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Newspaper Article (1998)

Back to the future

High Tech firm turns to Victorian machinery

A High Tech company is turning to Victorian machinery to power its electronic equipment into the new millennium.

Phoenix VLSI Consultants, which is based at the Old Mill in Towcester, makes silicon chips for companies all over the world.

Employees discovered a turbine dating back to the late nineteenth century, buried under rubble, when they took over the derelict mill for renovation in 1996.

It is believed the water generated turbine had not been in use since the forties or fifties when it powered equipment at the mill.

Now that the turbine has been renovated and is fully in action, employees at Phoenix have plans to use it to power the lighting, and eventually the computer system in the offices.

Silicon design engineer Bob Simpson is a mill and history enthusiast. With the help of colleagues and the Hampshire Mill Group he decided to take on the task of renovating the turbine during winter 1996/7.

Just over a year later his dreams has been realised and the turbine is working as well as it did in 1895 when it was first installed at the mill.

Bob said "We knew the turbine was there because the shafts were sticking up out of the water. It is believed it was installed by George Groom, who was the miller[sic - he was a millwright] at the time, the mill was then called Towcester Flour Mill and the turbine will have been used to power the grinder. It was run by water and later with the help of an electric motor. However, as electrical equipment was used more and more the turbine became redundant and with time it was eventually buried under the silt."

The massive operation of renovating the turbine included getting it out from under the gravel and silt, stripping it and then replacing old nuts and bolts.

The most crucial part however was getting the water to run through the turbine in order to power it.

The turbine was in full working order for the first time in around fifty years in October last year.

Bob said "It would be nice to have the turbine and the water generating the lighting in the next two to three months, and I would think we will be able to use it to power the computers some time next year."

  1. Extract from an article by Katy Regan which appeared on the front page of the "Towcester Post" for Friday April 24th 1998
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