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Technical descriptions of English windmills


THAXTED, Fox and Hounds

Post mill, gone


No details of the mill’s interior are to hand. The substructure stood exposed, with the down-curved crosstrees supported just over ground level, providing a convenient seat and a platform for sacks. Winding was by tailpole. The body was clearly of small capacity, and must have worked a single pair of stones to the last. There were small elliptical portholes in the centre sides of stone and spout floors. The weather beam was carried forward of the front corner posts with externally provided diagonals to support its ends, and the roof boards ran forward above to give cover. The windshaft was of wood, and was mortised for four common sails turning clockwise. The weatherboarding on the prow progressed downwards through horizontal lines to a pronounced herringbone pattern, with moulded pennants to discharge the drips.

John Webb’s Mill

Tower mill, standing today


Thaxted tower mill was built for the Webb family in 1804. The red bricks used are thought to have been made at the kiln formerly standing in the valley half a mile to the west on land held by the Webbs. The overall height to the top of the cap is 54ft, and the heights of the floors, as recorded in 1969, were: dust 12ft to the top of the brickwork; bin 5 ½ ft; stone 10½ ft: spout 11½ ft, and ground nearly 9ft. The dust floor was later removed. The internal diameters at curb and ground level are 15ft and 24ft, but for the first two floors the walls are nearly vertical. The brickwork decreases in thickness from 4ft at base to only 18in at top, near which radical changes are evident. The tower appears to have been raised 3-4ft by the addition of a vertical ring of brickwork laid with the bricks placed level, in contrast with those below which incline slightly inwards. At the base of this “neck” are heavy wooden blocks about 9in wide by 11in deep, let or built into the tower, visible both inside and outside, and probably intended originally as a stable foundation for the curb on the Tiptree pattern. Formerly the mill had a stage at first-floor level, with access from two doors, but the stage has vanished {later replaced} and the doorways are bricked up. The exterior of the tower above carried decorative lozenge patterns made with individual bricks, but they are not readily apparent.

 The oak floor beams are laid according to common practice in alternate directions, with the stone- and spout-floor beams of heaviest section, at 13in by 12in, running east-west and north-south respectively. Despite the considerable diameter at spout floor level no evidence of supporting intermediate posts, or indeed of any repairs to the beam ends, was noted in 1969 when the bulk of these observations was made. The original east-west dust floor beams, at 6ft 8in over the bin floor, had been removed and a new pair, 7in sq in elm, were laid – perversely – north to south. This helps to account for the odd floor-height figures quoted above, but does not explain the motive for the change. The ladder wells are neatly finished, having part-circular joists, combining elegance with the minimum loss of floor space.

 On the top of the tower were laid two segmented oak rings forming the curb. These were the foundation for the iron rack plates, 1½ in thick and about 10in wide, having iron teeth of 2¾ in face cast integrally on the outside, their base flush with that of the rack plates and their upper halves backed by a 1¼ in high flange. Free to move over the rack plates was a set of solid iron rollers of about 4in diameter and tapered slightly inwards over a 3½ in width to prevent skidding. These rollers were on approximately 20in centres, and their pins cast with them were carried in two vertical iron rings, 3in wide by 3in thick, following the curb top. The rings were riveted across at frequent intervals and held clear of the rack plate by the roller pins. A similar mobile shot system was in use at Upminster, where however the rollers were restrained from lateral movement by iron channels above and below, in which they ran. At Thaxted, where the rack plate is flat, and the cap circle above is shod with a flat iron plate, the rollers were prevented from drifting by a series of brackets on about 2ft centres bolted from below to the inner edge of the rack plate. Each bracket carried a small horizontally rotating roller which bore against the inner of the two shot rings, through which, therefore, no pins or rivet heads were allowed to project. These small rollers, at fixed positions, working in alliance with the main cap centring wheels, were sufficient to retain the correct relationship between rack, shot circle and cap circle. There are 9 cap centring wheels, including one at the front and two at the rear. In carrying out stage one of the restoration work in 1973, the millwright discovered that the existing rack had been laid over an earlier one in elm with oak cogs of 4in pitch facing upwards. These cogs had been sawn off flush with the curb top.

 The drive from the fan to rack was uncomplicated, passing first through two bevels, and then two larger and slightly bevelled gears to the worm shaft. The shaft is square and of the fish-belly type, thickening to 4in sq at centre where it carries the single-start iron worm of 14in overall diameter by 10in long with about three turns of 3½ in pitch. Alternative hand winding gear was provided on an elm framing at the left rear of the cap; this operated through a bevel intermediately on the long shaft down from the fan spindle.

 Over the curb pass the two oak sheers, both scarfed near the forward ends by way of repair, where they carry the oak weatherbeam, and both re-scarfed towards the rear in 1973. The weatherbeam has its centre neatly curved forward to follow the curb below. The sheers are 9½ in by some 12 in deep on 11½ ft centres and run straight through, carrying the weatherbeam, two transverse ties, one either side of the brakewheel, a rear tie over the curb, and, at their rear extremity, a beam which sits over them and carries the fantail posts, 8½ in by 6in, inclined slightly towards one another. These are cross-braced and steadied by wood stays attached to the cap finial plate. Four horns project from the sheers on either side. The short sprattle and tail beams are set somewhat unusually, being contained within and wedged against two 8in by 10in deep “secondary” sheers placed fore-aft on 5ft 9in centres between the two rear intermediate tie beams. The windshaft is short, so that the tail beam is well forward in the mill, and is only 30in behind the sprattle or spindle beam on centres. In this detail, as in many others, the mill is in strong contrast with Stock mill. The earlier windshaft at Thaxted was about 18in longer; when it was replaced, the tail beam was sawn out and brought forward to suit. The present shaft is of iron, inclined at about 10 degrees, and has a 9½ in diameter flanged coupling near the tail. The neck bearing appears to consist of an oak block, which is iron-tied to the forward tie beam between the sheers. The new aluminium cap has replaced one of late date which had the pepperpot shape seen on a number of mills in the direction of Cambridge.

 The 10½ ft diameter brake wheel is of orthodox clasp-arm type and has 88 cogs of 4¼ pitch, four of which are marked “I, II, III, IIII”, possibly for removal in the event of engine drive application below. However, no evidence of auxiliary drive was found. Here, as so often elsewhere, a clearance cut for the brake was made on the left sheer, taking 3½ in out of a width of 9½ in. The wallower is a large clasp-arm wheel with an overall diameter of 5ft 8in including the cogs, having four cants with iron butt straps on the upper side, and provision below for friction-driving a sack hoist, but apparently not used in the later history of the mill. The two-part main upright shaft is linked by a universal joint. The gearing in Thaxted mill follows the ratios: brake wheel 88 cogs to wallower 50 cogs; great spur 122 cogs to stone nuts; west 19 iron teeth, east 20, north 19. The west and north stone nuts are from the same pattern, and four-armed, but the east nut is six-armed. The original stone positions lay east and west; the north stones were subsequently added.

 The most engaging technical features of the surviving machinery at Thaxted centre on the great spur gear on the second, or stone floor, the stones being overdriven. The great spur wheel is “boxed” between two pairs of beams, the bin-floor beams, of oak, 10in sq, and on 6ft 8in centres running north-south, and two pine beams, 14in sq on 8ft 3in centres running east-west, having 15in clear between the two sets where they cross. At these points circular wooden distance pieces of 8in diameter have been bolted vertically in position. The pockets in the tower wall in which these beams are supported on wooden plates run 14in into the brickwork. The lower box beams, which allow a 6ft 8in headroom, carry the sprattle and also framing members in the form of an H in each case for the upper ends of the quants. The oak sprattle beam is 13in wide by 11½ in deep and extends thus for 6ft 1 in. Its top face is 3ft below bin floor level. It has two horizontal tenons at either end, which are inserted into elm cheek pieces, the latter being 13in deep by 5in thick by 4ft long, and faced on the 14in sq box beams. Wedges at the sprattle ends against the cheek pieces gave the upright shaft its initial adjustment, and a finer setting was obtained from the 4-screw bridging box bolted on.

 The great spur wheel is of clasp-arm construction and measures 8ft 10in across. It carries 122 cogs of 5in face and 2¾ in pitch. Most unusually, it has two rims: the old, 6½ in across, and a newer one giving an additional width of 6in round the circumference. Thus an earlier set of cogs was dispensed with, and a new rim built on, having the cogs pinned through the rim, since their tails were not exposed. A need for the addition could have arisen when the new set of iron stone nuts, of smaller diameter than the old, was introduced, probably answering the replacement of cloth by shuttered sails. A re-setting of the stone positions could by this means be avoided, giving an alternative solution to that used at Tiptree. The old set of cogs numbered 102, as revealed by old mortices, and the former wooden nuts would have required some 30-35 cogs each to make up the necessary diameter and pitch. Granted these figures, the later gearing ratio – revolution of sails to stones 1:11¼ – would have been preceded by one of 1:5½ approximately. This low ratio is known to have been in use at some cloth-sailed mills, where the sail speed was faster than that of double-shuttered patents, and in which stones of diameters as large as 5ft were driven. There is no evidence from empty housings at Thaxted that the bridgetrees and stone bearers had ever been relocated.

 The great spur gear was assigned a multiplicity of duties, made possible by the extension of the rim, which gave space above for the attachment of bearings and levers for friction-driven wooden drums. The wheel was fitted with a horizontal iron ring 3in wide close to its outer edge. On the east side a built-up elm drum on a wooden shaft passing across to the mill wall could be lowered by rope control onto the friction ring. The shaft had three wood ribs forming a damsel to agitate a horizontal timber, probably connected formerly to the spout floor below. Over the south side of the great spur wheel was a leather-faced wood friction wheel of about 21in diameter mounted at the end of a wooden bollard acting as the sack hoist. A horizontal lever, pivoted at the east end in a chock on the inside face of the floor beam, could be lowered to bring the friction wheel down onto the spur gear rim, and this gave rise to a novel improvisation. As the spur wheel had almost no clearance allowance over the 14in sq pine beams below, a pair of small rollers with spindles aligned on the radius of the wheel was fixed on the top of the beam for the underside of the spur gear to bear on when the hoist was in use. The western of these rollers remains in position. A third drive was conjured forth from beneath the great spur. There, a downturned wood-cogged ring, slightly bevelled, and of about 5ft 6in in diameter overall, drove an all-wood, iron-bound nut on the north-east side on a short shaft carrying a built-up wood pulley, presumably a dresser drive. The inner end of this shaft is on a chock on the sprattle, the outer end on an adjustable lever for engagement.

 The runner stones measure in diameter: west 54in, east 60in and north 51in, and they were raised for dressing from heavy iron hooks secured to the main beams above. All three quants are set in two parts with flanged and bolted couplings marked for correct position in assembly; they are octagonal, but have squares at base to vibrate the shoes. The glut boxes are on horizontal timbers framed off the large pair of pine box beams, and in all cases the stone nuts are “overhung” above the glut boxes. When the stones were due for dressing, the couplings below the glut boxes could be unbolted and the lower quants removed. To disengage the stone nuts from the great spur, it was necessary to lever by crowbar the 10in wide by 6½ in deep horizontal members to which the glut boxes were attached. Thus, for example, the west quant beam, following the radius of the great spur, was furnished with tenons at either end which allowed movement out from the great spur and the insertion of wedges as needed. All stone furnishings were missing in 1969.

 The bridgetrees and brays are all in elm, and are all suspended from hangers, there being no storey posts available to offer mountings. All three bridgetrees are pivoted at the south ends and are worked by brays at the north ends, with two sets as a pair symmetrically arranged between the main floor beams, and one added to the north. Each pair of stones was separately governed by belt from the spindles, the original pairs having the brays controlled at their inner, adjacent ends in the mill centre. The balls of the governors, like most other minor fittings, had gone by 1969.

 An interesting survival on the spout floor at Thaxted was the pastry, or flour store, consisting of two boxed-in sections on either side of the bridgetree for the added (north) stones, and built up under the stone floor, so that a 5ft 9in clearance remains beneath – exactly half the height of the floor. These compartments had lathed and plastered ceilings and a lining of boards against the tower walls.


Post mill, gone


Photographs show two pairs of double-shuttered patents turning anti-clockwise and struck from the rear exterior, where a Y-wheel was mounted above the tail platform. The mill was automatically winded by a six-bladed fantail over the rear steps. The body was evidently raised in height during the century or more of its existence, and the roundhouse contained two floors with large bins and a storage room, doubtless a vermin-proof “pastry”.


Smock windpump, gone


The mill was built over a ditch and supported on a hollow square of concrete of side 8ft resting on angle iron laid across brick piers. The wooden framework above was seen by R Hawksley to be octagonal and not hexagonal, as recorded by Smith. It was covered by a metal-sheeted domed cap with a neat finish. A fantail at the rear turned four single-shuttered anti-clockwise patent sails into the wind. The sails had eight bays of two shutters in each, and were held at centre by an iron cross, though the precise nature of the fixing is not clear. All the gearing and the brake were of iron. The brake wheel drove an upright shaft which, through a pair of bevel gears, turned an iron-cased Archimedean screw with its long axis in line with the ditch. The action was to lift the water from a lower to a higher level. Denis Sanders found in 1956 the remains if the iron cylinder, of about 16in diameter, but was evidently not able to record the length. The driven bevel on the shaft of the screw was 32in in diameter and had about 72 teeth. At each cant post position on the concrete base a pair of irons had been cast in, projecting up to 15in, and having a turned lip at top to notch into the cant post for greater locking power. The posts, probably about 7in square, were held by two sets of three bolts, one set to each of the irons, the bolts being suitably staggered at right angles. Such was the robust construction which had doubtless endured since before c1864 {when mill first recorded}. The boss of the fantail was also found in 1956, showing provision for six blades; the casting included forked outer ends to carry the blades.


Smock mill, gone


Two water-colours in private possession show a Kentish waggon-shaped cap, two pairs of double-shuttered anti-clockwise patent sails, an 8-bladed fantail, and an octagonal smock frame, which stood on a single-storied brick base still in existence. Immediately east of this and sunk about six feet below the ground surface, so giving freer play to the wind, was the old slate-roofed steam mill, converted into a residence probably soon after the demolition of the windmill.  The single known photograph of the mill offers a close view of the body and cap but with the sails removed.


Tower mill, standing today


This technical review of Tiptree mill is based mainly on two visits made in April 1962 and May 1975. In the first year milling by electricity was in progress, but the wind-driven millstones and fittings had been removed about two years earlier. By the later year the mill had been converted into a house, but major items of machinery, including the magnificent wooden upright shaft and compass-arm great spur wheel, had been retained. This description refers to the mill as it was in 1962.

 The mill was built in 1775 by John Matchett, a Colchester millwright, and was an ambitious conception for this area, where the post mill was the stock product. The tower is built of bricks laid horizontally but conforming to the smooth batter of the walls, which are 4ft thick at base and 33in at stone floor level, diminishing to about 22in at the top, which is 42½ feet over the ground. The internal diameter decreases from 27½ ft to 14½ feet, giving ample space at all levels. The cap, excluding the finial, carried the height of the mill to approximately 55ft. The floors, with their past and present uses, may be listed thus: dust, 6ft high (store); bin, 7½ ft (2nd bedroom); stone, 7¾ ft (1st bedroom and bathroom); spout, 9¾ ft (lounge); ground 11½ ft (cloakroom, dining room and kitchen). The door and window recesses at base are very deep, owing to the thickness of the brickwork, and have round-headed fanlights over the east and west main doors; more precisely, the main entrance door and approach to the mill are on the southwest and west respectively. Access from ground to first and second floors is by staircases as opposed to ladders, the soffits being lathed and plastered; the cap was also formerly plastered and the inside of the tower whitewashed.

 For the first three floors above ground, the main beams run east-west, there being three under the first floor. The dust floor beams are north-south, and all, together with the joists, are in pine. The first floor beams are 12in by 13in deep, have beaded arrises, like those above, and have all been repaired at both ends with oak pieces spliced on. They are supported at centre by oak stanchions. The central beam takes the weight of the upright shaft, which is footed on the spout floor, and the others have further stanchions over them to give support to the stone-floor beams overhead. The floor beams throughout the mill conform to a section about 12in sq, and their spacing on centres decreases from 7½ ft on the stone floor to 6½ feet on the dust floor. These beams would have been let into the brickwork as construction of the tower proceeded, and probably at an early stage the 31ft upright shaft, a 12-side measuring 27in across the flats, would have been coaxed in through the loading door on the first floor before the higher floors were laid. The joists, except on the first floor, are mortised into and have their tops level with the floor beams. On the stone floor the stone bearers, running in pairs under the stones, are in pine, and for the old stone positions on the north and south have the beaded arrises seen on the floor beams and even on the original joists, and span a floor beam and the mill wall. The newer or east bearers straddle the two floor beams and are of pine and unmoulded.

 Let into the brickwork immediately below the curb are 14 large wooden blocks of various sizes averaging 1ft circumferentially by 15in deep, and visible on both sides of the wall. Their purpose was for bedding the wooden curb, 11in deep and 14in wide at top, where it is made to form a flange about 3½ in square projecting inwards, leaving a section below of about 10½ in in width. The flange is iron-shod on its inside face, and the upper curb surface carries also an iron track; these are for the centring and cap rollers respectively. The curb is placed flush with the outside of the brickwork, and the wood rack has outward-facing cogs; these are 5in face and 9in pitch and project 3½ in. They are held at rear by coach screws let through metal plates as washers.

 The cap is framed over base members consisting of two sheers, 1ft sq by 21½ ft straight through, fore-aft, on 11ft centres, two horns on either side, 9½ in sq., and 5 transverse members. The latter are the weatherbeam, curved forwards at centre, where it is 12 in by 14in deep; a tie beam, 9in sq at 4ft on centres behind the weatherbeam; the spindle or sprattle beam for the upright shaft, 5¼ ft on centres rearwards of the tie beam, and wedged in position; the outwards-curved tail beam, 7ft 2in on centres behind the spindle beam, and finally the rear tie beam across the ends of the sheers some 5ft further out. All these, except the weatherbeam, lie roughly in the same plane.

 There are interesting pointers to various modifications. The tail beam is held between timbers with moulded ends faced onto the insides of the sheers, and the tail journal of the windshaft, which is tilted at about 11½ degrees, is carried on an added timber bolted forward of the tail beam; this work was presumably done by Bryant, millwright of Colchester, in 1895 when he is stated to have replaced the old wooden windshaft by the iron shaft from Roxwell post mill. This iron shaft has a normal canister, which must somehow be reconciled with the post mill’s former possession of an annular sail; there were also doubled squares cast on the shaft to take the head and tail wheels. The present brakewheel sits between the two sets, but the rear flanges have been largely removed to eliminate a hazard when in rotation. To accommodate the present brakewheel, a flanged unit cast in halves was made and bolted up to the shaft.

 Alterations in several respects were made to the mode of winding the cap. A fantail was added, but the use of the very heavy winding worm, of 15in diameter, was retained; latterly however an iron worm was fitted, maintaining the pitch of the original all-wooden worm. The addition of this, of the fantail and its supports, proved too much for the ends of the projecting sheers, which previously carried little more than a neat gable and the hand-winding gear. They were plated on top with wood on one side and iron on the other to prevent collapse.

 A further modification to the winding arrangements appears to have been the substitution of a live for a dead curb. The curb and rack appear unchanged in character from the date of building, but the level of the sheers and associated framing has been raised about 6in. Blocks of wood of that thickness are bolted between the centring wheel carriage pieces and the horns or sheers to which they are attached above, and this corresponds approximately with the height of the iron brackets and cap rollers which must have been substituted for skid plates. The rollers run on an iron track 3¼ in wide which has replaced a former track of 5in width. Such a lift would put the wallower out of mesh with the brakewheel and would take the spindle beam for the upright shaft to the higher level. The old compass arm wallower has been removed, and the all-iron replacement with bevelled teeth was blocked up higher, accordingly, but as the brakewheel is a true face gear its cogs had to be slightly bevelled on the outer faces to suit the wallower, which does not match it. The spindle beam has been reset in a new position, lower than formerly, with added short timbers below the sheers to help carry it. The bearing is on the forward side. This interesting train of changes evidently marked the beginning of a new era for the wind-driven operation of the mill. Certainly the wooden windshaft and possibly hand-winding methods persisted until a later date, and the old sails were operated from a stage, which was at first-floor level as testified by bricked-in pockets in the tower. However the business did not lack its progressive side for three pairs of stones in a compact group on the ground floor of the windmill were driven by steam, and the now demolished red brick chimney close to the mill bore the inscription “G D E R”, and below it the date 1836. Engine drive could also be applied to the underside of the great spur gear to drive the normally wind-driven machinery, in which five numbered cogs were removed from the brake wheel. The iron upright shaft of 2½ in diameter carrying the great spur wheel for the ground floor stones passed up right through the south first-floor beam to carry near its top a 2ft 6in diameter iron single (lower) flanged pulley for belt drive to a flanged built-up wood pulley under the great spur.

 To revert to the cap, the nicely moulded wooden brackets carrying the centring wheels had the lower jaw projecting under the wooden lip or flange of the curb, which in this mill was evidently the forerunner of the commonly occurring keep flange on later constructions. There are eight centring wheels, four under the horns (two on each side), and four under the sheers. The cap rollers are attached to the same members, and there are an additional three in the front beneath the weatherbeam. Curiously, there is an odd roller carried by the right end of the tail beam, set in a specially designed bracket attached to the rear face of the beam, since it does not pass over the curb. It may have been added to cope with the severe added pressure to which the cap rear was subjected. The centring wheels are of 6in diameter by 4½ in radially, but slightly tapered towards the mill centre to enable them to roll freely on the circular track.

 The winding gears driven from the six-bladed fantail are to the right of the cap rear. The system incorporates from the fan downwards a pair of bevels, a further pair of bevels, and a pair of spur pinions, the driven spur being on the worm shaft. For hand winding, the fan drive was disengaged by a pivoted beam carrying the lower end of the shaft from the fan. The hand gear was operated by a short spindle mounted on wooden brackets with all-wood bearings.

 The cap is framed up from a ring laid on the horns and other members, and from the finial 20 rafters splay out, some being cut short to allow for the rear and forward gables which give the cap an attractive and distinctive appearance. A petticoat is draped below the cap; this is held at base by a segment ring supported by stub members let into the horns and cap-base principals.

 What remained of the drive to the stones in 1962 may now be reviewed. Old photographs show the last sails to have been two pairs of anti-clockwise double-shuttered patents with 9 bays in each. They spanned some 65ft, and were attached to middlings of 44ft length, strengthened by 20ft long clamps, these dimensions being estimates from ground level of what survived in 1962. A few shutters remain on the dust floor; they are canvas-covered wood frames in 3 sizes: of lengths 4ft, 40in and 22in, and of width 11in, the last being formerly on the leading side. The striking rod operated through a rack and pinion.

 The brake wheel, of 10ft diameter, has a wooden segment brake, to accommodate which the left sheer has a clearance cut. The wheel contains 6 cants, 20in at centre along the radius, and 4in thick; these were united by “follow-round” tenons. Former compass arms had been removed, to be replaced by single clasp arms 4½ in by 12in, leaving a square of 26in side for wedging against the 22in side iron-flanged box bolted onto the windshaft as above described. The felloes, 10in by 4in, are mortised for the 72 cogs of 4in face and 4¾ in pitch. After probably a century or more of braking, the outer rim had been given a 1in wood lining, which covers however only the cant rim and finishes flush with the felloes built out to the braking surface, indicating their complete replacement – an unusual feature. Brake and brake lever are of wood; the segments of the former are joined with iron butt straps and cotter bolts; the latter is pivoted off a stub timber mortised into the right sheer and braced forward to the sheer with two irons, one on either side. The iron strap linking the live end of the brake to the brake lever also indicates with silent eloquence decades of slow wear and adjustment, with half a dozen or so perforations for changing the position of the pin.

 The massive and undoubtedly original upright shaft runs for 31ft between bearings and, at 5ft over bin-floor level, from an upturned wooden bevel gear, drove the sack hoist on the dust floor above via a bevel gear and pulley operated by a slack belt. The driven pulley was of solid elm, and of 40in effective diameter, built on a short iron-straked bollard. In 1962 this system had been superseded by an electric-driven sack hoist.

 At the base of the upright shaft is a sprattle block 3ft 8in long by 17in wide by 12in thick, set across two which rest directly on the first floor and are supported below by the central floor beam. The sprattle block could be initially adjusted within its plane by means of wedges in housings in the pair of supporting timbers, but also carries a bridging box.

 The all-wooden compass-arm great spur wheel is built on the upright shaft above head height on the spout (or first) floor. The gear is 9ft 2in in diameter and is composed of 6 cants with straight inner edges measuring 23in wide by 4in deep at centre. It has a ring of felloes 7½ in wide by 3 ½ in deep dowelled onto form a sufficient thickness at the circumference for the cogs. These number 84, of 4½ in face and 4in pitch.

 Six compass arms, 4in wide and 9½ in deep, and stop-chamfered on the lower arrises, run to each cant centrally, where they preserve half their depth below the wheel. They enter mortices on alternate faces of the 12-sided upright shaft. One opposing pair of visible arms runs horizontally while the other pairs are curved, one downwards, one upwards, all necessarily terminating at the wheel rim on the same plane. The arms continue through the shaft, comprising three members in all. There are obvious advantages in tying the opposite cants diametrically, as opposed to the wheel-spoke construction. The curvature of two of the arms, taken in conjunction with the staggered mortices in the shaft extending through 22½ in vertically overall, allowed the cutting of central rebates in the arms taking away only 3in of their 9½ in depth, in contrast to the invisible but deducible two-thirds rebates in the arms at Upminster, where all were kept to the same plane throughout. To assemble the wheel at Tiptree the following procedure could have been adopted: the lower curved arm would be passed through its prepared mortise in the shaft, with rebate uppermost, and the straight arm, with rebated underside, set over it, both being brought as low as their rebates and the shaft mortices permitted, to allow 9½ in clear above for the passage of the third, upwards-turned arm. When this was in approximate position, wedges would be introduced above and below each arm in the mortices to bring the arm ends into the same plane for fixing the rim. The lowest arm has a blocked-in mortice 4¼ in deep below it; the highest has one of 3½in above and 1in below, while the central arm shows the largest allowance for adjustment, amounting to nearly 8in.

 With the arms more or less in position, but the wedges not yet driven in, the wheel rim could be fitted. It was probably applied in two halves temporarily separated after trial assembly, which would include the addition of felloes and the cogging operation carried out in the workshop. The rim would be set up around the shaft and the compass arms bolted to it. The cants are tenoned into one another following round the circle, each joint being strengthened by 3in dowels. Apart from the vertical setting, radial adjustment was achieved also by wedging. Wedges about 8in long by 4in wide and 1in deep were driven through transverse mortises wholly within the compass arms and against the vertical faces of the shaft. By adjusting the position of these wedges, the wheel could be accurately centred on the shaft and then both sets of wedges brought tight for final positioning. The wooden pulley built up below and bolted to the compass arms for engine drive by belt, mentioned earlier, had to be suitably blocked to a horizontal position, since the compass arms are in different planes.

 The first and second generation stone nuts, bridge trees, brays and stones were absent in 1962. The original wooden bridgetrees had been carried in the two 12in sq chamfered oak posts set on the first floor outer beams, but three iron bridgetrees were used later, all bolted up to the stone bearers by pairs of iron brackets shaped similarly to the inverted letter A. The iron bridgetrees were set to bring the stone spindles about 6in closer to the upright shaft than their predecessors, so that the later stone nuts were of smaller diameter, indicative of a change from wood to iron, though not a confirmation of such a change, as witness Upminster. The stones above would have needed re-setting. There were three governors, all of the two-ball type, and each driven from the spindle of the stones they controlled. In 1962 two were still in position, slung in wooden frames from the floor joists. They controlled the bridgetrees direct, using no brays. Apart from a wire machine on the east side of the first floor, there was little remaining of auxiliary machines dating from the days of wind power.


Post mill, gone


Two photographs showing Mill House and a rear view of the derelict windmill reveal a pair of single-shuttered and a pair of common sails, turning anti-clockwise, and a typically proportioned Essex post mill winded by tailpole over a single-storey roundhouse.

Windpump at Old Hall Marshes, gone


The mill is recorded on maps in the approximate period 1895-1920, and by chance a photograph of it, taken in 1911, was discovered by Roland Smith in a postcard album. This shows a smock-type frame with four tapered sides, a surviving pair of {single-}shuttered ails above, and an unguarded platform at mid-height. The body could not have exceeded 25ft to its topmost point, and the brick base and the well beneath survive today. Details of these were taken by Roland Smith in April 1971. The base stands 2ft high and the four cant posts were footed roughly 9ft apart. Below the base a brick-lined well 56in across at the top is still intact, with a discharge pipe a little over ground level.

 R W Smith, from Mr Buck, former workman on estate: “The pump was used to drain water out of the marsh and also raised water for the livestock. Mr Buck thought that the well was about 30ft deep, into which the marsh water found its own way. Inside the mill was a lift pump worked by connecting rods from the sails. Water was expelled through a pipe which ran underground, under the ditch and through the sea wall, to discharge into the river. If the pump had not been used for some time, as would happen in the autumn, someone had to be sent first to clear the exit from the pipe and the channel over the saltings, which carried away the water. On the right hand side inside the mill door was a lever which stopped the sails and pump. From here a ladder went up inside the mill to an upper level; here could be reached three vertical handles which came down from works above. These were used to turn the upper part of the mill into the wind by hand when necessary. Mr Buck said it was usual to set the pump to work, then leave it unattended for 2-3 days. It was, he said, frequently used during the winter months.

{The photograph in Farries shows no apparent cap}.


Smock mill, gone


The mill stood on a stepped brick base and was devoid of stage. It had spring sails with coil springs near the tips, of 2½ in diameter and about 3ft long, with heavy adjustment levers. These were operated from a mobile platform about 5ft 6in high and 6ft long, and with two iron wheels of about 2ft diameter at one end only; between the engine house and mill a fixed slatted platform gave access to the sails. There was a seven-bladed fantail and a large iron wheel inside the cap for hand winding. The smock frame, eight-sided and basically pine, was carried on oak sills, and the internal machinery and fittings were relatively primitive in character: an all-wooden brake wheel, a massive wooden upright shaft, a large great spur wheel and stone nuts also of wood. The nuts were taken out of gear by the removal of four separate cogs in each, numbered to ensure correct replacement. Stones were limited to two pairs fed from small hoppers let into the floor above, and underdriven. The auxiliary power was applied to an iron bevel gear on the underside of the great spur by a shaft which was belt-driven outside the mill; this shaft drove, also by belt, one or other of two oat crushers. The sack hoist bollard is remembered as painful to the hand; it was driven from below by belt from a horizontal shaft carrying a 2ft wooden face gear meshing with a 4ft wooden gear on the upright shaft.

 {Auxiliary power was originally} a steam engine with a Cornish boiler; the engine was mounted in a pit about 3ft deep which gave plenty of slack on the belt to grip the pulleys. The engine went out of commission and the mill worked by wind until 1902 {when windshaft broke}. Shaft described as very large – “a whole tree”; there were signs of fatigue in the ironwork at the point of fracture, where the texture was crystalline. This was the end of milling by wind power, and work was not resumed until 1903 when a Crossley engine was installed in a shed.}

TOPPESFIELD, Gainsford End

Tower mill, standing today


The keystone above the loading door on the first floor bears the inscription JE 1869. On the left of the south entrance door, two bricks have been marked WA 1869 and LS, probably relating to the tower builders and not to the millwrights.

 A technical review is made possible by piecing together data from photographs, from notes by Rex Wailes and others, and from an examination of the considerable remains on site in 1971. At that date the stone floor was the highest level accessible. The mill was essentially a product of the last days of windmill technology as conceived in the days of wood, iron and stone. The tower had a slight batter only, gaining thereby a little in storage space above, but losing marginally the advantage of a smaller and lighter cap. At base the internal diameter was 20ft, where the walls were only 2ft thick (Thaxted, built 1804, 4ft thick at base), and there were about 155 courses of bricks from ground to curb, a height of 40ft. By 1971, roughly vertical cracks had appeared in the brickwork, one running through 32 courses with an 11½ in gap.

 The overall height to the top of the domed – virtually hemispherical – cap was some 50ft. There was no stage, and a single loading door was let in at first-floor level, to which the flour came down the chutes from the stones on the floor above. The floors in order of descent were dust, bin, stone, spout and ground; by 1971, after standing for years devoid of cap covering, the dust floor had collapsed and the bin floor rotted down to the main beams. Three pairs of stones – the full complement of bed and runner stones – remained in situ, and most of the gearing below. The brakewheel was gone – the windshaft having been taken to Finchingfield mill – but the upright shaft survived.

 Most of the structural timbers were in pine, with limited use of oak. The floor beams ran alternately at right angles on succeeding floors; all were stop-chamfered on their lower edges and, where examined, rested on oak timbers about 3ft long bolted up and set with them into the tower over straight oak plates let sideways into the curve of the brickwork. This was probably an original feature, intended to postpone the consequences of rot and, since they still hold after a century they serve their purpose well.

 There were four double-shuttered, anti-clockwise patent sails with ten bays of three canvas-covered shutters to each; they were winded by an 8-bladed fantail, the shaft from which drove through two bevel and two spur pinions to a final spur gear over the rack. This comprised segments of thin iron teeth set upwards on the outer edge of the curb. Inside the rack, the weight of the lead-covered cap and sail assembly was taken by grooved rollers which ran on a raised rail, a refinement of design considered by Denis Sanders in all probability to have had for its secondary objective the centring of the cap. This view is supported by the rather crude nature of the truck wheels in fact employed, which were probably added when the efficacy of the intended system came under question. Five short horizontal timbers, or horns, projected radially from the outside of the sheers on either side, forming the basis of the gallery, and three more were splayed out at the front from a beam passing between the sheers forward of the brake wheel; all or most of these timbers must have carried rollers beneath, as did the sheers and a tie beam between them at the rear. As per common practice, the forward rollers were larger than the remainder. Suspended below the fan stage was a wooden platform for maintenance purposes, similar to that at Patcham, Sussex.

 The upright shaft is of iron, of 5in diameter, and in two parts with a dog-clutch coupling just over dust-floor level. Between the bin floor beams was a steady bearing for the shaft composed of two oak pieces bolted together; the same arrangement probably existed at dust floor level. The spindle beam for the upper bearing was carried between cheek pieces about 4ft long bolted to the insides of the sheers and with mortices to allow wedge adjustment. The all-iron wallower had a wooden friction ring beneath for the sackhoist drive. The great spur wheel, also of all-iron construction, with eight arms and teeth of 2in pitch and 4½ in face, was 6ft 4in in diameter and was positioned below the stone floor. The sprattle beam was in pine, with a 4-screw bridging box; thus the sections of the two-part upright shaft were open to find adjustment at top and bottom.

 The whole weight of the stones and of the gearing beneath was borne by two sets of pine beams at right angles, with the great spur between, no stanchions or posts being employed in the manner seen at Bulmer smock mill. The stone floor beams are 11½ in square on 64in centres, while the lower pair, or “box” beams, over which the ends of the sprattle (bridging beam) were halved are of the same dimensions. Four pine posts 10½ in by 3in are faced flat on the insides of the stone floor beams and bolted through their long dimension to the lower pair of beams, with packing as required. The stone floor beams carried the necessary hangers to take the bridge trees, two in wood and one in iron. The last were for the north pair of stones which could be driven by engine from outside the mill via a belt to a pulley on a shaft running to a bevel gear meshing with a bevel on the stone spindle beneath the stone nut. The driving bevel gear could be disengaged by sliding it back on the shaft and securing by a set-screwed collar. The three stone nuts could each be raised out of gear by two spindles and a ring operated by large wing nuts on the upper face of the bridgetrees. One of the three governors remains.

 On the underside of the great spur a downturned bevel gear ring was bolted to bosses cast on as originally designed; this drove auxiliary machinery. Denis Sanders noted that most of the wooden components of the mill were made as “stock job” parts, with sizes all but “jig-built” in contrast to older styles where widely varying sizes were sometimes encountered for similar-purpose parts.


Post mill, gone


Single-shuttered patent sails, brick roundhouse.

Smock mill, gone


The Frosts in 1882 were driving two pairs of French stones by wind and a third pair by a horizontal steam engine standing at least 20ft from the mill. A photograph shows a medium-sized smock mill with no frills and furbelows, and with a fantail set up on the rear overhang of the cap at Southminster. There were two pairs of single-shuttered sails turning anti-clockwise. The large wooden upright shaft is thought to have been supported on the ground floor by a massive piece of York stone which is preserved, face downwards, in Mr King’s garden. It measures about 3½ ft square by 15in deep and contains four bolt holes.


Smock mill, gone


John Bryant, the Colchester millwright, ascribed to the smock mill three pairs of 4ft French stones driven from above by 7ft long crotched quants, which proved very awkward when it came to stone dressing. A surviving photograph indicates a five-floored octagonal tower in conformity with the builder’s specification, with a domed cap and purpose-built fantail staging above.

{The mill had at least one pair of double-shuttered patent sails.}