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Technical descriptions of English windmills




Tower mill, standing today


Clifton mill is a large tower mill, cement-faced and white-painted, which had the usual tarred Fylde boat cap, patent sails braced at a point halfway along the stocks, and lofty fantail. There was a stage at first floor level. The mill ceased work in the 1920s but retained its cap, derelict but in a remarkably complete state, fantail cradle and the remains of two sails into the 1970s. The sails had gone by 1976. The mill’s relative completeness externally may have led some to suppose that the internal machinery also survived, but regrettably it had been removed some years before. The mill was converted to a public house and restaurant between 1976 and 1978 but the work was very tastefully done, the cap being restored although the sails, fan and fan cradle were not replaced. The windshaft, brakewheel and the fantail gearing within the cap, which is similar to the arrangement found at Little Marton, remain.    

 Interpreting Hennell’s drawing of the stone floor, Stoyel writes: “The horses are at a rakish angle, suspended at their upper end. Even the miller’s wand, which gives the spring-loading to the shaking shoe, and is seen to the left of the left-hand horse, conforms to this angle. The crook string, for altering the angle of the very large shaking shoe, is clearly seen, running over a tiny pulley and passing through a groove in the edge of the tun, before dropping through a small hole in the floorboards to the twist peg on the floor below. A third set of stone furniture is visible on the left-hand margin of the drawing. The stones are overdriven, with long, heavy, square-section quants. The tuns here have small hooks to enable them to be opened.”

 Hennell recorded that there were once five pairs of stones, but one pair had been dismantled. In addition there were two dressing machines, a smutter, and two other machines, one of which at least would have been for producing oatmeal.(1)

(1) Stoyel


Tower mill, standing today


Though it is not as complete mechanically as Thornton mill, Little Marton mill retains more machinery than most other surviving Lancashire tower mills (some is currently at Lytham mill), and is well worth a visit. Built in 1838, it ceased work in the 1920s and was later restored as a memorial to J Allen Clarke, the well-known Fylde travel writer and lover of windmills. Repairs have been carried out on several occasions since, the latest involving the fitting of a new cap which is more or less authentic for the region (and certainly a great improvement on its predecessor). There are four shutterless patent sail frames and a non-working fantail. The tower is whitewashed and the cap tarred in contrast, again according to traditional local style. The mill is owned by Blackpool Council and looked after by a Friends group.

 The mill is technically a little more advanced than Thornton, with greater use of iron. The winding gear and other ironwork probably dates from a major refitting in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century, when wooden gearing and shafting was replaced. It is currently painted in bright colours which although not authentic does make for a very pleasing impression.

 The cap frame consists of sheers and, working from front to rear, weatherbeam, sprattle beam, a third lateral timber and the tailbeam. The members are cut away where necessary to allow the gears and shafts of the winding mechanism to turn. The sheers are stayed to the weatherbeam near their ends by short diagonal timbers. The casting in which the top bearing of the upright shaft turns is bolted to the rear side of the sprattle beam. Equidistant in the brickwork near the top of the tower are a number of square openings infilled with wood; these are presumably where the curb is anchored down. There are four truck wheels, one towards each end of each sheer, in the form of iron discs on stout spindles mounted in iron plates fixed to the undersides of the sheers, and bearing against the side face of the curb. An iron cradle for the missing rocking lever, carrying a spindle with two arms on it, is mounted on the final lateral timber of the cap frame but otherwise nothing remains of the striking gear.

 The refined cast-iron winding gear is elaborate and quite amazing, though the same kind of arrangement was found at Clifton, where it may still be seen, and Weeton mills. It appears to have been a common Lancashire practice, though almost certainly dating from late nineteenth century, or even early twentieth century, refitting. The diagonal shaft from the fantail, now missing, went to a bevel gear just to the right of the (longitudinal) centre line of the cap frame. This is on a horizontal spindle which between the tailbeam and the timber forward of the latter carries a toothed and spoked gear. On the right-hand side looking towards the front this gear meshes with a nut to which a handle is fitted for manual operation of the mechanism. It also engages a second gear on a layshaft which carries a nut meshing with two six-armed bevelled gears, one on either side of it parallel to the layshaft, mounted within an iron frame. These gears are on horizontal shafts going to the sides where the final drive to the rack is in each case through a nut engaging another large six-armed gearwheel with a further nut on its spindle meshing with the teeth of the rack. On the right hand side the mechanism is missing, the nut on the main horizontal shaft being in mid-air.       

 The windshaft, wallower, upright shaft and great spur wheel are all iron. The circular windshaft is ribbed at the brakewheel to facilitate wedging of the latter, a wooden clasp-arm which has been renewed in recent years, onto it. An iron brake band is fitted to the lower half of the wheel, on which the brake acts. The upright shaft has four ribs on it.


The level of this floor has been altered as the filled-in apertures for the joists testify, a new floor having been put in at some point. There is a stairwell on the north side and windows on the north and southwest. The wallower is cast in two segments and the rim and the lower faces of the arms are bevelled.


Here the only feature of note is a circular mark on the wall where a pulley for the sack hoist chain was probably mounted. The sack hoist itself has disappeared.


There are windows on the northwest, northeast and southwest sides. The stairwell is on the southeast. The main beams of the “dummy floor” supporting the upright shaft (which are not original but were salvaged from Preston Docks in the 1980s, according to a guide at the mill) run east-west and between them at midpoint is a bowed timber carrying the lower bearing of the shaft. This timber is fixed between two other timbers which are rebated to take it and whose rounded ends are tenoned into the lower faces of the dummy floor beams. The latter run directly beneath the main ceiling beams and vertical posts connect the two pairs of timbers near their ends.

 The great spur wheel is a large all-iron affair cast in two sections and with eight arms and 134 cogs. According to Mr R Clarke in the Simmons Collection there were four pairs of overdriven stones, two French and two peaks for barley. All have now gone along with the original stone nuts and quants, but a dummy nut and quant have been set up on the southwest side for demonstration purposes.


There are doors to the north and south, which opened onto the masonry platform, now gone, which served as a stage(1) and windows on the northeast, northwest and southwest sides. The main beams run east-west. A groat machine on this floor, situated beneath the spout from one of the barley tones, was removed from the mill during one of the mid-twentieth century restorations(2).


There was a fireplace here according to R Clarke in the Simmons Collection. The door is on the east side and there is a single window to the west. The ladder to the floor above is on the south side. The main ceiling beams have been replaced by steel girders supported by concrete posts. A French stone is sunk into the concrete floor. There is a memorial to Allen Clarke. A long underground passage formerly connected this floor to a drying room (kiln)(3).

Description based on visit by G Blythman 28th May 2011.

(1) Photograph in J Allen Clarke, Windmill Land (J M Dent 1916)

(2) Stoyel

(3) J Allen Clarke, as above


Tower mill, gone

This was a three-storey mill with the traditional Fylde cap, sails and fantail. It ceased work by wind in 1916, the upright shaft and gearing being removed and an oil engine installed to drive the stones by belt.(1) The sails and fan were probably removed at the same time. The mill was derelict in 1949(2) and demolished in 1956 by a traction engine to make way for a new house.

 Stoyel comments on Hennell’s drawing of the oatmeal sifter: “The machine stood on the ground floor, worked by an eccentric gear on the iron shaft coming down from the floor above. The whole unit would rock sharply in a circular movement, constrained by the hanging chains. The oatmeal was fed into the machine by two meal-spouts, presumably from two pairs of stones. The oversize passed over the mesh and was discarded at the left-hand end into a bin below. The finer meal passed through the mesh and fell into a separate bin on the right.”(3)

(1) Stoyel

(2) KSW 25/4/1949

(3) Stoyel


Tower mill, standing today (tower only, gutted and house-converted with replica cap and sails)


Last worked in the 1920s this was a small three-storey tower mill, white-painted, with the usual boat cap for the region, here sporting a weathercock in the form of a fish above the rear gable. Unlike other Fylde tower mills which survived into the twentieth century it retained the primitive form of winding arrangement, using a wheel (in this case rather large) and chain, and common sails and thus it is a pity that it was never properly restored. The curb was of wood with the iron rack on top. The iron windshaft measured 9” in diameter (15” at the brakewheel boss). Latterly the wheel had been removed. The upright shaft was wood and the great spur wheel iron.(1)  According to Simmons there were four pairs of stones and a bucket-type grain elevator. The latter was probably a late refinement. There were two fireplaces on the ground floor,  the ceiling of which was high(2).

 Some machinery remained until the mill was gutted by fire in December 1981, having been bought apparently to be restored. Afterwards it was turned into a house with non-authentic sails and cap, astonishingly winning a conservation award. At least the original windshaft was reused.

 The sack hoist, the initial power take-off for which was probably from the great spur wheel, followed the usual northwest pattern. It was mounted in a wooden frame and the wood clasp-arm pulley wheel received a belt from another pulley on the floor below(3). The support frame consisted of a pair of uprights and two hinged horizontal timbers one above the other and connected by a strut, the upper timber carrying the bearing for the wooden bollard. By pulling on a rope attached to the lower timber the pulley could be made to engage the belt. Stoyel comments, “The effect of this complex leverage is that a relatively easy pull on the rope is sufficient for a heavy sack to be lifted without any slipping of the belt”.

(1) R Clarke, September 1944, in HESS    

(2) Ibid

(3) Stoyel


Tower mill, standing today (house-converted)


Another typical Fylde tower mill, here with a wooden frame on the dust floor for centring the cap as was common in the northwest. The clasp-arm brakewheel meshed with a wooden wallower. Five pairs of stones were overdriven. At least one stone nut was of the primitive lantern pinion type; another was of iron. An iron layshaft with spur pinion was probably for the machine drive, but the power take-off is not clear from Hennell’s drawing. The balls of the governors slid outwards on iron rods connected to the bridgetrees and tentering levers, another typical northwestern feature.(1)

(1) Stoyel 


Tower mill, gone


This four-storey tower mill, white-painted like others in the Fylde, was built in 1812 by or for G & A Winstanley according to an inscription above the door(1). It had the largest iron windshaft in the country, which measured 16” at the brakewheel(2). The brake lever was wooden.

 The cap, sails and fantail were typical of the area. The winding gear appears to have followed the same pattern as at Clifton and Little Marton, the drive to the rack being split. It was sketched by Thomas Hennell. “Running down from the right is a shaft from the fan, with a pinion sandwiched between a pair of bevel gears on separate shafts running to opposite sides of the cap. The layshaft from one of these has a pinion (hidden beneath the cap frame timber) which engages the larger spur-wheel emerging behind the timber. This wheel is on another, shorter shaft with a pinion (in full view), and this turns against the fixed, circular toothed rack (at the top of the drawing), thus turning the cap. Any movement from the pinion at the bottom of the fan shaft rotates both gears in opposite directions, imparting a unified direction of movement on opposite sides of the cap. This is a fascinating, but unusual mechanism.”(3)   

Rex Wailes drew up a report on the mill at one point (HESS).

(1) HESS

(2) RW 16/4/47

(3) Stoyel, TWOTH