Tower mill, standing today
One of the largest and most impressive windmills in Norfolk, Denver mill carried on working well into the twentieth century, latterly with the assistance of a Blackstone diesel engine (replacing a steam one), and survives today with its machinery, to some extent modernised, intact. It is owned by the Norfolk Historic Buildings Trust and in the recent past has been leased to several companies who have opened it to the public and operated it as a commercial concern, selling flour to visitors. Sadly various problems have now forced it to close and its future as a going concern is in doubt, although its survival as a historic building seems insured. The adjacent granary, which housed the diesel engine, survives and has served as a café and visitors’ centre among other things.
Built in 1835 the six-storey tower, with a stage at third-floor level, is of white brick rendered and faced with cement on the inside and plastered internally. The external rendering, formerly painted green but of late a yellowish-brown colour, has been a source of constant problems, often becoming cracked and flaking off. The walls must be of considerable thickness as although this is a large, tall mill it somehow gives the impression of narrowness when one is inside it. The spout and dust floors are very high.
The ogee cap, typical of the West Norfolk region, is currently clad with a protective material over the weatherboarding. It has a gallery for maintenance and is winded by a six-bladed fantail. The drive from the latter is through two vertical and two horizontal shafts and does not incorporate a worm gear(1). The cap frame consists of sheers, tailbeam (with additional reinforcing timbers on the inside faces of each sheer extending part of the way along them and abutting the tailbeam) and four radial projecting timbers, two on each side with the forward timber in each pair angled towards the front, and the other towards the rear. I did not count the number of rollers on which the cap turned (apart from two set close together at the rear), but there are nine truck wheels; I did not note the positions of all of them, but there was one on the end of each sheer at the tailbeam, one towards the front end of each sheer, and one on each of the two pairs of projecting timbers on either side.
When working the mill has carried four double-shuttered patent sails, mounted on the iron windshaft. These are struck by rocking lever. The brakewheel is an all-wood clasp-arm, and the brake is also wooden.
There is a window on the north side. The stairwell is on the southeast side and the sacktrap the southwest.
The wallower has an iron hub and eight short arms and a bevelled wooden rim with wood cogs. To the inner edge of the rim on its underside is bolted an iron cog ring from which is driven the iron sack hoist, of relatively modern type and probably installed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The cog ring meshes with a bevel pinion on a layshaft carrying a pulley with four curved spokes. The layshaft turns at the wallower end in a bearing on a timber mounted via a pair of iron posts on a longitudinal beam spanning the floor, and at the other end in a short timber supported, again on iron posts, by a longer one, both being fixed in the wall. A belt drives a second pulley and layshaft, the latter carrying the sack hoist bollard, below the first, the bearings of the shaft being located on the lower timber and on the main longitudinal beam mentioned above. The sack hoist was disengaged by idler pulley according to R Hawksley.
The substantial wooden upright shaft is square in section with chamfered corners, the central boss of the wallower being shaped to fit around it at the mounting.
The upright shaft has a coupling in it on this floor.
There are windows on the northeast and southwest sides. The sack traps are on the southwest, the ladder to the dust floor on the south, and the stairwell on the southeast. The main ceiling beams run northwest-southeast (the opposite direction to those on that of the stone floor). There is a blister on the north side for a gearwheel, now vanished, whose rim protruded onto this floor from the stone floor.
On the northwest are two large bins, one wooden and fitted with a lid, the other of metal but boarded in in wood. The sheers, collar etc. from the post mill which the present mill replaced are thought to have been reused in the ceiling here, the collar presumably forming the circular opening through which the upright shaft passes.
THIRD FLOOR (STONE FLOOR)
There is a window in the wall on the east side. The stairwell is on the southeast side and the ladder to the bin floor on the south. On the north and southwest doors with windows in them give access onto the stage. The main ceiling beams run northeast-southeast.
The lower bearing of the upright shaft rests in a raised timber in the floor. Two pairs of stones (there was originally a third, whose position is not clear) are located on the east and northwest sides, overdriven from an iron mortice great spur wheel the upper faces of whose eight arms are bevelled. The wheel is now partially enclosed within a steel mesh safety guard, as are the stone nuts. The latter are all iron, with four arms, on square iron quants whose upper bearings turn in castings bolted to the outer side faces of a lateral timber between two of the ceiling joists.
The stones are in octagonal wooden tuns of recent construction with wooden furniture. The composition runner of the eastern pair has been removed and currently leans against the wall on the northeast side.
The ironwork on this floor is currently coated in a grey mastic paint.
SECOND FLOOR (SPOUT FLOOR)
There are windows on the north and southwest sides and a third, now bricked up, on the east. The stairwell is on the southeast side and the ladder to the stone floor on the south. Steel girders running east-west replace the original main floor beams. Two pairs of lateral timbers are fixed between them on the west and east sides respectively. Between these are in turn mounted, parallel to the girders, the joists from which the bridgetrees, of iron like the tentering gear, are suspended. Horizontal wooden trunking housing a worm screw conveyor runs for most of the width of the floor, below and parallel to the ceiling girders, and is suspended at each end from a joist by a V-shaped iron bracket. A governor is mounted on a short lateral timber which is connected on one side to the side face of the southern ceiling girder by another iron V-bracket, and on the other to the boards in the ceiling, again by V-bracket. As well as, indirectly, the stones it controls the screw conveyor by means of a belt to the lower of two drums on a vertical shaft which drives the conveyor through bevel gears. From the upper drum the belt goes to a corresponding drum on the extension to the spindle of the eastern stones. There is no belt drum on the northwest stone spindle extension, but apparently the governor was driven off the upright shaft by via a countershaft(2), though I could see no evidence of this. A short steelyard goes from the governor to a link, with hand screw, on the southern end of the bridgetree for the north-west stones, and a long one to a corresponding link, again with manual adjustment provided at that point, for the east stones.
On the north side at an angle is a large four-spout flour dresser suspended from the ceiling and partly obscuring the window. This is a relatively modern machine installed as part of the equipment of a continuing milling business after trade had picked up following the restrictions imposed during the First World War, many mills which ceased work earlier had already stopped producing flour because of them and in Norfolk it seems the dressing equipment was often removed to prevent anyone using it.
Here the windows are on the west and southeast sides. The ladder to the spout floor is on the southeast. There is a loading door on the southwest side and a door into the granary on the northeast. The main ceiling beams run northwest-southeast; on the west side each is supported by a vertical post.
At the time of my visit this was closed while being adapted into a new visitor’s centre, access being gained to the mill via the door from the granary onto the first floor. The main entrance is on the south side, with above it on the outside a ladder giving access to the first floor via the loading door there. There is a door onto the floor from the granary on the southeast side, and an office fror the miller on the southwest.
Simmons measured the brakewheel at 8ft, the wallower at 5ft, and the great spur wheel at 8ft 6in in diameter; the cog ring for the sack hoist was 3ft 6in. The windshaft was 10in in diameter at the head and 8 at the tail.(3)
Based on survey carried out by Guy Blythman 6th September 2009
(1) RH in HESS
(2) HESS 5/9/1947; RW 13/4/1949
(3) HESS 5/9/1947
Post mill, standing today
Garboldisham mill is thought to date from c1775; a timber by the left jamb of the buck door bears the carved inscription WR 1780. A major refitting was carried out during the late 1820s and early 1830s by Thomas King, millwright of nearby Thelnetham; he replaced the original wooden windshaft with an iron one in 1827, and common sails by patents in 1831(1). It was probably at roughly the same time that the machinery was renewed in cast iron, spur gearing installed and a fantail fitted. There is clear evidence that the stone layout was originally head-and-tail, two inches having been hacked off the inner faces of both side girts to make way for the new arrangement(2).
The mill is of importance in that it is the only post mill remaining in the county of Norfolk (albeit standing just a few yards within the boundary with Suffolk), apart from modern reconstructions (of good quality) at Thrigby and South Walsham. It has been fortunate to survive, for no maintenance was carried out after it ceased work during the First World War and by the 1970s the weatherboarding was in an extremely poor state while the buck was tilting forward alarmingly due to a defective quarterbar, threatening collapse. Fortunately in 1972 it was acquired by the father of Adrian Colman, under whose auspices the trestle was entirely renewed apart from the post and the buck straightened and restored to a sound condition. The left side girt, weather beam and the rear extension were also replaced, but otherwise the fabric of the mill is believed to be original. There are no plans to fit new sails and set the mill to work again (though flour and other cereal products are milled in the roundhouse by an electrically-operated machine) but it is able to wind itself. A debt is owed to Adrian Colman for his initiative in saving the mill and the hard work put into the remarkable operation by which this was accomplished. He received valuable assistance from his family and from various millwrights and mill enthusiasts.
Technical drawings are known to be in existence, but their current whereabouts are unknown and they are thought not to be of good quality.
The mill, a fair-sized one, has the long buck which was typical of many post mills in this part of South Norfolk. It measures 21ft from breast to tail, is 9ft 9” wide(3) and is painted white with apparently a stripe of black paint down the centre of the breast during the mill’s working life according to one photograph (c1920). It had been extended, a break in the weatherboarding marking where the extension begins. This was done after two sails were blown off in 1879 and the opportunity was taken to carry out further modifications. Millwright Alphonso Vincent, who also worked on Thelnetham tower mill just over the Suffolk border, fitted four replacement sails that were wider by 18 inches in order to provide extra power for a sifting machine to make white flour, which was becoming popular. This necessitated the lengthening of the buck by three feet at the tail and the removal of the platform and porch at the top of the steps. At the same time a steam engine was installed in a nearby shed to drive an additional pair of stones on a hurst frame in the roundhouse.(4) The new sails had eight bays of six shutters each(5) and were struck by rack and pinion.
The breast is rounded as in Suffolk. There were formerly several windows, which have been retained in the restoration, on each side of the buck and three in the rear roof gable which now has only a single, central window. The original roof remains intact; it has vertical boarding, laid over horizontal. Many of the vertical boards formerly had painted canvas stuck on them at the overlaps as an additional waterproofing measure. The ribs are a curious construction; they are joined about a foot above the upper side rails and go out at an angle before returning giving a pronounced curve near the bottom of the roof. The horizontal boards followed the curve while the vertical boards projected about nine inches, forming eaves.(6) In the 1880s or 90s the boarding was covered with flat galvanised iron sheets manufactured by the Gospel Oak Sheet Iron Works, Wolverhampton, which went out of business in the mid-1890s, roughly dating the work. This was among the factors preventing the mill’s collapse by preserving the main timbers in astonishingly good condition, though in addition the structure is fairly solidly built. The roof sheeting was overlaid with rubber/bitumen in 1982 and finally replaced in 2015 by aluminium over plywood. At the same time the rear gable was strengthened by the fitting of additional ribs.(7)
During the restoration two aluminium dripboards were fitted at the base of the tail of the buck; the mill being slightly headsick, rainwater would otherwise run down the tail and rot original timbers such as the rear bottom side rail and step strings which have been retained. One of the iron brackets which supported the railing formerly present at the top of the steps remains.
The post is 2ft in diameter, narrowing to 1ft 11” at the crowntree.
The red brick roundhouse, whose floor is sunk by 20”, was originally two-storeyed, the upper storey being shallow and resting on the crosstrees, with a low roof plastered on the inside(8). There was a loading door. The brickwork was tarred to a height of five feet above which it was unpainted. In the 1970s restoration work the roundhouse was demolished and rebuilt using many of the original bricks; the current structure is single-storey with the high, more sharply-sloping roof typical of other parts of the country.
Winding is by a ladder-mounted fantail; the current one along with its carriage, which is relatively short, and the associated mechanism is made out of parts from Topcroft and Eye (Suffolk) post mills. A pinion on the fan spindle meshes with a toothed gear on a vertical shaft which carries at its lower end a bevelled toothed gear that engaged with a bevel pinion on a shaft to which a hand crank could be fitted, and then below this a further set of bevel gears and a horizontal shaft with at either end a pinion meshing with a six-armed toothed iron gear bolted to the arms of the tram wheel. The eight blades of the fan have been painted blue.
The length of the buck along with the conversion from head-and-tailstones to two pairs in the breast makes this a very roomy mill, pleasant to move around in. Most of the workings survive although as is often the case in Norfolk, and frustratingly for lovers of old machinery, the ancillary plant has disappeared. It is known there were a flour machine and jumper(9). The ironwork is attractively painted red.
Four uprights make up the rear gable, with a window framed between the second and the third. The stairwell is on the right-hand side and the sack trap on the left.
The 8ft 6” clasp-arm brakewheel, whose woodwork is thought to be original, is hung on two square iron plates, with a horn at each corner, on an iron windshaft. It has an iron cog ring, in segments of eleven teeth(10), bolted to its rear face which drove both the stones and the auxiliary machinery. The wooden brake lever is applied to an iron band around the circumference of the wheel. The sack hoist is driven from a flanged wood disc bolted to the forward faces of the brakewheel arms; the belt went to a solid wood pulley on the wooden bollard. The tail bearing of the latter is located in a vertical stub timber suspended from one of the roof timbers and abutting a lateral beam spanning the roof, which is rebated for it.
For most of the circumference of the brakewheel the brake takes the form of a slender iron band, with a short wooden section between six and seven if the wheel is likened to the face of a clock.
To the left of the sack hoist is a horizontal wooden shaft running fore-aft with a solid wood flanged disc at the aft end, terminating just behind the brakewheel in a cheekpiece bolted to a roof timber. The other end of the shaft turns in a diagonal stub timber between the top of the second upright of the front gable and the adjacent roof timber. By pulling a rope fixed to the flanged disc the timber in which the forward bearing of the sack hoist bollard is fixed can be raised, thus tightening the drive belt and setting the mechanism in operation. Above, an iron layshaft is mounted between two cheek pieces each nailed to a roof member; on it is a flanged wooden disc over which the sack hoist chain passed.
An iron collar and two iron casting bearings, plus what appears to be a short iron quant with integrated damsel, are stored on this floor.
There are four uprights in the front roof gable. Between the second and third is framed the window, with below it the neck bearing of the windshaft. The neck of the shaft is located between two nicely-shaped cheek pieces. Above the window is a curved timber in which the forward bearing of the sack hoist bollard is located and whose position can be adjusted by pulling on a rope so that it takes the hoist in or out of gear. The timber appears to be slotted in one of the central uprights, and hinged in the other and in a short vertical stud terminating at the apex of the roof.
The ceiling is above the upper side rail, and the floor slightly below the side girt. There are windows on opposite sides between the sprattle beam and the crowntree, plus a third high up in the rear of the floor. The stairwell and the ladder to the bin floor are on the right aft of the crowntree.
The windshaft has a coupling in it just before the tailbeam. The striking rod passes through into the extension, the rack bearing at the extreme tail of the mill on a small six-armed pulley on a short layshaft mounted between two cheekpieces on short timbers from the side faces of the two central vertical members of the tail framing and braced to them by diagonal timbers. The layshaft turns at one end in a horizontal timber fixed between the main and extension corner posts and at the other in a wooden bracket from the ceiling. The shaft carries the chainwheel, which before the reconstruction of the tail framing was half inside and outside the mill but is now completely within it. It is of iron with four ribbed arms.
The wallower and upright shaft, the former with six arms, are both of iron. The shaft is square at the wallower mounting, then circular. Its bearing is located on the rear face of the sprattle beam, which timber depends from the side rails which are rebated to receive it. Two pairs of stones side-by-side in the breast are underdriven. Originally both were French, but later one pair were replaced by peaks, flour production having declined. The right-hand pair are complete with their furniture; the bedstone of the left-hand pair remains in position with the runner removed and placed in the rear of the floor. There is another millstone on the ground outside the mill, by the roundhouse.
From the brake lever an iron strap goes up to the brake on the bin floor.
STONE FLOOR TAIL FRAMING
This has four uprights with the window framed between the second and the third. The first and fourth are broken by diagonals which form a V-shape.
STONE FLOOR BREAST FRAMING
There are ten uprights in all, plus two diagonals which go from the feet of the corner posts to just over two-thirds of the height of the prick post. Here the V-shape they form is upside-down. The two outer uprights are broken by the diagonals, the others staggered.
STONE FLOOR LEFT SIDE FRAMING
Going from fore to aft, the framing here consists of a diagonal and two staggered uprights, then six uprights with the window framed between the first and second, and the sixth terminating near the floor in a diagonal going to a seventh upright, and finally the main and extension corner posts with two further uprights between them. A substantial timber is bolted between the rear main corner post and fifth the upright at about three-quarters of their heights.
STONE FLOOR RIGHT SIDE FRAMING
Again going from fore to aft: the front main corner post; two uprights broken by a diagonal which goes to the foot of the third upright; the third and fourth uprights, with the window framed between them; three uprights with a stout timber fixed between the first and the corner post as on the other side, and a diagonal going from this timber to the second upright; the rear main corner post; two uprights broken by a diagonal and finally the extension corner post, to which a timber goes from the substantial member mentioned previously.
There are some eighteenth-century dates carved on the timbers here. Sag irons, put in before the 1970s restoration, are present at the sides as a strengthening measure. The post is 32 inches square with the same number of sides, and the largest Rex Wailes had ever encountered in Norfolk(11).
There are two windows, on opposite sides, forward of the crowntree, plus two more, again on opposite sides, in the tail aft of it. The ladder to the stone floor is on the right between the aft window and main corner post.
The upright shaft is squared at the bottom for the six-armed all-iron great spur wheel, which as often in spur-geared post mills is of small diameter (3ft). The foot of the shaft rests on a short longitudinal bridge beam between two long lateral timbers spanning the mill, the whole forming an H-frame. Other short longitudinal timbers flanking the bridge beam serve as supports for the stone spindles; iron bridge trees run beneath and parallel to them. At their aft ends the bridgetrees are mounted in large V-shaped iron brackets depending from the stone bearers. The upright shaft support frame is stayed to the prick post by two iron ties going diagonally to the latter.
The large iron mortice stone nuts are mounted on large tapers (in Norfolk called “cones”) in the Cambridgeshire fashion and moved in and out of gear by rack and pinion, formerly operated by a turn key(12), and jack ring. The governor drive belts go from iron flanges on the stone spindle extensions to wooden drums on the spindles of the governors, below the latter. That for the eastern governor is still in place.
The tentering gear is interesting. There is one governor for each pair of stones. They are mounted on short longitudinal timbers in the breast in the extreme front left and right corners between the “northern” longitudinal timber of the H-frame and the breast framing. The steelyards go more or less laterally, “west-east”, from the governors to links, one on either side of the prick post, to lateral rods flush with the breast from each of which a short vertical rod goes to the forward end of the bridge tree, for which it also acts as support, and a longer one down the wall to the transverse beam in the breast, where its lower end is mounted. There is provision for hand adjustment, with on each side a crank handle, mounted in a timber fixed to the corner post, on which is a bevel nut engaging with a solid all-iron toothed pinion on the long vertical rod.
A spout is located on the right hand side of the mill in the breast, just before the first of the windows.
SPOUT FLOOR TAIL FRAMING
This is made up of four uprights with the door framed between the second and the third.
SPOUT FLOOR BREAST FRAMING
There are three uprights on either side of the prick post. Diagonals forming a V go from the second (looking from left to right) diagonal on the left side at two-thirds of the height of the floor to the foot of the post. A There is a transverse beam at roughly waist height, fixed between the corner posts and the outer face of the prick post.
SPOUT FLOOR LEFT SIDE FRAMING
Going from the tail to the breast: the extension corner post, two uprights, the main corner post, five uprights, broken by a diagonal going from the corner post to a sixth more substantial upright, and the window framed between the corner post and the second upright and breaking the first, then four more uprights before the front corner post with the window framed between the first and second. A horizontal timber is fixed between the substantial upright previously mentioned and the corner post, breaking a diagonal which to the latter from the foot of the upright.
SPOUT FLOOR RIGHT SIDE FRAMING
Looking from the breast to tail: the main corner post; four uprights, the first with a twist peg on it, with the spout fixed to a cheek piece between the second and third and a window framed between the third and the fourth; a fifth more substantial upright; five more uprights with a window framed between the fourth and fifth, and a diagonal going to the top of the fifth from the foot of the substantial upright; the rear main corner post; two final uprights and then the extension corner post. As on the other side there is a horizontal timber between the substantial upright and the front corner post; these timbers in fact support the ends of the lateral timbers of the upright shaft support frame.
The following measurements were taken by H E S Simmons on his visit in September 1947:
Buck 21ft long 9ft 9in wide (Adrian Colman corrects width to 11ft)
Brakewheel 8ft 6in diameter. Arms 13ins deep
Brakewheel mounting plates on windshaft 2ft 6in
Sack hoist drive ring 5ft 6in diameter
Windshaft 6in diameter at tail
Wallower 2ft diameter
Stones: 4ft 4in burr on left, 4ft 4in peak right
Upright shaft 4in square at wallower mounting
Centre post 2ft diameter at floor of spout floor, 1ft 11in at crowntree
Iron plate on underside of crowntree 1ft 11in square
Stone nuts 17in diameter
Based on inspection carried out by G Blythman 20th September 2013. Thanks to Adrian Colman for allowing access.
(1) Diary of Thomas King of Thelnetham 1804 – 1838
(2) A History Of Garboldisham Post Mill, Philip Unwin 1973 (on
Norfolk Mills website)
(3) Norfolk Mills website
(4) Unwin 1973; information from Stanley Nunn, John Nunn’s son
(5) Norfolk Mills website
(7) Adrian Colman, August 2016; Bill Griffiths, who carried out
the 2015 repairs along with Tim Whiting, “Windmill Hoppers” 30th May 2015
(8) Norfolk Mills website
(9) Norfolk Chronicle 2-16/11/183
(10) Rex Wailes 13/4/1949, in HESS
(11) HESS 2/9/1947
(12) Rex Wailes 13/4/1949, in HESS
HARPLEY, tower mill
In a cuttings file on windmills at King’s Lynn Library is part of an article from the Journal of the Norfolk Industrial Archaeology Society, vol 4 no 5 1990:
“Harpley Windmill: An Investigation, by D Manning and others”
This windmill was recorded by Harry Apling but recent excavation within the base of the tower resulted in a visit by NIAS members to record brickwork under the floor. Apling considers the existing tower was built in 1832 which was the date cast on the windshaft. Before this date an advertisement in the Norfolk Chronicle in December 1808 offered a post mill for sale on this site. Earlier records are the mill shown on Faden’s map of 1797 and a photocopy of part of a map dated 1720 kept by Miss Birkbeck, the present owner of the mill. The original of this last map is understood to be in the possession of the Cholmondeley estate. The mill was in use by wind until 1921 when it was tailwinded. A steam engine had been installed by 1858 and it is known that the last miller used an oil engine to drive a grist mill.
The floor of the mill has been partly excavated recently by the owner. This has revealed an arrangement of walls within the mill roughly cruciform in shape. The symbols used in this description correspond to those shown on the plan of the walls found. (?) The door of the mill faces SW and this gives the orientation of the site. At original floor level the ground had been covered with a layer of asphalt approx. 0.025m thick. Over two-thirds of the floor area this had been broken away. Under this there was no evidence of any former floor, ie brick, only earth and odd pieces of rubble being visible in the unexcavated area of the floor. Where the asphalt had been removed it could be seen that the present tower (a), which is truly circular, sits on a foundation of brickwork which is not circular(c). The southern arc of the floor had not been excavated and the correlation of the tower brickwork with the foundation brickwork could not be checked in detail although probing with an iron rod did not reveal any further foundation(c) in relation to the tower(d) in this segment. The foundation was of red brick and the workmanship was first class, indicating that the unusual foundation shape was not the result of bad workmanship and that the flattening of the wall curve on the NE sector and the sharper radius on the north side were deliberate. The wall (a) pre-dates the other walls. It is of flint rubble construction built on a layer of rammed chalk or weak mortar. At the north-eastern end it had been finished with bricks and on the SE side at this end a single layer of brick formed a threshold for a door opening. The threshold was bedded on a layer of mortar of the same thickness and level as that of the walling. Miss Birkbeck stated that walling had been found in the yard which could have been a SW continuation of this wall. The wall (b1) running NW was built of red bricks laid in English bond. At the end against wall (a) a stud joint indicated that wall (b1) was built after wall (a). However at the other end the foundation wall (c) of the tower was on the other wall (b1) and (b1) abutted (c) four brick courses below present floor level, with no evidence to indicate it was ever higher. In fact a thicker mortar layer supporting (c) at this point showed that (c) was built over (b1) at a later date. Wall (b1) was not built at right angles to wall (a). Wall (b2) was also butted against wall (a). Again built of red brick laid in English bond it was well finished and there was no evidence of any other walls or extensions having been built onto it. Thus it was built to form a small square chamber entered over the threshold previously described.
Conclusion The sequence of building appears to be wall (a) first followed by (b1) and possibly (b2). Wall (c) was then built on top of wall (b1) with the tower walls (d) being built at the same time or later than (c), probably the latter. The evidence that a post mill once existed on the site makes it possible that the walls were part of the base of such a mill, with walls (c) being a later roundhouse built to protect the base. However the termination of wall (a) at its NE end in clean brickwork suggests that if this wall once(?) extended further it was deliberately rebuilt or shortened to form the small square chamber. Also the hearsay evidence that wall (a) once extended well into the yard suggests it may once have been part of a more substantial building. Dating of these walls is impossible with the evidence found except to say that (a), (b1) and (c) were built before the tower, dated at 1832. Also the size of the bricks forming part of all walls were “modern” in size and thus were made not earlier than the latter part of the C18.
Referring to Derek Manning’s report and Barre Funnell’s drawing dated November 1990 some conjectural observations are added: “the 1720 map, whose copy we saw, did not precisely pinpoint the location of the former post mill. Hence it may or may not have been exactly where the extant tower now stands. If the former, then maybe the measured footings were associated, but these are not typical of the primary footings for a post mill”.
(Corn) tower mill, standing today
Like that at nearby Sutton, which is visible from it, this is a large, tall (approximately 60ft) mill of the kind one is surprised to find in isolated rural districts with small populations, and which rival nearby church towers for dominance of the landscape. It has eight floors with no stage. Built c1819, it was disused by 1907 but the previous and current owners have farsightedly maintained it in good condition. The patent sails are at present missing, but a new cap with fanstage was fitted in the 1990s by millwright Richard Seago. The cap is the usual Norfolk boat shape, with an iron-railed gallery, and is an accurate replica of the original.
The construction of the cap frame is complex. Essentially it consists of the breast beam, the lateral beam in front of the brakewheel, sprattle beam, tailbeam and rear lateral beam. Between the latter two the frame is boarded over to form a part floor. Two diagonal timbers run outwards from the first lateral beam to connect it with the breast beam, and two more, inverted with respect to the first pair, brace the second lateral beam to the sheers, running from the former to the latter at the points where the second pair of side timbers spring off from it, just before the sprattle beam. Two short longitudinal timbers connect the tailbeam to the rear lateral beam. On each side lateral timbers on a line with the sprattle beam go to the cap circle, as do four diagonal ones arranged radially: a short timber from the sheer where the second lateral timber meets it, longer ones from further along the sheer before and after the sprattle beam, and another short one from where the tailbeam meets the sheer. There is a truck wheel on the right sheer just aft of the second lateral beam (its opposite number seems to be missing), one on each of the sheers towards its end just before the rear lateral beam, and two on the rear lateral beam, one each at the points where the short timbers connecting it to the tailbeam join it. In addition, on each side a curved timber is attached to the second diagonal member, the lateral member and the third diagonal one, carrying truck wheels at the points where it rests on the other timbers. The curb is live, and twelve rollers are provided: two on the breast beam, one on each sheer forward of the second lateral beam, one on the end of each of the diagonal side timbers, one at the rear end of each sheer, and two on the rear lateral beam adjacent to the truck wheels.
The striking and winding gear are missing.
As often in Norfolk the clasp-arm brakewheel is large, with substantial cants. It is mounted on an iron windshaft with a coupling at the tail. A wooden brake and lever are provided with an iron strap connecting the two.
There is one window, on the south side. The stairwell and the ladder to the bin floor are on the north side. Located at knee height around the circumference of the tower are the seven bolts for securing down the curb.
The wallower is solid wood with two iron cog rings bolted on, the upper meshing with the brakewheel and the lower driving the sack hoist. The latter, located on the southwest side, is altogether of an unusual design. It rests on a wooden frame mounted on four legs, two at each end with cross-bracing between each pair, and consisting of two parallel timbers with four shorter ones at intervals between them. An iron lever is provided for manual adjustment. A large solid wood pulley with teeth engaging with those on the wallower is mounted on the iron spindle carrying the flanged wooden bollard. The spindle carries a second pulley, of iron with eight arms, which would have received a belt although it is not clear where from or what it drove. Three bearings are provided, one on each of the cross-timbers passing between the first and second pulleys, the second pulley and the bollard, and to the rear of the latter.
The upright shaft is wooden and in two sections. On this floor it is square with chamfered corners.
Like the ones below it this floor is plastered, though some of the material has now worn off. The corn was actually emptied into hatches on the dust floor on the north and west sides from which large spouts, the northern one being vertical, descend the height of this one.
The walls are lined with wood on the western half of the circumference of the floor. The windows are on the north and south sides, the stairwell and ladder to the dust floor on the west side. On this floor the upright shaft is encased in protective trunking.
Stored here are a fantail blade and what appear to be two sections of old curb, with iron fastening straps.
The windows are on the north and south sides, the stairwell and ladder to the bin floor on the northwest. On the west side, and in the corresponding position on the next two floors down, is a sack trap in the form of a large hatch with a lid in two sections (those on the dust floors appear to have been boarded over). The main ceiling beams run north-south. At mid-point a lateral beam is tenoned into wooden blocks bolted to their undersides and to this is bolted a steady bearing for the upright shaft, with a coupling above it uniting the two sections of the shaft. There are three pairs of underdriven stones on the north, southwest and southeast sides, in circular tuns bound with iron hoops, with chutes from bins directly above them. All have a complete set of furniture apart from the southwest pair whose hopper is missing. The runner stone of the northern pair seems lower than it should be.
On this floor the upright shaft is 16-sided.
Windows are located on the north, south and east sides, and the stairwell and the ladder to the stone floor are to the northwest. There are meal arks on the northeast, southwest and southeast sides fed by chutes from stones. A section of the floor on the north-east side is partitioned off from the rest, with a door in the partition on the south. On this floor the massive upright shaft is square, then circular, then octagonal, then circular again. It terminates in a bridge beam resting on horizontal timbers at right angles to it and raising it a few inches above the floor. This method of mounting the shaft is reminiscent of watermills and suggests the influence of a millwright with experience in building them. The great spur wheel is secured to it by four iron brackets, one to each of the faces of the square section of the shaft. The wheel is a wooden clasp-arm with a flanged iron outer rim, having teeth cast integral with it and a series of oval openings in its underside, bolted on. The stone nuts and spindles are missing along with the tentering gear. The inner, original rim of the spur wheel has wooden cogs on its underside for the auxiliary drive. The assembly of upright shaft, spur, machine drive etc is surrounded by a number of vertical posts, three on the north side with the central post above a line between the other two and two on the south, and is likely that it was originally enclosed, with a door giving access for maintenance, although little evidence of this now remains. There is in fact a fifth vertical post on the west side which abuts the partition mentioned earlier. All the posts connect floor and ceiling and are footed in wooden blocks in the former. The machine drive takes the form of a solid bevelled all-wood toothed pulley, iron-bound, on a short spindle with bearings on a spar between two of the vertical posts and on an adjustable timber forming part of the support frame for the gear. There appears to be a small wooden roller mounted between two timbers projecting from the foot of one of the posts, but it is not clear what this is for. The auxiliary equipment itself consisted of three dressing machines and an oat crusher(1), all now gone.
There is a window on the south side and a partitioned-off section on the east. The stairwell and the ladder to the spout floor are on the west.
There are windows on the north and south sides. The stairwell is on the west side with the ladder to the floor above south-west of it.
There are windows to the north and south and loading doors on the east and west. The ladder is on the north side and the stairwell the northwest.
The entrance door is on the west side, the ladder on the northwest. There are windows on the north, south and east sides but all are bricked up as is the second, northern entrance door.
It will be noted that the windows on the north side of the tower, apart from on the ground floor, are blind, that is dummies glazed on the inside (if real they would have resulted in bad cracking of the brickwork from top to bottom).
Based on survey carried out by Guy Blythman 18th July 2015
(1) RW 13/4/1949
At nearly 80ft in height to the top of the cap Sutton mill is the tallest, and potentially most impressive, windmill remaining in Norfolk. Not only was it visually spectacular during its working life, and will be again if restored, but the quality of the millwrighting as reflected in the internal machinery makes it one of the most important mills remaining in the country today. It can justly be regarded as East Anglia’s flagship mill.
Itself a replacement for a previous tower mill which had been ravaged by fire, it underwent major modifications, the work being carried out by Englands of Ludham, following a further conflagration in 1861. As originally erected in 1789 it had eight floors, a ninth being added as part of rebuilding after the second fire.
In 1854 White’s lists Jonas (John) Bygrave as victualler and brewer at the windmill. In October 1857 the mill was to be let(1), and a year later John Bygrave’s milling and farming stock was advertised for sale(2); evidently he was giving up the mill. By now the common sails had been replaced with patents.
In 1940 the mill was struck by lightning and all but one of the sails destroyed; this forced commercial operation to finally cease. Latterly like so many others the mill had stopped grinding corn and was producing animal feed only.
The red brick tower stands 67ft 6” to the curb and 79ft 6” to the roof ridge of the cap. The base diameter is 33ft and that at the curb 16ft; the walls are 3ft thick. A stage is provided at fifth-floor level. The brickwork was originally painted white apart from the lower two floors which are tarred. Although the windows (several of which have been bricked up) are positioned one above the other in two vertical lines this does not seem to have produced serious cracking. The cap was of the traditional east Norfolk boat-shaped type, was petticoat and gallery. Its roof was painted blue and the safety rail of the gallery, along with the centres of the fan blades, red (traces of the paint were found on old boards). A proper floor is provided within it, though this may have been for the benefit of visitors when the mill was opened to the public. The stocks were 12” square at the centre. The four double-shuttered patent sails had a span of 73ft and were 9ft 4” wide. Large in proportion to the mill, they reached to just below stage level. Each one had nine bays of three shutters. Striking was by rack and pinion with a long chain guide pole reaching down to the stage. The left-handed fantail was 12ft in diameter and had ten blades.
The main machinery – windshaft, brakewheel, brake, wallower, upright shaft, great spur wheel and stone nuts – is mostly of iron. The windshaft is 18” diameter at the neck and 13” at the brakewheel. The latter is 9ft in diameter with eight arms and 88 wooden cogs with dovetail-wedged shanks. The brake lever has a multiplying gear. On the fifth(3) floor four pairs of stones are underdriven via iron mortice nuts. By 1926 a fifth pair of stones had been set up on the second floor. The sack hoist drive, which had a universal joint in it, was off the crownwheel. In 1858 the ancillary machinery consisted of two flour machines, a jumper and a “cylinder”(4). At this time the mill was producing 12-14 lasts per week (60 to 70 coombs for each set of stones).
From a photograph on the Norfolk Mills website it appears that the single governor is on a secondary upright shaft, or its own substantial spindle, and positioned just above floor level. The steelyards go to iron tentering bars which are mounted on a boarded-in hurst frame. The glut box and footstep bearing of the main upright shaft are located in a substantial raised timber let into the floor. I have not yet had the opportunity to examine the interior of the mill personally.
The mill made it into the Guinness Book of Records, although it is inaccurately described there as the tallest windmill in the country, which honour in fact goes to Moulton in Lincolnshire.
After ceasing work, although it gradually deteriorated, the mill remained for some years in reasonably good condition and was on the County Council’s list of windmills for which preservation should be sought, its importance being recognised. Then in 1975 the owner Roy Worts sold it to Chris Nunn who restored it as part of the Broads Museum, a wonderful collection of historical artefacts from all over the Broadland Museum, although he was never quite able to raise enough money to return it to working order; he got as far as fitting new stocks and fantail and one sail frame.
By 2004 the mill was again in need of considerable repair. Then the site was sold to a consortium called Yesterday’s World, which two years later was forced to sell the mill and museum as it had run into financial difficulties. Tragically, the contents of the museum were dispersed. Moreover the windmill continued to deteriorate, though Listed Grade 2*, and in 2014 the cap, along with the windshaft and brakewheel, stocks and fantail cradle (the fan itself had already gone) had to be removed for safety reasons. A flat roof was placed over the tower. The cap was broken up and unfortunately its dimensions were not properly recorded beforehand, which will make authentic restoration difficult. The windshaft and brakewheel still lie on the ground. In October 2017 the mill was acquired subject to contract, and with the help of a loan from the North Norfolk District Council, by the projected National Millwrighting Centre. The aim was to restore it, to working order, as the centerpiece of a new national training centre for future millwrights. Regrettably the scheme collapsed as not enough funds were raised for it to be made viable. In April 2018 the mill was sold to a private buyer at an online auction. It appears that the present owner intends to fit a new cap and fantail, which are under construction in the mill yard.
(1) Norfolk Chronicle & Norfolk News 26th September & 3rd October
(2) Norfolk News 2/10/1858
(3) Harry Apling, Norfolk Mills website
(4) Norfolk Chronicle & Norfolk News 31st July, 14th August 1858)