AN HISTORIC Dorset water-mill that witnessed the Black Death and the Plague has whirred back into production to help meet demand for wheat during the coronavirus pandemic.

Sturminster Newton Mill was mentioned in the Domesday Book in 1086 and years later inspired Victorian author Thomas Hardy.

Today the picturesque building on the banks of the River Stour survives as a working tourist attraction that sells its flour to visitors.

But with tourists in lockdown, millers Pete Loosmore and Imogen Bittner have turned it back into commercial production.

And in just 10 days they have already milled a tonne of wheat - which is usually a year's supply for the facility.

The mill, which has been run by local charity the Sturminster Newton Heritage Trust since 1994, has already supplied 200 bags of flour weighing 3.3lbs to local grocers and bakers.

Mrs Bittner said: "We were due to open on March 28 and had already bought our grain for the season.

"Without visitors, we'll be taking quite a hit but this will help to make up for a bit of the lost income.

“We're only doing this while the crisis lasts and it's not only helping us but the local community because there is a shortage of flour.

"In one way we have an advantage over the bigger mills, which are used to selling large sacks to the wholesale trade and don’t have the machinery or manpower to put the flour into small bags."

The Grade II listed mill is thought to predate the Norman Conquest, when it was part of Glastonbury Abbey's Dorset estate.

Wessex author Hardy once lived yards from the mill and wrote Return of the Native there, one of his most popular novels.

It also inspired him to write two poems; 'Overlooking the River Stour' and 'On Sturminster footbridge.'

Commercial milling there ceased in 1970 and it turned into a working museum.

Over the years the idyllic spot has become a popular subject for landscape painters and photographers.