then traffic on the road was almost entirely pedestrian and horse-drawn.

After it fell into disuse the mill became derelict. There was however a notable local effort to re-clad it in the 1930s, which Robin says saved the structure and also enabled the Home Guard to use it to spot enemy planes in the Second World War. But it was facing demolition until the Herts Building Preservation Trust got involved.

Four phases of restoration including new sails and much of the internal machinery, 150,000 from various heritage grants and a huge amount of work by a small, dedicated team later, the mill is now a museum to what was once a very common sight across the county.

Theres an old medieval law that no man should have to walk more than one-and-a-half miles to get his corn ground, Robin says. If you stood on the windmill on a windy day you would have seen a number of mills turning.

Thanks to Robins efforts and those enthusiasts like him, we can once again watch Cromer Mills sails turn and climb up inside this rare and wonderful building to see the power of the wind at work.

Pay a visit

Cromer Mill is open from the second weekend in May until the second weekend in September from 2.30pm to 5pm every Sunday, as well as the second and fourth Saturdays in the month, and on Bank Holidays.

Groups, including school parties, are welcome by arrangement at other times. There is a small entrance fee.

To organise a visit, contact Robin on 01763 271305 or email

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