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Technical descriptions of English windmills



Tower mill, standing today


This is a relatively late (it carries an 1865 datestone) utility mill designed principally for farm use, hence its small size and also the fact that it did not quite follow conventional millwrighting practice, for example the sails were mounted on a cross in another parallel with West Blatchington mill, Sussex. Ronald Hawksley wrote that they were “right-hand sails with solid upper ends, all level with rods between ends of cross”; they were patents, with striking by wheel and chain(1). Photographs of the mill in working order, or complete except for the sails, exist, although the writer has so far not had the chance to examine them; they show the cap roof to have been of the high beehive shape found on other mills in this part of West Suffolk, for example Edwardstone smock mill and Bardwell tower mill where a reconstructed example may be seen today. According to Hawksley(2) it had a gallery and was winded by a six-blade fan.

  The mill is marked as “disused” on the 1903 Ordnance Survey map, but was refitted with new sails in 1914, only to be tailwinded a couple of years later after which the cap roof and windshaft were removed and the tower covered over above the cap frame. The mill then worked by oil engine until the mid-1960s.(3) Various parts have disappeared over the years. Most recently the cap frame and curb were also removed, but the latter’s whereabouts are believed to be known. Nearby is a small steam mill, part of which is dated 1879, with a timber upper storey and a brick lower one; this still contains a complete set of machinery including a pair of stones mounted on a hurst frame and a sack hoist. Altogether we have here a rare, and thus particularly important, example of a small country steam mill and windmill on the same site. Although many parts are missing from the windmill much of interest still remains, and the mill’s engagingly small size would make it easier and cheaper to restore than many others. Work was carried out during the 1980s by the Suffolk Mills Group to conserve the building and its contents, including the fitting of a new flat roof over the tower. However the floors remain unsafe in places and great care should be taken when exploring the mill. I chose not to venture higher than the bin floor. 

  The mill being a late example most of its machinery was of iron, except where wood cogs were used as a cost-saving device, and this is reflected in what survives. The upper section of the upright shaft was wooden, and has been removed along with the wallower. The steeply-battered red brick tower, its brickwork still in fairly good condition, contains four floors, dust, bin, stone and spout (ground) floor. The stones are overdriven and the upright shaft therefore relatively short, as well as very slender as one would expect in a small mill.


There is a single window on the south side. Mounted on the upright shaft on this floor is a six-armed iron crown wheel, the rim of which is surrounded by a safety guard as in many windmills which operated into the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Both rim and arms are strongly bevelled, with the teeth facing upwards. The wheel drives an all-iron sack hoist via an iron pinion and layshaft on which the bollard is mounted. The hoist is carried on a frame depending from the ceiling joists, the timber on which the bearing of the layshaft is mounted being hinged to allow it to be taken in and out of gear. The windshaft is steadied where it passes through the floor by a wooden disc, in two sections, around the opening. 


There are windows at all points of the compass. The ladder to the bin floor is on the north-west side.

 It is thought that only one pair of stones, that on the northern side, was ever fitted, though it was the intention originally to have two as there are bearers for the second on the south side, though no supports for tentering gear(4). The stones are overdriven from a six-armed all-iron great spur wheel of small diameter (the dimensions of the machinery recall that at Rattlesden tower mill, also in some respects a utility mill). They retain their original casing and furniture, but the nut and quant have gone. There is provision for working by engine (see below). An oat crusher is driven from the spur wheel via a large four-armed iron mortice nut on a long quant which is really a secondary upright shaft, and a pair of bevel gears. The crusher bears a maker’s nameplate: WARD LEVER LONG MELFORD. The casting which serves as the upper bearing of the quant is bolted to a side face of the longitudinal timber carrying the foot of the upright shaft, which spans the floor. The crusher was geared to be driven by wind and the stones by steam power.

Ronald Hawksley(5) measured the stones at 3ft 6in diameter.

  Part of the hand tentering gear for the northern stones can be seen on this floor. A hinged iron lever runs beneath the great spur wheel on the northern side and from its western end an iron rod passes down through the floor.

  A diagonal timber runs off the bridge beam of the upright shaft on the north-west side, between the northern stones and the wall. This may have supported one of the governors, now missing, which Ronald Hawksley reported were located on this floor and driven from the upper ends of the quants(6).

 Also of note is a damsel with a belt drum which was probably an agitator for the grain feed from a bin(7).


There is a single door on the east side and two small windows, now boarded up, on the west and south. The ladder to the stone floor is on the southwest side. On the north side a pair of lateral timbers depend from the two main longitudinal ceiling beams on large cheek pieces, and between them is carried a short longitudinal timber supporting the extension to the quant of the northern stones. On this is mounted a large six-armed bevelled iron mortice nut engaging with another six-armed bevel pinion, all-iron, on a layshaft which terminates outside the mill in a doubled pulley, each half of which has six curved arms, that received the belt from the engine. The bed of the latter remains with the lugs by which it was attached. Beneath its support timber (which bears some interesting graffiti including references to stone dressing and to the mill being restarted) the quant extension terminates in one end of an iron tentering bar, mounted at a right angle to the timber and parallel to the lateral ones. At the other end of the bar the vertical rod from the stone floor ends in a hand tentering wheel. Below is a large meal bin, and a displaced millstone probably from the southern pair leans against the wall.     

  How exactly the tentering gear operated is uncertain as parts appear to be missing, including any steelyards. Presumably there was a suspension link, connected to the hand gear, to the tentering bar (bridge tree) from the equipment on the stone floor. The arrangement for the southern stones was removed when they were taken out.

Based on inspection carried out by G Blythman 14th September 2013

Note: Mark Barnard (May 2015) believes the graffiti on the support timber for the extension to the northern quant refers to the mill being restarted in 1903 whereas the SMG report (see below) suggests the refitting occurred in 1914.

Great Welnetham mills, from Suffolk Mills Group report c1999

Tower windmill

This fine little tower mill bears a datestone of 1865 and within the tower the corn-grinding machinery is largely complete and capable of use. A wooden-toothed stone nut drives a crusher, and a crownwheel with upward-facing teeth the sack hoist pinion.

 Our work to the windmill included a new roof covering, floor and ladder repairs, Perspex in the window openings and reinforcing and fitting locks to the door.

Power mill

This little engine-driven mill which bears an 1870s date is a very rare survival. In most cases power mills auxiliary to windmills have either been demolished or have had their machinery stripped out so they could be used for storage etc. Here the mill is complete with its millstones, bins and sackhoist. On the ground floor there is a pair of 3ft 6” French burr millstones mounted on a substantial wooden hurst frame. The drive from the engine comes in at first floor level and is taken down to the stones via belt and pulleys. On the first floor the drive is also taken to the sack hoist. On the outside of the north side can be seen a pair of pulley wheels, one fixed and one loose, and a similar pair can be seen on the side of the mill. This provides a “clutch” which allows the drive to the stones to be gradually engaged while the engine is running.

 As with the windmill, the power mill had suffered total neglect for many years. Ivy had engulfed it to such an extent that from the north the building could not be seen. Ivy stems had grown into the roof, cracking and dislodging slates and leaving large holes, particularly on the south sides. The weatherboards on the south side had gone and the building only survived because the substantial internal boarding gave extra strength.

 Having cut down the ivy, we removed the remaining slates from the roof. The timbers on the north side were sound and we were able to select good slates. Adding some more which were donated, we were able to re-slate this side of the roof. On the south side of the roof the timbers had been considerably damaged and we did not have sufficient resources of time and money to rebuild and provide new slates. Thus we clad this side of the roof in slate-blue galvanised steel sheets set on 4” X 2” timbers reinforcing the roof. This was done quickly, cheaply, looks well and hopefully will be long-lasting.

 At first we proposed to reboard only the south side, but once the ivy was removed it was soon seen that nearly all the boards required replacement. We used cheap timber but of substantial size (weatherboards ex 7” X 14”) and pressure-treated against decay, essential for all external softwood. The boards were fitted with a good overlap using galvanised nails driven home by a nylon-headed hammer. Before fitting the boards were treated with creosote and again after fitting. The door was fitted with a substantial lock.

History of the mills

The tower mill was one of the last corn windmills to be built in Suffolk, only Wickham Skeith and Cockfield being later. It was built mainly for farm use, hence its small size. The mill is marked as “disused” on the 1903 Ordnance Survey map. However, sails were refitted in 1914, only to br blown off when the mill was tailwinded in 1916. After this the cap roof and the windshaft were removed, the tower roofed over above the cap frame and the mill adapted to work by oil engine. Milling continued in this way until the mid-1960s.

 No photograph of the mill with cap and sails is known. However it is recorded that the mill had a domed cap with gallery and petticoat and four anti-clockwise patent sails mounted on a four-armed cross with braces between the arms. There was a 6-bladed fantail and chainwheel striking for the sail shutters.

 The steam mill was converted from part of a maltings in 1856 but the work was never completed, and malting resumed. Part of the building is dated 1868.

 Technical drawings of the windmill are in the possession of Chris Hullcoop of the Suffolk Mills Group.


(1) 31/5/1948, in HESS

(2) Ibid

(3) Report by Suffolk Mills Group, c1999

(4) B Griffiths, “Windmill Hoppers” website

(5) 31/5/1948, in HESS

(6) 1947, 31/5/1948, in HESS 

(7) B Griffiths, “Windmill Hoppers” website