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Technical descriptions of English windmills




Tower mill, standing today


A red brick mill with a distinctive tall, slender outline, which after ceasing work stood derelict into the 1980s with one sail, the windshaft and the brakewheel still in position. It was then converted into a house, with the stipulation that this be done fairly sensitively. The ogee cap has been restored, also the stage, fanstage and a skeleton fan. The windshaft with its cross has been reinstated, presumably the brakewheel too. It is believed the machinery below the curb is being kept somewhere on site. 

 An interior photograph was taken by Frank Gregory in the 1980s(1). Everything below the stone floor had collapsed. Enough timberwork remained to support the stones themselves; there were three pairs, overdriven from an eight-armed iron great spur wheel. The wallower and probably the rest of the machinery were also iron, this being a late and fairly “modern” mill. The bridgetrees, only one of which remained, seem to have been tenoned into the stone bearers. An iron plate appears to have been mounted on the upright shaft between the wallower and the great spur wheel. The whole complex of floorbeams, stone bearers etc is stout and solidly constructed, the timbers being very deep. One governor, which presumably controlled all three pairs of stones unless the others had disappeared, is visible. The stone nuts and quants have gone but from the stone bearer in which it was mounted there hangs down an iron shaft with two iron toothed nuts, set some distance apart, on it. Just above the lower nut is part of a timber through which the shaft passed.

The whole complex of bridgetrees, stone bearers etc appears very stout and deep.

(1) Mills Archive

SUNDERLAND, Fulwell Mill

Tower mill, standing today


Fulwell mill is the last windmill in north-east England (defined as the historical counties of Durham and Northumberland) to remain in a complete state, and thus is of particular importance. Built in 1808 for Joseph Swann, it worked by wind until c1900 and by gas engine until 1949. It was later acquired for preservation by Sunderland Corporation, repairs being carried out in 1955 and during the 1970s and 80s. In recent years a full restoration has been carried out.

 The mill is typical of the region, its black cap, a plain, rather bulbuous dome, contrasting nicely with the whitewashed limestone tower. At first sight one may be inclined to think this is a fairly small mill standing on a quite separate building which serves as its base. In fact the latter is built out from the tower to spout floor level to serve as a reefing stage for the sails, and is solid apart from an office for the miller and apparently one other room. The mill has six storeys in all, including the very shallow dust floor. The reefing stage (not a feature of all tower mills in the area) is circular with no batter. It is constructed of the same white-painted limestone as the tower, with four arched openings in it at points of the compass, the north and west of which are filled in. The southern arch is taller than the others and is the main entrance.

 Four single-shuttered patent sails are mounted on a cross, and the cap is winded by a six-bladed fantail mounted on a support structure which is cantilevered backwards, with vertical posts bracing it to the rather narrow fanstage. Originally the fantail had unusually narrow blades, but it has been restored with conventional ones. As part of restoration in the 1980s/90s new sails were fitted which had the heels taken in a few feet from the trailing edge, as would not have been the case in the mill’s working life. Another new set were fitted during further restoration in the 2010s; these have thirteen bays and are two or three feet shorter than the originals. The latter were roller reefing sails with nineteen bays. Originally the sails, fantail and fan support structure were painted black to match the cap, but white has been preferred in the successive restorations, along with conventional patent sails (the current ones are in other respects closer to the originals).(1)  

 The construction of the cap frame is conventional with weatherbeam at the front then a lateral beam, the sprattle beam, a further lateral beam and finally the tailbeam. I could not ascend quite high enough to count the number of rollers and truck wheels, access being restricted above a certain level, though three of the wheels are currently displaced and kept on the ground floor. Nor did I note the positions of the truck wheels, apart from three on the left sheer at the points where the lateral members of the cap frame join it. They are of iron with six arms, and mounted in brackets bolted to the underside of the timbers.

 The iron windshaft carries an all-wood clasp-arm brakewheel to which is applied a wooden brake. The wheel appears to be hung on two square iron bosses, each solid but having six arms cast integrally with them.


The stairwell is on the south-east side. At intervals in the walls are square openings infilled with wood, which contain the bolts holding down the curb.

 The bevelled all-iron wallower drives the sack hoist on the east side through a segmented wood friction ring which bears on a solid wood drum, faced with wooden staves, on the wooden bollard. A flange on the latter receives the chain on which the sacks are hung. On the north side the beam supporting the “neck” of the bollard rests in a groove in a wooden post in which it is hinged; on the south it projects out over the stairwell. The beam is operated on to take the hoist in and out of gear by a curved wooden lever pivoted in a grooved wooden post. A rope goes down from the lever to the floors below. Since the above was written the hoist has been altered back to what was its original single wind-up chain system though working in much the same way as described, albeit with the addition of a brake for the drum(2).

 On this floor the upright shaft, which is of wood, is squared for the wallower mounting and circular below, also tapering outwards towards floor level. The shaft is surrounded by protective guards for much of its height and also reinforced at intervals with four iron bands forming a square around it.


The main ceiling beams run east-west. A perspex surface has been laid over them, presumably as protection from rot and damp.

 There are windows on the north and south sides. The stairwell is on the northeast side, the sack trap on the east, and the ladder to the dust floor on the south, resting on a lateral timber  between the southern main ceiling beam and a joist. Between the two main ceiling beams, above the sack trap, are a pair of lateral beams beneath which is mounted at an angle, hinged in an iron bracket from the northern main ceiling beam, a bifurcated iron (since removed) through which pass the endless chain on which the sacks are hung and the rope which works the lever for taking the sack hoist in/out of gear, which it is presumably meant to steady. The chain passes over two pulleys between the lateral beams.   

 On this floor the upright shaft is octagonal with rounded  corners.


The windows here are on the north, south and west sides. The stairwell and the ladder to the bin floor are on the northeast side. On the west and southwest sides are chutes from the bin floor, the southwest one going to the hopper of the southern stones. The rope for (dis)engaging the sack hoist goes down through a metal tower which is new and installed for safety reasons. 

 There are two pairs (out of originally three) of underdriven stones, located on the west and south sides. Of the western pair only the bedstones are in situ. The southern pair ae complete and encased in a new wooden tun. On the southeast side between the sack trap and the wall is a stone crane with screw and calipers, stayed to one of the ceiling joists. The latter run east-west, the main beams north-south. Short timbers between two of the joists create a square around the upright shaft, which is still wooden and octagonal, where it passes through the ceiling, at which point is the joint between the two sections of the shaft, steadied by a bearing bolted to the eastern face of one of the joists.  


There are windows on the north and south sides. The stairwell and ladder to the stone floor are on the northeast side. Doors, each a foot or so above floor level, open on to the reefing stage on the east and west. 

 The dummy floor supporting the upright shaft is not constructed as in the southern fashion. A beam spanning the mill north-south is positioned off-centre and from it at a right angle a pair of timbers go to the wall on the west side; between them is mounted the bridge beam. The latter has rounded ends and is supported by a vertical post from floor level.

 Like many spout floors this one is a Heath Robinson jungle. Below the eight-armed iron mortice great spur wheel are, successively, a bevelled iron mortice cog ring and a solid wood horizontal pulley from which a leather belt travels west to a governor with four pear-shaped weights, and four collars, mounted on a timber between the two lateral ones mentioned above. The belt drum is also solid wood. This governor controlled all the pairs of stones, unless there were a second and third which are now missing. Vertical posts connect the lateral timbers to the bearers of the western stones, and between them is mounted the wooden bridgetree. The steelyard and tentering gear for this pair are missing.

 On the north and south sides two short longitudinal timbers run from the main lateral ones, those between which the governor and bridgetree are mounted, to the wall, travelling parallel to the main north-south beam. In a similar arrangement to that for the western stones vertical posts connect the southern longitudinal timber and the north-south beam to the stone bearers and between these posts is mounted the bridgetree, again wooden, for the southern stones. The stone spindle passes through the bridgetree to terminate in a tentering screw. A curved steelyard goes south-west from the governor to a link suspended from a stub timber between a joist and the western stone bearer. From there its second stage, in the form of a vertical rod, passes down to end in a screw for taking the stone nut out of gear, from which point a lever positioned southwest-northeast goes to the southern end of the bridgetree where it is pivoted.

 On the north side the position of the missing third pair of stones is indicted by another pair of vertical posts, connecting the main north-south beam and the northern of the shorter north-south beams to the former stone bearers in the ceiling, with the bridgetree again located between them.

 The stone nuts are each all-iron and with jack rings for taking them in/out of gear.

 On the northwest side, in the angle between the northern longitudinal timber and the northern lateral one, the great spur wheel cogs mesh with an all-iron nut on a vertical shaft which passes down to the floor below where it drove various auxiliary machines. The shaft turns in a casting bolted to the side of the northern bridgetree.

 Also on the northwest side the secondary cog ring beneath the great spur wheel engages with an all-iron bevel pinion on a square iron layshaft positioned at a roughly 45-degree angle to the centre line of the floor. This layshaft is carried on bearings on the bridge beam and on a timber mounted in the angle between the northern of the east-west beams, and the northern of the longitudinal ones, on this side. At the latter end it carries a large pulley with a wood rim and four iron arms. This was probably the drive to the former flour machine, which was not included in the most recent restoration as it was considered to be too badly decayed(3). It is not clear on which floor it was situated. 

 On the southeast side the cog ring meshes with a four-armed all-iron bevel pinion on another square iron layshaft running south-east to where it engages a corresponding pinion, of which only the solid iron boss with the arms broken off remains, on a vertical shaft, likewise square and of iron, which passes through the flooring, protruding a few inches onto the first floor where it ultimately drove the groat machine(4). At the great spur wheel end the horizontal shaft turns in a bearing on a timber positioned at an angle and hinged between short vertical posts from the north-south beam and near this end of the southern lateral beam. The timber could be adjusted to take the drive in or out of gear with the spur wheel. At the other end the bearing, along with the upper one of the engine drive shaft, is fixed to another angled timber hinged, again, in vertical posts, which here are tenoned into a pair of lateral timbers between the main longitudinal beam and the wall.  On this side to the north a third lateral timber, at an angle to the main longitudinal beam, serves no apparent purpose. 


There is a small office on the west side for the miller, and a door on the south allowing access through one of the arches to the field behind the mill(5). The stairwell and ladder to the spout floor are on the north-east. On this side the vertical shaft of the first auxiliary drive is footed, in the current restoration, in a beam spanning about half the diameter of the floor and supported at one end by hangers from a ceiling joist, while at the other it is fixed in the wall. Via a pair of four-armed iron bevel gears it turns an iron layshaft, running north-south, on which are mounted two large twelve-spoked iron pulleys. It is not clear what the northern pulley was for but a belt goes from the southern to a groat machine. The beams supporting the layshaft are reused sail whips, with the cut-off sail bars still visible(6). Chutes emerge from the ceiling on the west and southwest sides.


This is used mainly for storage. There is only one entrance door, on the east side. The ladder to the floor above is on the northeast. Three of the truck wheels are stored here, leaning against the wall. There are chutes, of recent manufacture, on the north and south sides which come from the millstones; these originally terminated on the spout floor, to which arrangement it is intended to revert at some stage(7)

(Based on inspection carried out 15th May 2011. Thanks to Zoey Cairns for checking the text and making corrections where necessary)

(1) Z Cairns to G Blythman 16/9/2019

(2) Z Cairns 17/9/2019

(3) Steven Oliver, “Windmill Hoppers” website 8/10/2013

(4) Z Cairns 17/9/2019

(5) Ibid

(6) Ibid

(7) Ibid