Exclusive first look inside Victoria Mills during £2.1m restoration
The Grimsby Telegraph was given exclusive access inside and outside to the works being finished off at Victoria Mills in Grimsby. Picture: Jon Corken
By Grimsby Telegraph | Posted: 9 Jun 2017
Grimsby's iconic Victoria Mills has been secured for another 100 years after its £2.1million lifeline.
As the removal of the many tonnes of steel scaffolding begins to reveal the magnificent restoration, surveyors said the investment to safeguard the 43-metre high building was a "make-or-break" decision.
That was because the waterside development was teetering on collapse two years ago.
One of the turrets was seen swaying in the wind.
Its collapse would have doomed the building forever.
The risk to the lives of nearby residents forced North East Lincolnshire Council to step in immediately to secure the mammoth structure.
Contractors who first saw the extent of the neglect over decades were faced with four-inch deep pigeon guano on the top floor.
There was also buddleia growing from the ledges. Interior timbers were also rocking and many had crashed to the floor of the shell of the building.
It remains to be seen what the future holds for Victoria Mills but planning permission for 38 flats was granted in the past for waterside apartments.
The scaffolding inside made the interior look like inside a cathedral.
But surveyors say it would take a huge investment by any future buyer to create flats as the walls are over a metre thick in places and the apartments would need windows.
It is more likely a commercial use will be found for the former mills.
North East Lincolnshire Council's portfolio holder for regeneration Councillor Peter Wheatley said: "Working with our partners ENGIE and with the support of Historic England, we've secured the Silo at Victoria Mill for decades to come.
"It's a landmark building and we've done the right thing to protect it for future generations.
"From when we first realised the building posed a threat, to putting the finishing touches on the new roof, it's been a unique undertaking and I'm grateful to everyone who has been involved.
"The Council took ownership of the building earlier this year and we're looking at options for future uses.
"Although early days, we're hoping that the building could play its part in the area's maritime heritage offer."
The former flourmill, warehouses and offices, were built between 1889 and 1906, and designed by Sir William Gelder of Hull.
There were a number of late 20th Century alterations and after the Millennium, plans were submitted for 38 luxury flats.
It is dominated with red brick, with blue brick, stone and terrracota dressings.
Stylish new Welsh slate roofs slates have been replaced and restoration experts have ensured the stone-coped gables and parapets in Flemish- style are back to their original state.
Microscopic paint analysis has been used to ensure the exact same paints are used to get the right colour.
Apparently grey was most fashionable more than 100 years ago, along with green window frames.
The building is in three main parts including a central eight-storey grain store, with a seven-storey bay quayside used as a loading building. It also had a seven -storey double-range road-side warehouse attached to the east. Later there was a southern addition alongside Victoria Street.
A drone survey carried out over two and a half years ago revealed the scale of the deterioration.
Principal quantity surveyor for Engie, North East Lincolnshire Council's working partner, Jon Wilcox explained the precarious nature of the work to repair the structure because of the scale of the delapidation.
He said in high winds the structure was moving and the domes were tilting.
Frighteningly, each of the domes had slipped from the cross beams holding them up and each corner was leaning outward.
There were also large cracks and all the gutters had failed over previous years and three and a half years ago the wavering gutters were removed.
Mould and damp soiled the interior walls and there was a mass of rusty ironwork.
Contractors first began the work over three years ago with the aid of a giant cherry-picker and the first steeplejacks to access the roof said the building was falling apart and they could not carry out the work safely.
Mr Wilcox said: "We were getting concerned about the size of the cracks and we realised we had to monitor the movement of the building. The sensors were installed to measure the movement and there was a level set beyond which we needed to get people out of the neighbouring flats for their safety."
In February last year 70 during very high winds, people had to evacuate their homes and some were taken to the Fishing Heritage Centre for comfort.
Mr Wilcox said: "The gable turret was swaying about. That's when we said "'Everyone out."'
He added: "If we had lost the turret the whole gable would have come down. We did not know if it was going to go outward or inward."
He said contractors PMC "did a really good job" amassing a vast amount of scaffolding to wrap around the mills and also on the cathedral-like interior.
The principal quantity surveyor said: "It was clear we were going to have to rebuild it to make it good. The gables were a worry."
The long process of securing the building could only be done when weather conditions permitted.
Work had to stop outside after winds exceeded 40mph.
Straps and bracing were installed as well as rods to lock the walls together.
Cintec anchors were installed on each corner.
Mr Wilcox said inserting windows in the near one-metre-thick walls would be expensive.
He praised Lincolnshire construction firm Lindum for the quality of the restoration work and Ashbridge Roofing of Scunthorpe.
He also praised the understanding of the Mills' neighbours.
Crash decks were installed to prevent any injury to people going to and from the entrances to the adjoining flats.
Mr Wilcox said: "They have been really understanding and obliging. No one wants a construction site on their door or anyone taking up their parking spaces but they have been very grateful and understood we needed to be here and ultimately it was for their safety."
NELC held regular residents' meetings to update neighbours.
Victoria Mills holds such an importance on the landscape of the town that there is a model of it at Windsor's Legoland, alongside Grimsby Dock tower and the dock offices.
The prospects for the building remain uncertain, but Mr Wilcox said "There are many towns who would be proud to have such a building. It is in a really great setting."