Flour of a scientific heritage

Caroline Millar saw the sails go round at Green's Mill, Nottingham
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The Independent Culture
Green's Mill stands picturesquely silhouetted against the white sky of early spring. Children scream and point excitedly to the vast sails gathering speed in a winter breeze. Inside, there is a noise like a vast treadle sewing-machine as the millstones grind impressively into action.

Yet the Mill is not just a nostalgic souvenir of our rural past. Situated in the heart of industrial Nottingham, it also tells the story of George Green, one of the greatest scientists of the 19th century.

This mathematician and miller inherited the mill from his father, who had built it overlooking the valley of the river Trent in 1807. George, a largely self-educated man, played his part in the business. He also pioneered the application of mathematics to natural phenomena such as electricity and magnetism. Although he was virtually unknown during his lifetime, his work is now used in all the physical sciences.

Kids may scoot past the section of the museum that deals with Green's life. What they will dawdle over is a hands-on science section where Green's interests are illustrated by wave machines, echo tubes, and illusions such as the "ghostly hands". You can even get a rather lurid throwback to Sixties Op Art by looking through the prism towards the moving sails of the mill.

Outside, the sturdy brick buildings have a practical beauty. And, the nearest thing to heaven for the under-10s, an extra-long slide snakes its way down the hill.

The visitors

Caroline Millar, a freelance writer, went to Green's Mill with her son Thomas, seven, daughter Claire, four, and niece Emma Atamaniuk, eight.

Caroline: We all felt quite awed by all those vast wheels turning in the mill. You can't help saying to yourself, "how amazing, it really works," when you see the bags of flour at the end of it all.

It was quite an adventure to climb to the top, and see Nottingham spread out in front of us. The stairs were very steep, though, and I wouldn't want to take a child under four up there.

I found the historical details fascinating. You realise how recent our urban landscapes are when you see a reminder of an older way of life still standing, like the mill.

Emma and Thomas preferred the hands-on science, and learnt quite a lot from seeing Green's Mill in action. But I don't think the mill is ideal for younger children. At four, Claire got very bored, and verged on a temper tantrum when she couldn't buy a badge.

Emma: I liked it because it was interesting when you could see all the big wheels going round. You could see the sails going past the window and I think the wind must be very strong to push heavy things like that. In the science part I liked the ball with all the pink lines that go to your hand - it looked like lightning striking my hand. But the video in the museum was a bit boring.

I loved the big slide. It was more slippy when you went on your coat and put your feet in the air. Thomas looked funny when he was doing that.

Thomas: Actually, none of it was boring. I liked to see the big wheels turning. They were going round very quick and it must have been a hard wind. But the steps up to the top of the mill were steep and when I had to go down I had to go backwards.

There was a round thing and when you put your hand in, it was reflected like a ghostly hand. I kept trying to shake it but it kept moving away.

The slide was dead big. Emma thought I looked funny, but I don't.

Claire: I liked the playground and the windmill because it could go round. I liked the bit that the water goes in [the wave machine]. But I cried because I wanted to buy something.

The deal

Green's Mill and Science Centre is at Windmill Lane, Sneinton, Nottingham NG2 4QB (0115 915 6878). Opening times: Wednesday-Sunday (and Bank Holiday Mondays) 10am-5pm.

Entrance: Free - but visitors are urged to buy a bag of Green's Mill flour.

Access: Telephone for details of special disabled access (to the museum only, not the mill). Buggy-pushers may find the steps up to the museum a problem.

Toilets: Clean. There are toilets for the disabled.

Catering: There is a cafe, run by volunteers. On the day we went it wasn't open, and the nearest cafe was in the city centre.

Education: Lots. Ring the mill for details of sessions on bread-making, corn dollies and wind power.

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