Posted on

Technical descriptions of English windmills



Tower mill, standing today


This survey is an amalgamation of my own notes with an article by Peter Dolman in the Suffolk Mills Group newsletter, September 1995.

 Built c1830, possibly by the millwright William Bear of Sudbury(1), Pakenham mill remained active well into the twentieth century, latterly worked by the Bryant family, and was one of the last windmills in the country to operate commercially. It has been disused for some years, having last seen service during the 1970s power cuts (by which time it was grinding peas and beans for livestock feed, flour production having ceased), and at the time of writing repairs were needed, but the Bryants who still own it are committed to its maintenance and looking into ways of preserving it for posterity. Within there is plenty of flour dust and cobwebs, which adds wonderfully to the atmosphere and creates the impression that the mill is still in use! In its day it was a hard worker, being kept going from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., all day and night if there was wind, sometimes turning out forty sacks (about five tons of flour, if coomb sacks) daily(2). It performed less well in an east wind(3).

 The substantial-looking five-storey tower has a fairly steep batter; it is built from white bricks quarried at Woolpit(4) which were originally exposed(5) but are now thickly tarred. The white-painted dome cap with short finial is a neat, plain affair of simple construction. It was initially clad in copper sheeting, replaced with aluminium in 1963(6). In the 1940s millwright Amos Clarke added a gallery to it, with cross-braced handrail, which was based on the one at Wendover mill in Buckinghamshire(7). A new curb was to have been made, among other repairs, in 1961(8). The eight-bladed fantail drove down via an intermediary vertical shaft and bevel gears to a horizontal shaft with a pinion engaging the external rack.

 As built the mill had large nine-bay double-shuttered patent sails, with spring bars to hold the tips to the wind(9). In the 1940s and early 50s these were replaced with a smaller set of eight bays, which remain today without shutters. Striking was by a rocking lever most of which was within the cap(10).

 A large all-wood clasp-arm brakewheel, showing evidence of modification to the ring perhaps to take up wear(11), is mounted on a boss on a square section of the windshaft. The latter has a coupling near the tail. The swing pot neck bearing came from Buxhall mill(12).


There are no windows here. The stairwell is on the southwest side.

The brakewheel engages with a bevelled iron wallower on a wooden upright shaft. The wallower is small in diameter as at Thelnetham and Bardwell, indicating a local peculiarity. It has a segmented bevelled wood rim from which is driven, via a wooden cone clutch, the now disused wind sack hoist which is in the form of a straked wood bollard running north-south, from which a chain goes to and over a pulley and then down through the sack trap. The neck of the bollard rests in an adjustable timber, worked by an iron rod, between two uprights. Below the wind hoist is an electrically-driven one such as might be found on a mill which remained at work into the mid-twentieth century (other examples being Denver and Willesborough). 


There are windows on the north, east and west sides and a ladder to the south with the sack trap northwest of it.  The stairwell is on the southwest. The floor is partitioned into roughly four quarters: the southwestern quarter contains the stairwell; in the northeast hang canvas spouts; the northeast is divided into several bins and the southeast appears to be a single bin. The upright shaft is just to the right of the partition between the northeastern and northwestern quarters.


There are windows at the main compass points. The ladder to the bin floor is on the southwest side to the left of the window. On the west side is a modern machine like an oat crusher, fed by an old spout from the bin floor. On the east side a modern spout goes down to the stone floor. The timbers of the “dummy floor” run north-south and between them at mid-length is the bridge beam which is bowed as at Bardwell, suggesting a local custom. It has had to be rebated at one or two points to allow the great spur wheel to turn. It is fixed at each end to a cheek piece on the underside of the long timber. The great spur has eight iron arms, an iron hub and an iron plate on the lower face of the rim but is otherwise all-wood including the cogs. It has a secondary cog ring on the inside of the rim (an unusual feature), below the arms, which would have driven some equipment or other, now removed, via a vertical shaft which has left traces in the form of mortices in the timberwork for the fixing bolts. There is also a cog row on the upper face of the rim which was for the wind-driven auxiliary machinery. This consisted of a bolter on the first floor and a crusher on the second, both now gone. The modern equipment was electrically-powered.

 The bell alarms were rung by the great spur wheel which, incidentally, was not quite perfectly round so that the stone nuts tended to rock about a little(13).

 Two pairs of 4ft 6” French stones, in octagonal wooden tuns and with wood horses, are overdriven via large all-iron four-armed stone nuts. Sometime before 1854(14) a third pair of 3ft stones was installed driven, presumably by friction and via what Dolman describes as an “overhung stone nut”, taken out of gear using a lever(15) from the iron ring on the underside of the great spur wheel ring. These, which rotated in the opposite direction to the other two pairs, were removed during the twentieth century (they were still in in 1956(16)) and their place is now taken by the oat crusher. There are openings in the first floor to support two more pairs of stones which were never installed.(17)


The wall of the tower is stepped back to provide a ledge for the main beams of this floor to rest on.

 Windows are provided on the north, west and east sides. There is what appears to be a bricked-up one on the southeast side, next to the stairwell. A modern machine is on the northwest, and to the south between the stone bearers and the wall is a meal ark divided into two compartments.

 Between the two sets of stone bearers is a pair of spouts each with a twist peg. To the right of the eastern main ceiling beam, running parallel to it, and supported on three hangers, one at each end depending from a ceiling joist and one at mid-length, is a timber in which the hand tentering screws are mounted. From the steelyards links go to these and to substantial iron bridgetrees. The governors are on the east and northeast sides on wooden brackets projecting from the walls. From flanged iron drums on the spindles chains, not belts as is usual practice, go to corresponding flanged discs on the stone spindles. At one point various guides were provided for the chains in a peculiar and complex system which included crooked twigs(18). 

There are two loading doors on this floor.


Windows are provided on the north and south sides. There is a door on the west side and another (not used) on the east. The ladder to the spout floor, with handrails, is on the northwest side. To the north is a modern machine, fed from the spout floor, with another on the northeast. These occupy the former position of a fourth, engine-driven pair of stones.

On one window pane within the mill is scratched “J Wright 1835” (19).

 A measured drawing of the mill by P D R Eley may be seen on p336 of the Architectural Review, May 1962.

Guy Blythman’s survey carried out 3rd October 2010

(1)   Peter Dolman, SMG Newsletter Sept 1995 (hereafter Dolman)

(2)   HESS; Dolman

(3)   HESS

(4)   Dolman

(5)   Ibid

(6)   Ibid

(7)   Dolman; SF February 1954, in HESS

(8)   RW in HESS

(9)   HESS; SF February 1954 (in HESS)

(10) HESS

(11) Dolman

(12) Ibid 

(13) HESS

(14) Dolman

(15) RH in HESS

(16) RW in HESS

(17) Dolman

(18) Ibid

(19) RW 1956, in HESS

RATTLESDEN, Hitchcock’s Mill

Tower mill, standing today  


One of three mills, two wind- and the third power-operated, to have stood at this site during the last two hundred years, Rattlesden tower mill is an interesting, and rather charming, survivor. It was built in 1847 by Robert Winson, who hung himself in the mill shortly afterwards due to temporary insanity caused by a blow to the head. This was not the only tragedy to occur at the mill during its working life; later a man fell from the fantail while carrying out repairs and was killed.

 Although it appears large in old photographs, this impression is gained chiefly because of its slender build, which gave it a distinctive outline, and the fact that it was noticeably taller during its working life. During the Second World War the dust floor was taken down by about six courses of brick, so that the mill is technically a truncation, as part of alterations when the tower was turned into an observation post.

 It is believed the mill was built mainly to grind livestock feed rather than corn, flour production taking place instead at the nearby smock mill and later the roller mill built to replace it and which incorporates some of its timbers. As the tower mill is a relatively late example, this is quite plausible. There was little space for auxiliary machinery, dressers and the like, which explains its absence and thus the narrowness and overall small size of the tower. No stage was ever needed, nor did the cap have a gallery. The cap, which must have been very small inside, was a polygonal dome with a deep petticoat over the curb, and winded by a fantail whose support timbers were inclined sharply backwards with battens fixed between the main diagonals to serve as a ladder giving access for maintenance. There were four patent sails. 

 Although Rex Wailes states that it was built, in c1860, by a millwright named Firman, the style of the tentering gear and the general look of the mill when complete, as seen in old photographs, suggest it to have been the work of the well-known firm Whitmore and Binyon of Wickham Market (this was the opinion of Peter Dolman, the late expert on Suffolk windmills). If it deviated to any extent from their norm this was because they were working to the owner’s specific requirements.   

  The mill, which for some reason acquired the nickname, still used today, of “Sally”, ceased work in 1935 after which the cap, sails, windshaft and brakewheel were removed. It later became derelict but in recent years, under the present owners Mr and Mrs Blackburn, a flat concrete roof was put on by Chris Hullcoop of the Suffolk Mills Group and this has helped to protect the remaining machinery. The flooring still requires some attention, but if care is taken it is possible to ascend to the bin floor. As will be seen the lower section of the upright shaft survives along with the great spur wheel and one pair of stones with its associated gearing and tentering mechanism. 

 The tower is of brick tarred and rendered on the weather side with cement; it is not clear if the latter was put on during the mill’s working life or subsequently. There are four storeys, bin, stone, spout and ground, plus the truncated dust floor. On the spout floor on the northeast side is a loading door.


See above. I was unable to ascertain whether anything remained of the sack hoist mechanism.


The bins remain on the north and south sides. The upright shaft was in two sections, the upper being of wood as a cost-cutting measure and the lower of iron like most of the machinery in this late mill. The upper section along with the wallower is missing, removed, at a guess, along with the curb and rack, at the same time the tower was reduced in height. Just above floor level may be seen the coupling where the two sections met; this appeared to be a large square casting, which I did not examine in detail.

The stairwell is on the west side.


As might be expected there is room for only two pairs of stones, which are underdriven and located on the northeast and southwest sides. The northeast stones are now missing, although the circular wooden plinth remains to mark their position. The southwest pair remain but without furniture. The runner is encircled by an iron strengthening hoop, and cemented into the eye is an balancing weight by Clarke and Dunham of Marks Lane, London.

 A lateral timber between the two main bin floor beams acts as a steady bearing for the slender iron section of the upright shaft which, interestingly, is squared just below the ceiling, with a blind recess in each face of the square, as if for a gearwheel which was never in fact fitted. Was the shaft second-hand, or a stock component?

 There are windows on the northwest and southeast sides; the southeast one is bricked up. The stairwell is on the north side and the ladder to the bin floor on the northwest, where there is a spout in the ceiling from one of the bins.


The mounting of the upright shaft is unusual. The fixed bridge beam, which spans the floor, terminates at each end in a lateral timber between vertical posts which extend from floor to ceiling and are inclined against the batter of the tower. The iron mortice great spur wheel is of relatively small diameter with eight ribbed arms. The bridge beam acts as mounting also for the quants. The nut for the northeast stones survives; it is all-iron and mounted on a cylindrical quant which tapers beneath it. The other nut was presumably the same. An extension of the quant rests in an iron tentering bar running beneath and parallel to the bridge beam to about mid-point, with the steelyard link, from which the weighted steelyard runs diagonally southwest-south to the governor, at one end and a vertical rod with handle for manual adjustment at the other, northeastern end. There was presumably a corresponding arrangement for the southwest pair of stones.   

The glut boxes for the upright shaft and remaining quant survive.

 The governors were in a line with one another on timbers of light construction running from the bridge beam to the wall on roughly the southern side. The belt from the governor for the southwest stones, which remains, to the stone nut is still in situ; it appears simply to pass round the quant above the nut with no suggestion of a flange to receive it as is normally found. The belt drum on the governor spindle is wooden. The steelyard for the northeast stones also survives, its forked end in mid-air, with its link. It runs diagonally from north-east to south-west.

 The stairwell and ladder are on the north side. There are windows to the east and west.


This is empty apart from rubbish. There is a bricked-up window on the north-east side.

Throughout the mill traces of the electric lighting formerly installed, when the tower was used for various purposes, may still be seen.

Notes based on visit by G Blythman 23rd May 2015. Thanks to Mr and Mrs David Blackburn for granting access and for their general hospitality.


Tower mill, standing today

(TL 785528; postcode CO10 8LT; Contact (in 2011) Gerry Kane, 01284 789561, A DVD was available from him on the history and restoration of the mill)

This is an interesting and much appreciated little survivor, but one to which a great deal of work, amounting almost to a new mill, would be required in order to restore it. It is a small red brick tower mill, still partly cement-faced, with four floors. Built c1840 according to a datestone over the door which bears the initials “W.E.”, standing for the owner William Everard, it replaced a post mill on the same site. From its similarity to other smock and tower mills in the region it was probably the work of William Bear of Sudbury, who also built Buxhall and Preston mills and possibly Gainsford End, Toppesfield, Essex, among others. Some of the surviving machinery is wooden and of relatively primitive character; it may have come from the post mill, or at any rate an older mill at another location.

 Auxiliary power had been installed by 1885, when a directory gives “Mrs Mary Everard wind and steam”. A postcard and photograph of c1910(1) shows a dome cap, with finial and gallery, four double-shuttered patent sails with the leading edge slightly narrower than the driving, and an eight-bladed fantail. Diagonal trunking leads from a structure at the side of the mill to a nearby single-storey building which would have housed the engine, the trunking being a housing for the drive. Nothing of this apparatus remains today.(2) The wooden structure connected with the former loading door on the east side, though which the drive entered the mill.

 The mill ceased work by wind around this time and by 1922 the machinery was driven by a ploughing engine(3). At some point in the 1920s the cap, sails, windshaft, brakewheel etc were pulled off by traction engine; this either caused the upright shaft to fall down inside the mill, causing damage to machinery and floors in the process, or contributed to its doing so. It also wrenched off the curb and rack and demolished the top three feet of the tower, which are still missing. Recently a new roof in the shape of a flattened cone was put on, and the mill otherwise made weatherproof, by Chris Hullcoop of the Suffolk Mills Group, but the interior remains in a collapsed state with large areas of flooring missing. It is either not safe, or impossible, to venture any higher than the spout floor, to the remaining part of which a ladder has been provided to give access, but by looking up from that point, and around, an accurate picture can be had of what remains (a large plywood sheet laid across the stone floor beams makes it difficult to see whether anything of interest remains above that level).

 That the surveyor is confined to the lower levels renders it hard to interpret the exact layout of the mill but it seems that it had five floors: dust, bin, stone, spout and ground, the first probably being very shallow. The spout floor seems to have been at a lower level at one time, and the sockets in the wall marking the original positions of the beams remain.

 That there is only one entrance door on the ground floor suggests the sails terminated above head height. There is a large blocked -up opening on the spout floor on the south side, with which the external structure mentioned above would have connected and through which engine drive entered the mill. It was probably a loading door originally. The main timbers of the floors and of the dummy floor which supported the upright shaft are carried at their ends on iron brackets each of which is secured in place by two bolts through the brickwork, visible externally. The dummy floor beams run east-west. A section of the western dummy floor beam from the wall on the west side to about a third of the way along is missing.

The distribution of the windows and doors is as follows, so far as can be estimated (on one side of the tower trees prevent a closer inspection):


Windows on north and south side.


At least one window, on south-east side.


One window on north side. Loading door on east side.


Door on north side, windows on east and west side.


The upright shaft and great spur wheel were both wooden, and clearly old parts re-used. The great spur wheel is a clasp-arm of light construction with the arms rebated at their ends to grip the rim. It has been steadily disintegrating over the years; only part of it remains today, still in its normal position and until. The shaft has broken in two pieces, which may be seen leaning against the ground floor wall. There appeared to be no trace of any wallower, sack hoist or crown wheel. The spur has two sets of cogs, those on the side face of rim engaging with stone nuts, those on the lower face being for the auxiliary drive. The stones, now missing (although one appears to be let into the ground outside, near the door), were underdriven and located relatively high up on the north and west sides.

 The two large iron mortice stone nuts are mounted on short but substantial timbers on the side faces of the main dummy floor beams, and beneath the latter were suspended the iron tentering bars to which they were connected, running parallel to the beams; only that for the western stone nut survives, with its hand tentering screw. The northern stone nut has been partly displaced from its position by falling timberwork. A governor is mounted on a curved iron bracket from the eastern dummy floor beam, between the latter and the wall. As the mill is a small one it probably had only two pairs of stones with this governor controlling both as would in fact have been normal Suffolk practice. The belt drum is in the form of a large solid wood flanged disc. The steelyard travels northward above and parallel to the dummy floor beam to the link. The stone nuts were taken in and out of gear using jack rings.

 The auxiliary drive, which was off the great spur on the north side of the mill, is mounted between two lateral timbers connecting the dummy floor beams. The cogs of the spur mesh with an iron bevel nut on a short layshaft carrying a solid wood pulley; what this drove was not clear. To the south, also mounted between the two lateral timbers is another short layshaft, of iron with, going north-south, two solid iron pulleys and a four-armed toothed iron gear. Again it is not clear which of the ancillary machines this apparatus drove, but Mr David Jones believes it may have been an agitator for a mixer or similar device. 

 It seems ironic that out of all the plant it is the ancillary machinery which remains most intact, though as it was located lower down it was less exposed to the elements once the roof was off, so this is perhaps not surprising. There is a dresser on the north side, a three-spout bolter on the east, and on the south near the loading door, supported by a few surviving ceiling joists, a small iron machine, a grain cleaner or smutter, with a large spout. The listing schedule for the mill (see below) suggests that the bolter, which is the only one remaining within a Suffolk windmill and thought to be the oldest in East Anglia, was probably reused from the post mill.

The mill was listed Grade II in 1991, and a summary of the schedule follows:

“Listing (Grade 2) 13 Dec 1991 by Paul Hearn: Tower mill, now derelict. Datestone “WE 1840” for William Everard. Probably by Bear of Sudbury. Red brick, partly missing cement rendering. Battered tower of 5 storeys, circular in plan; a few brick courses are missing at top. Cap and sails removed till at least 1920s. Two entrance doorways and two first floor loading doorways; boarded doors (some missing). Various window openings under segmental arches, two retaining 12-pained sash windows, the other windows missing. Interior: some pitch pine main floorbeams, mostly supported on cast-iron brackets. Surviving machinery includes: lower half of wooden upright shaft, on which is mounted a wooden clasp-arm spurwheel with two sets of cogs, facing outwards and downwards, for main and auxiliary drives respectively; both stone nuts; some tentering gear and one pair of governors; cast-iron pinion drive off spurwheel; a bolter, wire machine and smutter. The bolter is the last such machine to survive in a Suffolk windmill; this, together with some of the other machinery, was probably removed from an earlier mill on the site.”  

Survey based on notes taken by Guy Blythman during Mills Research Group visit 9th October 2011

(1) Mills Archive

(2) D Breckels, October 2011

(3) P Dolman notes, Mills Archive


Post mill, standing today


Stanton is an old mill, the date 1751 still being partly legible on the crowntree, and unlike other surviving Suffolk post mills has a projecting breast beam, a feature indicative of relative antiquity. The beam is almost straight and corbelled out on the front ends of the upper side girts. The breast was originally pointed, as shown in some early illustrations.

 Overall the framing is definitely of eighteenth-century construction (other dates found in the mill are 1761 and 1763, on the post). No windmill was standing on the site in 1800, so it must have been moved here from elsewhere, probably from Barnham (1). Originally it would have had common sails, hand winding, and probably an open trestle. Later patent sails  and a ladder fantail were fitted. At some point the mill was converted from a head-and-tail stone arrangement to spur gearing. The white weatherboarded buck stands above a red brick roundhouse which has two storeys, the upper being within the roof. The lower storey is sunken by about a foot. The piers supporting the trestle are rounded and blended with the roundhouse walls, as was common practice in Suffolk. The buck has been extended at the tail to accommodate the flour dresser and the now missing third pair of stones. The roof had to be raised to create a bin floor, the latter having previously been combined with the stone floor. There was formerly a lean-to porch over the buck door but this was removed sometime between 1924 and 1936(2).

 The mill owes its survival to repairs carried out in the late 1930s, which were an attempt by the owner William Bryant, of the same family that have latterly owned Pakenham tower mill, to resurrect it as a working concern. It had been disused since c1918. The work, which was financed by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, was carried out by millwright Amos Clarke, with some input from Hunts of Soham, and included the renewal of one of the side girts and the reinforcement of the other with an iron plate. It was intended to replace the wooden windshaft with an iron one from Wickhambrook mill, but in the end this did not happen.(3)

 By 1946 William Bryant had given up using the mill as it was not proving economical(4). The mill had deteriorated somewhat, though not too seriously, by 1979 when first-aid repairs were carried out by the Suffolk Mills Group. It has since gone through a succession of owners – Richard Duke, Peter Dolman and now Dominic and Linda Grixti – who have been committed to its restoration and subsequent maintenance; a rare and probably unique state of affairs! The mill is now once again producing flour.

 The tailpole was sawn off when the fantail was fitted but the stump remains. A bevel pinion on the fan spindle engages with a four-armed gear on a vertical spindle at whose lower end is another bevel nut. At this point the drive is split, being carried to the gear rings bolted to the spokes of the ladder wheels by two sets of bevel gearing via a horizontal and a vertical shaft, with a car differential, added during one of the recent restorations, to enable hand winding. The wheels run on a gravel track. The total height of the mill allowing for the lower floor of the roundhouse being slightly below ground level is 41 feet 6 inches(5).

 Of note is the fact that the side girts are wholly above the level of the stone floor, which is not usually the case on English post mills.


There is a window in the rear gable. The sack trap is on the left.

 As stated above the windshaft, which is dated 1823(6) is of wood. Cylindrical throughout most of its length but sixteen-sided at the tail(7), it was measured by Rex Wailes at 21 inches square at the brakewheel and 15 inches across the flats. The iron poll end is bolted directly onto it instead of to a finned gudgeon, an unusual feature(8). The brakewheel is a wood clasp-arm (originally compass-arm) with two concentric iron cog rings, one of which replaced a second row of wooden cogs, bolted on. The inner ring, cast in segments, meshes on the right-hand (looking towards the front) side with an all-iron gearwheel on a very long iron layshaft which travels most of the length of the floor, passing through a bin and then a vertical stub timber fixed to the side face of a beam spanning the roof ridge, to a compartment within which it carries a bevelled iron mortice gear with six arms, to which a wooden ring is connected by stub timbers (the arrangement looks rather like the drum of a washing machine). The iron mortice gear drove the small pair of stones formerly in the tail of the mill and the wooden ring the dresser, also now missing, via a belt to the small pulley directly below on the stone floor, a further belt then presumably going from the large pulley on the same horizontal shaft. The layshaft terminates in a horizontal timber spanning the width of the compartment. The vertical stub timber through which it passes serves as a lever for moving the apparatus in and out of gear. A second lever is provided, located near the brakewheel; why two should be required is not clear.

 The sack hoist is driven from the windshaft as at Drinkstone, a chain going from a flanged wooden disc on the shaft behind the brakewheel, to a four-armed pulley on the bollard of the hoist. The bollard is wooden with an octagonal section, reinforced by eight additional strips of wood, from which the chain goes to a wood roller mounted between brackets tenoned into two of the roof members. There is a walkway between the bins.

The brake is wooden.


There are four windows here, one on each side just to the rear of the crowntree and one each side forward of the centreline of the stones. A further window in the rear of the floor was lost in the 1939-41 restoration. The ladder to the bin floor is just to the left of the stairwell. 

 The outer ring of cogs on the brakewheel engages with the teeth of a bevelled all-iron wallower on a wooden upright shaft, one of only two remaining in an English post mill (the other being at Dale Abbey, Derbyshire), which is cylindrical in section and 12 inches in diameter(9). The brakewheel and windshaft are of course partly on this floor and an empty mortice, possibly cut to test alignment when the hole for the striking rod was bored, is visible on the windshaft at mid-length. The brake lever is pivoted in a timber fixed to the front right-hand corner post. It (the brake lever) is a very long, possibly naturally curved timber which seems to be a branch or trunk of a single tree. It projects slightly over the stairwell, which is on the right just before the tailbeam.

 There are two pairs of stones side-by-side in the breast, on raised, segmental octagonal wood platforms.  The left-hand pair has an octagonal wood tun with wooden stone furniture; the right-hand has had the tun removed and placed at the rear of the floor. As mentioned above there was a third pair of stones in the tail driven from the dresser drive; these may each be seen buried in the ground outside one of the roundhouse doors. (Additionally, from at least the 1890s a fourth pair in the roundhouse were driven by belt from a portable steam engine in a shed by the mill house. The site of the hurst frame can be seen as a square of concrete and the adjacent pier was cut away to allow passage of the belt.) 

 At the rear of the floor on the far right is the internal striking gear for the sails. The chainwheel has a wooden rim and four iron arms. It is mounted on a square iron layshaft whose other end carries a large all-iron nut meshing with the rack, which is bolted to the upper face of a timber projecting downward from the rear of the tailbeam.

 Below and adjacent to the striking gear is the dresser drive. An iron layshaft runs parallel to the wall of the mill and turns at its “northern” end in a wooden lever projecting from a vertical member of the side frame, in which it is pivoted. It carries two solid wood pulleys, the first of smaller diameter than the second and flanged.(See above)


There are two windows, one on each side below the end of the crowntree. There used to be two small storm windows in the head, one on either side of the prick post, but these had been weatherboarded over by 1928(10). The ladder to the stone floor is on the right towards the rear.  

 The lower bearing of the upright shaft is located on a fore-and-aft timber which is fixed at one end to a hanger depending from the ceiling and abutting the front side face of the crowntree, while the other end terminates in the prick post. Beneath the six-armed iron great spur wheel is a large flanged wooden disc from which the governors are driven by belt. The stone nuts, all-iron and of broad diameter, are taken in/out of gear by ratchet and jack ring.

 The governor spindles are mounted on the underside of the crowntree, from which depend the iron brackets on which their lower ends rest. The left-hand governor has hemispherical weights, the right-hand one spherical, and both have wooden belt drums. The steelyards go from the governors to links mounted between the mid-transverse beam near its end and a ceiling joist, and from there to the bridge trees which run fore-and-aft as does the upright shaft support beam. They depend from hangers off the forward face of the crowntree, as does the bridge beam, with their other ends terminating in the cross-brayer. The bridge beam is tenoned into the prick post. The mid-transverse beam, in two halves on either side of the prick post, carries the front ends of the stone bearers(11).

Survey carried out by Guy Blythman 3rd October 2010. Thanks to Dominic Grixti (20/8/2016) for checking details.

(1)  SMG newsletter May 1985; DG 20/8/2016; Lummis Collection,           Bury St Edmunds Record Office

(2)  Photographic evidence

(3)  Brian Flint, Suffolk Windmills

(4)  Ibid

(5)  SMG newsletter May 1997

(6)  SPAB Mills Section meeting 26/11/2011

(7)  RW in HESS

(8)  SMG newsletter October 2001

(9)  RW in HESS

(10) Photographic evidence

(11) Suffolk Mills Group newsletter October 1986


Tower mill, standing today


This entry is a synthesis of my own notes and an article by Peter Dolman in the Suffolk Mills Group newsletter of September 1978.

 According to the diary of Thomas King, Thelnetham mill was built between July and Christmas 1819, probably by local millwright George Bloomfield with King’s assistance. It was modernised in 1832 with common sails replaced by patents and a wooden windshaft by an iron one which bears a cast inscription giving the year of its installation and “J AICKMAN LYNN”, Aickmans being a form of millwrights from King’s Lynn in Norfolk. If the mill was originally hand-winded a fantail would have been fitted at this time. The mill worked until c1930 and then gradually decayed, although the process was slowed by repairs fortunately carried out by successive owners. A consortium of windmill enthusiasts was formed to buy and restore it in 1979, and within a few years it was once again grinding corn. The work included the making of a new cap and sails and the renewal of certain items of machinery. The mill has recently been acquired by the Suffolk Preservation Society.

 Thelnetham is a rather charming little mill, whose small size has made it economical to restore. The four-storey tower is 31ft 5” high to the curb with diameters at the base and curb of 19ft 10” and 12ft 3” respectively. It is tarred externally and was formerly plastered and limewashed internally. The thickness of the walls decreases in stages going up: 27” to the first floor, 22” to the second and 18” to the curb. The latter has an internal diameter of 12ft 3”. An interesting feature of the mill’s construction is that the dust floor is suspended from the bolts holding down the curb, which pass down inside the tower, thus restraining the curb from lifting.(1) 

 The tower has a relatively sharp batter and is crowned by a vertically-boarded dome cap, of the kind common in the Suffolk/south Norfolk border region, which is topped by a short finial. The roof is not in fact a perfect dome, its taper not quite being pronounced enough, but would be more accurately described as a rounded cone. This is not really noticeable at first and the whole has a plain appearance which emphasises the engaging simplicity of the whole structure.

 The cap frame, of conventional design, runs on eight rollers (Dolman calls them truck wheels) and six centring wheels mounted in wooden brackets and running against the inner face of the curb. The latter originally had wooden teeth of coarse pitch, facing outwards, which probably meshed with a wooden worm gear.(2) These were later replaced by an iron rack with teeth on top. The 10ft diameter fantail has eight blades, currently painted red, white and blue, and drives through the usual iron gearing onto an iron rack with the teeth on top. Originally the curb had had wooden teeth of coarse pitch facing outwards, which probably meshed with a wood worm gear.(3) A slight dormer extension at the rear of the cap gives access onto the fanstage.

 There are four double-shuttered patent sails, of equal length either side of the stock and overall unusually broad. The shutters are canvas-covered. The spindle of the four-armed iron striking wheel carries an iron cog meshing with the rack, which is completely outside the cap. The ends of the spindle turn in wooden blocks mounted on distinctively curved timbers; beneath this arrangement a horizontal shaft ending in an iron gearwheel emerges from the cap at an angle.

 The windshaft is supported at the neck by a plain brass in a cast-iron chair(4). It carries a 7ft 3” clasp-arm brakewheel with iron teeth of three-and-a-half inch pitch, bolted on in segments. The wheel was originally 6ft across, with wood teeth of two and seven-eights inch pitch, but its diameter was later increased, probably during the modifications of 1832, because it was found to be too small to work with faster-running patent sails. The wheel and cog ring were replaced in 1985; the remains of the old wheel, that is the one dating from 1832, are preserved in the shed adjacent to the mill(5). The brake and brake lever are of wood though the former has an iron section where clearance with the wheel is limited(6).


The stairwell is on the south-west side. There is a single window on the east side.

 The brakewheel meshes with a strongly bevelled iron wallower 25” in diameter, mounted on a wooden upright shaft which is 12 and  and a half in by 13 and a half inches square with chamfered corners.

 The top of the sack hoist pulley protrudes slightly onto this floor on the south side through a slit in the boards.


There are windows on the east and north-west sides. The stairwell and ladder to the dust floor are on the south-west. On the south side, positioned north-south, is the sack hoist which is driven off the crown wheel on the stone floor. From the solid pulley in the wooden casing on the floor below a leather belt travels up to a large solid wood drum on the iron-straked wooden bollard, which turns at this end in an adjustable wooden timber hinged in one of a pair of hangers depending from ceiling joists, and at the other end in part of the supporting frame for the hoist, which is positioned against the wall. A small pulley is mounted at the bottom right hand corner of the frame, but I did not have time to examine it and so glean its purpose. A chain goes from the pulley to above, then over another pulley and down to the ground floor.


Here the windows are on the north, northwest and east sides. The stairwell is on the west, as is a loading door, with the sack trap just to the right of it.

 Two pairs of French stones, on the north and east sides, are underdriven. The northern stones are encased in an octagonal tun while the eastern are currently exposed. Mounted on the upright shaft is an all-wood clasp-arm crown wheel, partly new and partly original. It is 3ft 10” diameter with cogs of two and seven-eighths pitch(7). On the east side its cogs mesh with a wooden pinion on an east-west iron layshaft which carries two pulleys. Just after the pinion on the layshaft is a flanged wooden belt drum which drove a flour machine and an oat crusher(8); these machines have gone but their chutes and hoppers lie in the mill, carefully labelled up by former owner Alphonso Vincent(9). The layshaft ends at the wall, above the stairwell, in a large solid wood belt drum whose lower half is within a wooden casing; from this the sack hoist is driven, with a jockey pulley tensioning the belt. 


There are doors on the east and southwest sides, plus a third door on the west which is not used. A single window is located on the southeast side. The ladder to the stone floor is on the west.

 On the outside the tower on the southwest side, near ground level, is the engine drive, a “fast and loose” pulley with two sets of five curved spokes. The layshaft enters the mill to drive via bevel gearing a pair of millstones on a hurst frame just inside the door. This was the sole use of the engine, which was originally steam-powered, later being replaced with oil(10). 

 The two main timbers of the upright shaft support frame run east-west. At points about a third of the way along their length, going from the wall, they are supported by four vertical posts, two to each timber, which form the corners of a square. Horizontal timbers between the posts on the east and west sides support the ends of the bridge beam. The whole arrangement forms a kind of enclosure around the great spur wheel, which is a wooden clasp-arm of about 6ft diameter with a segmented iron cog ring. There are also two upper horizontal beams at right-angles to the main dummy floor beams and bridging the space between them, tenoned into their side faces; these are presumably to give the whole assembly greater rigidity. A timber mounted between the northern vertical posts parallel to the bridge beam supports the bearing of the quant for the northern stones. The quant passes through the timber to terminate in an iron tentering bar, with a hand screw, below and parallel to it. The timber carrying the east end of the bridge beam supports the quant for the eastern stones; here too an iron tentering bar and screw are provided. The iron mortice stone nuts are taken in and out of gear by jack rings and ratchets.

 On the east side the main dummy floor beams are each further supported by a secondary vertical post. These posts carry between them a north-south horizontal timber parallel and to the east of the timber supporting the lower bearing of the eastern quant.

 On the northern side of the floor the governor for the northern stones is mounted on a beam fixed between two hangers suspended from the ceiling joists. A belt travels from a wooden flanged disc above the governor on the spindle to the quant above the nut. The steelyard runs northwest-southwest from the governor to the northern main dummy floor beam, on the right of the stone nut. Near its northern end the horizontal timber supported by the secondary vertical posts has a link, with a tentering screw, suspended from it from which the steelyard goes northwest-southeast to the governor for the eastern stones. The latter is on a timber fixed between hangers from joists running between the main dummy floor beams near the door, to the east of the timber supporting the lower bearing of the eastern quant. Again the belt goes from a flanged wooden disc above the governor to a corresponding flange on the quant above the stone nut. The eastern governor has spherical balls, while those of the northern are cylindrical. 

  It is believed the dressing machine was located on this floor, suspended from the ceiling just inside the front door(11).

  Various small fittings and accessories remain within the mill, including a pair of sack scales, several mill bills, dressing staffs and a fine slate proof staff in its wooden case with hinged lid bearing the pencilled inscription “Walter Woods Maker Hopton Oct 11 1853…{?} Pratt”(12).

Guy Blythman’s survey carried out 3rd October 2010

(1)  Dolman

(2)  Ibid

(3)  Ibid

(4)  Ibid

(5)  Mark Barnard to G Blythman, 2010

(6)  Dolman

(7)  Ibid

(8)  HESS, Dolman

(9)  Dolman

(10) Mark Barnard to G Blythman 2010

(11) Ibid

(12) Dolman


Smock mill, standing today


Though believed to occupy an old post mill site, Great Thurlow smock mill was claimed by a local inhabitant to have been built in 1807, this date being at one time on a door jamb, at Slough in Buckinghamshire and moved here in 1848. There is no conclusive evidence, although Frank Farrow, last miller of West Wratting mill and an authority on the windmills of the area, believed the story to be true and the late Denis Sanders, an expert on smock mills, judged that the mill was not typical of the west Suffolk/south Cambridgeshire region. The move seems implausible in view of the distance involved, yet the construction of the framing and the arrangement of the upright shaft support structure are untypical of the area in several respects. In others, however, the mill fits in with the regional pattern. My personal feeling is that this is a locally-grown variety which simply happens to have some unusual features, not necessarily indicative of an out-of-county origin. It is possible that a millwright from Buckinghamshire had a hand in building it, but if so then either someone else fitted the cap, sails and machinery or alterations/replacements were made at some point or other, as would have been the case with a good many windmills, and these were consistent with local custom. It may be noted that some of the machinery, e.g. the solid gearwheels, is quite primitive in character and may have come from another, earlier mill.

 The mill stopped in 1915 when a cog on the curb broke but was repaired the following year by Thomas Hunt, the Soham millwright(1), and restarted. It ceased work by wind in 1919, the sails then being removed, and by engine in 1937(2). It became derelict, with parts being filched over the years, until restored in 1962 by the Vestey estate who had purchased it in 1959. Further repairs have been carried out from time to time and these should ensure that the mill is preserved for posterity against a possible return to working order sometime in the future. The sails and fantail are currently missing, though parts of the latter are preserved inside. There was a granary adjacent which at some point was demolished.(3)

 Although Guy Blythman and Bob Paterson carried out an inspection of the mill’s interior in June 2018, permission to publish the results of the survey was refused. What follows is based on photographs taken and notes made over the years by the late Peter Dolman, Stanley Freese, H E S Simmons and other researchers.

 A small affair, the mill stands on a one-storey brick base without a stage. There are four floors beneath the cap, going downwards: bin/dust floor, stone floor, spout floor and ground floor. The spout floor is not level with the sills, but about two feet beneath them. The octagonal smock was originally clad in horizontal boarding which was later overlaid with white-painted vertical boards; these have been omitted in the twentieth and twenty-first century restorations. Both the smock and the base, the latter matching the former’s batter, are tarred. Internally the smock framing is limewashed white, which as well as helping to preserve the timbers has a pleasing effect. The base was formerly plastered both externally and internally; the external plastering remains intact, while the internal has partly gone.(4)

 Some historic photographs show a porch-like structure, consisting of a sloping roof on diagonal supports, above a tall door-like feature extending from ground level to part of the way up the first floor(5).

 The cap, of the pepperpot dome type with a short finial and a dormer extension at the rear giving onto the fanstage, is vertically boarded and was formerly plastered inside(6). It is now covered with aluminium sheeting, replacing the tarred felt put on in 1962.

 The smock framing is cross-braced on some panels, as at Impington and other Cambridgeshire smock mills, while on others the construction is unusual and certainly not characteristic of the region. The inner and outer of the three uprights are interrupted, and the central upright staggered, by a diagonal which is met at mid-point by another that both breaks the third upright near its top and terminates at it, giving a reversed “y” shape. Altogether the pattern is not uniform throughout the mill.

 The cap frame follows the common East Cambridgeshire pattern with the sheers broken by the sprattle beam instead of continuous, and staggered. There are seven truck wheels: two at the front, one at each end of the sprattle beam extensions, and three at the rear aft of the tailbeam. The rear ones are mounted in slots in a curved timber laid across the sheers, which constitutes a solid housing that tends to hide them from view; the others are more conventionally carried in shoes, the front ones projecting from the lateral timber forward of the brakewheel. Iron ties from the sprattle beam to the tailbeam, and short longitudinal timbers between the latter and the rear truck wheel housing, reinforce the assembly. The breast beam could not be made out. The cap turns on a series of small rollers(7), not easily visible.

  The fantail, painted red, white and blue, was mounted too low so that the cap tended to obstruct its air flow(8). It drove down via a worm gear to an external iron rack, hidden by the cap, which replaced an internal wooden one on the bottom layer of the curb, the cogs being sawn off(9). The fan was removed in the most recent restoration along with the fanstage, the diagonal bracing members of the latter, springing from the sheers, terminating at the roof, but the spindle and hub are believed to lie on the ground floor and one of the blades on the stone floor.

 The mill ended its working days with four clockwise double-shuttered patent sails of the common East Anglian type. These had a safety catch, operated by a lever, to prevent tailwinding.(10)

 The small size of the mill and its narrowness at the top results in a very short windshaft, perhaps the shortest on a full-size traditional English corn windmill. It is iron and carries a clasp-arm wooden brake wheel without substantial cants. The wheel has an iron cog ring, a segment of which is detachable for the engine drive, bolted to it.

 The sack hoist consists of a solid wood bollard and spindle mounted in the usual support frame. A long rod goes from the hinged timber in which the bollard rests down to the stone floor where it was worked by a lever, still in place, to put the mechanism in or out of gear.

  The solid all-wood bevelled wallower, with friction rim for the sack hoist, is stayed to the elm upright shaft by four diagonal iron ties.

 There are two pairs of underdriven French stones. The eastern governor, unusually large(11), was mounted on an upward extension of the stone spindle, whose top bearing is located in a bracket on a ceiling joist. Most of it is now gone but the collar appears to remain, and from it the short steelyard, to which is attached a spherical weight like a governor ball, goes to a link suspended on a chain from a ceiling beam. From the link a vertical rod passes down to the brayer on the spout floor.

 The construction of the upright shaft support hursting is unusual. Instead of being carried between the long timbers of an H-frame the bridge beam, which is supported at mid-length by an iron column from the ground floor, spans the mill, resting on dropped transoms, and various timbers run off it to provide mountings for the stone nuts, tentering gear, engine drive etc. and their bearings. Two lateral timbers are tenoned into the beam on both sides, with the bridge trees or supports for same between them. One pair of lateral timbers is not in alignment with the other, and in this and other respects the whole forms less of a solid unit. At their other ends the western ones abut, and are presumably tenoned into, the cant posts flanking the western panel and the vertical framing members to the right of them, while the others rest on a transom in the eastern panel above the window there. Additional, lighter timbers, positioned either longitudinally or diagonally, between the main ones or going from them to the walls or ceiling give the assembly extra rigidity and there are vertical posts at intervals connecting it to the ceiling beams.

 Like the wallower the great spur wheel is solid, with only one pair of clasp arms centering it on the upright shaft, and all-wood though with a bevelled iron cog ring bolted to the underside of the rim for the auxiliary machinery. I know of only one other solid great spur wheel surviving in an English windmill and that is at Earnley mill in Sussex; a section of it has rotted away. There was a third example, in Shiremark mill, Capel, Surrey, but this was lost when same was destroyed by fire in 1972.

 The western stone spindle is located in a short longitudinal timber between the lateral ones, passing through it to terminate in an iron bridgetree. The all-iron nut, four-armed, is mounted on a tapered iron centre in Cambridgeshire fashion, which the steelyard is neatly shaped to pass around, and is raised in/out of gear using a ratchet worked by a short curved lever. The western governor, which came from Kedington tower mill(12), is on this floor in the usual fashion, and driven by belt from the (downward) stone spindle extension. It is mounted on a cheek piece on the other side of the northern lateral timber, the steelyard going across to a link on the longitudinal one just to the south of the stone nut. 

 The western bridgetree is essentially a plain iron girder, but the eastern one is of the “hourglass” type and ribbed; to it is attached a relatively crude wooden brayer, in what seems an improvised job by the millwright. Together the two form roughly a T-shape though with the bridgetree meeting the brayer rather to the left of mid-point. A rigger is provided for the stone nut, which again is all-iron with four arms.

The usual provision is made for hand tentering when required.

 Layshafts run off the great spur wheel for the machine and engine drives, iron bevel nuts meshing with the cog ring in both cases. The external pulley for the engine drive, shown in historic photographs(13), presumably remains but is obscured by overgrowth on that side. One layshaft carries two solid wood pulleys; what each of these drove is unclear but the mill is said to have had a jumper, a flour machine and an oat crusher(14), all of which have now disappeared.

The main spout floor beams rest at their ends on substantial cheek pieces which in turn are supported by cast-iron brackets.

(1)  Stanley Freese, MS for unpublished book on Buckinghamshire windmills, Mills Archive

(2)  Peter Dolman notes, Mills Archive

(3)  Photograph in Mills Archive

(4)  Ditto; M Barnard, email to author 19th June 2018

(5)  Photograph in Mills Archive

(6)  HESS

(7)  Ibid

(8)  Ibid

(9)  Ibid

(10) HESS; Dolman notes

(11) Ibid; Photograph in Mills Archive

(12) Peter Dolman notes, Mills Archive

(13) Mills Archive

(14) HESS