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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

WOODBRIDGE, Buttrum’s Mill

Tower mill, standing today


This splendid mill is the most typical, and complete, surviving example of the work of Whitmore and Binyon, well-known millwrights of Wickham Market in this county, whose tower mills are instantly recognisable. It represents a high degree of technical advance, as reflected in the largely iron machinery which is of exceptionally fine quality.

 The six-storey tower is built of local red bricks (there was a brickworks a few hundred yards from the mill); these are laid in Flemish bond for decorative reasons, which as the tower narrows with height gives a curious spiral effect. The outside diameter is 24ft 6in and the walls are 23” thick. Height to the curb is 48ft and to the top of the cap finial 61ft, making this the tallest remaining windmill in Suffolk.(1)

 It has the characteristic Whitmore and Binyon cap: a neat horizontally boarded dome, painted white, with a short finial and a ring of vertical boards over the curb, and encircled by a gallery. There are dormers with storm hatches at the front and rear, giving access to the poll end and fanstage respectively. The present gallery is of wood and relatively unattractive though it tends not to detract significantly from the mill’s appearance. It replaced an ornamental wrought iron affair which was much nicer; this was still evident in 1945(2) but later removed although a piece of it was dug up near the mill some years ago, providing a pattern from which it could be reconstructed. Though the mill is not working at the moment four double-shuttered patent sails are fitted along with a fantail whose six blades were at one time painted alternately green and white(3). The fan cradle is stayed to the cap roof with iron ties. In recent (early 2020s) repairs the mill has been given a larger fan whose blades are each painted green.

 The mill tends to give an impression of size and height and is undoubtedly visually impressive, but as noted stands only 48ft to the curb. Nonetheless it has a roomy feel and there is plenty of space for ancillary equipment plus the elaborate drives to same. The profusion of machinery, supporting timberwork for the latter, and boarded-in sections make this a mill of nooks and crannies; in 1937 G N Shann described it as “full of queer little cupboards”(4).

 The mill has a doorbell and there was a speaking tube which ran from the ground to the dust floor; the latter is not currently in place but the fittings survive and it is hoped to reinstate it at some point.

 Immediately abutting the mill tower, with which it, a cart lodge and stable block (the latter older than the windmill) form a continuous range is a granary with two storeys, the upper weatherboarded and the lower open. There is a connecting door between the upper storey and the first floor of the mill. The granary was built a few years after the latter. Two small round holes, now blocked, in the weatherboarding at first floor level show where the rope drive passed from the well pump which supplied the steam engine (see below). To the left of the mill yard can be seen the foundations of the shed which originally contained the portable engine. The drive went to the pulley at second floor level of the mill tower by means of a long belt protected from the weather by a wooden casing, now no longer evident. In the late nineteenth-century the engine was moved to behind the granary, probably being housed under a makeshift canopy. The smoke from the engine has darkened the bricks on one side of the tower. Several other buildings which stood around the mill yard have been cleared away.(5) 


There are windows on the south and north sides, while the stairwell is on the southwest.

 The cap frame consists of sheers, breast beam, second lateral beam, sprattle beam, tailbeam and then a final lateral beam. A number of short timbers radiate from the sheers on either side. The curb is live, the cap turning on eight rollers of which two are mounted on the sheers just before the breast beam, one on each of the projecting timbers further back in line with the brakewheel, one on each of the projecting timbers further back than that, and one on each sheer just to the rear of the tailbeam. 

 Five large six-armed truck wheels are provided: one on each sheer just forward of the brakewheel, one on each side just forward of the tailbeam, one on an iron girder running north-south between the tailbeam and the rearmost lateral timber. They are mounted on iron brackets and are connected by iron rods going from each of the housings for the spindles to the next. Those linking the two forward truck wheels are curved, while the two connecting the ones further down the sheers to the single rearmost one are straight.

 The fantail gearing, including provision for cranking the cap by hand (the lever is missing), is unusually (though this may have been a feature of Whitmore’s millwrighting, not enough examples of which survive) located at the front rather than at the rear of the cap. The mechanism is mounted within a wooden frame between the breast beam and the second lateral beam on the right. From the vertical shaft of the fan drive a horizontal shaft runs across to it; the final drive is in the form of a large six-armed iron toothed gear on a worm shaft which meshes with the rack.

 The striking gear, located to the right of the windshaft just in front of the tailbeam, is also unusual (though again it may for all I know have been characteristic of Whitmore’s windmills). The spindle of the chainwheel is connected to a short horizontal shaft running underneath and in close proximity to the windshaft. This carries two pinions, each with its own rack, which flank the (wind)shaft, and these are of course connected to the striking rod.

 The eight-armed iron mortice brakewheel, operated on by an iron brake band, appears of light construction, with quite slender arms. It is carried on an iron windshaft which is ribbed and square in front of the wheel. A bevelled eight-armed all-iron wallower is mounted on a cylindrical iron upright shaft, the latter having a clutch in the shape of a trefoil where it passes through the flooring. The wallower is lowered out of mesh with the brakewheel by screw jacks whenever the engine is used. The top of the upright shaft turns in a bearing on a casting bolted to the side face of the sprattle beam.


The sack hoist is on this floor on the west side. The bollard is heavily wrapped in sacking, no doubt to minimise wear from the chain, and is therefore probably of wood. From a four-armed iron pulley a belt goes down to the stone floor, the drive being off the crownwheel there. The chain goes up to and over an iron pulley on the dust floor.

 The remainder of the bin floor is almost entirely taken up by the bins, with a space in the centre for the upright shaft to turn. There is a single window on the west side. The stairwell is on the southwest side, the ladder (in two sections) to the dust floor on the south.


Here there are windows at all four principal compass points. The stairwell is on the northwest side, the ladder to the bin floor on the west, and the sacktrap between the northwest and southwest stones. At their southern ends the main ceiling beams rest on shaped wooden blocks, on the north they are carried in iron shoes let into the brickwork.

 There are four pairs of stones, which, the mill being smaller and narrower than it appears at first sight, results in this floor being rather cramped. They are underdriven from the great spur wheel on the spout floor. The northwest and northeast pairs can be driven by engine. The upright shaft has another coupling in it just above the floor. It carries a fine iron mortice crown wheel, large enough to be mistaken at first for a secondary great spur wheel, with bevelled rim and arms. Meshing with this on the south side is a toothed iron nut on a layshaft running north-south and carrying at the wall end a four-armed pulley from which a belt goes to the spout floor to drive the auxiliary machinery as detailed below. Also driven from the crownwheel, on the west side, is another toothed nut on a short east-west layshaft carrying the pulley from where the belt goes up to the bin floor to drive the sack hoist. The crownwheel end of this layshaft is located in a bearing on a casting bolted to the side face of the eastern main ceiling beam, the other in a block of wood between two ceiling joists.

 The south-west pair of stones, with peak runner, have lost their furniture. The others are in iron tuns with wood horses on iron supports; each retains its bell alarm. The quants are ribbed to act as damsels. All the hoppers are fed by long chutes from the bins on the floor above; an additional chute on the southwest side continues onto the spout floor where it served the now missing flour dresser. 


This is a hotchpotch of gears, shafts and pulleys in which it was initially hard to work out what did what (altogether the drives in this mill are very intricate and would have given Heath Robinson a seizure). There are windows at all four principal compass points and the stairwell is on the south with the ladder to the stone floor on its left.

 A fine eight-armed all-iron great spur wheel, of smaller diameter than one would expect, with a friction ring on the upright shaft beneath it for the governor drive meshes with the five-armed iron mortice stone nuts one of which, that for the southwest stones, is displaced and lies on the floor, still integrated with the stone spindle. The lower bearings of the spindles are located in the main timbers of the dummy floor supporting the upright shaft, which run north-south. The timbers are supported by vertical posts at each end and at mid-length beneath the bridge tree; the space between the central pair of posts is infilled with boarding and light timberwork to create a structure incorporating, on each side, a meal bin to receive the ground corn from two pairs of stones plus the twist pegs for them, and against which the spouts (again, two on each side) rest.

 The northern and southern governors, mounted on lateral timbers between the main dummy floor beams, remain, with their steelyards; the northern governor is over the stairwell and the southern above the pulley on the engine drive shaft. Both governors are large, especially the southern. The steelyard from the latter travels to a link on a stub timber in the angle between the structure  beneath the bridge beam and the western main dummy floor beam, then returns to a second link on the dummy floor beam by the stone nut. That from the northern governor goes to a stub timber on the lateral beam near the window which carries the bearing for the engine drive layshaft; halfway along it is a link where a weight is hung and from where its second stage travels, at an angle to the first, to the stone nut. The dummy floor timbers are fixed and there are no bridge trees, or even tentering bars as at some mills; instead the steelyards are each connected to a hinged vertical, and then horizontal rod which are in turn linked to the stone spindle. The horizontal rods run underneath the dummy floor beams to the vertical posts beneath the bridge beam, a further, long vertical rod then travelling halfway down the front face of the post in each case to end in a handle for manual adjustment.  

 The external pulley of the engine drive is broken. The layshaft travels underneath the dummy floor, a pulley, whose purpose is unclear, being located on it just before it passes below the great spur wheel, and terminates in a combined belt drum (wood) and bevel pinion arrangement, the iron pinion engaging with a bevelled iron mortice gear on a secondary upright shaft. At its top the latter carries a six-armed all-iron secondary great spur wheel, located below and to the right of the main great spur wheel and overlapping it. This engages with the nuts for the northwest and northwest stones. This whole mechanism, plus the auxiliary drive from the crownwheel, was installed in the 1880s. The southwest and southeast stones are wind-driven from the great spur wheel in the normal fashion. In fact all four pairs could be, and the nuts of the engine stones are currently out of alignment with the auxiliary spur wheel.

 It was not quite clear to me how the governors were driven. That is, there is a friction ring below the great spur wheel which would have driven at least two of them, with a suggestion of a second one above it. According to Ronald Hawksley a third governor was off the secondary upright shaft(6).

 The flour dresser, which Peter Dolman believed to have been of bolter type(7), was on the southeast side, mounted at head-height underneath the ceiling on a north-south axis; a bearing on a cross-timber testifies to its former presence. It was at some point replaced by a roller mill, by Hunt of Earls Colne, which the bin serving it, with vertical sides to prevent clogging, has been adapted to feed(8). On the opposite (southwest) side of the mill was a second roller mill, mounted in a partly boarded-in wooden frame off the dummy floor timbers; the mechanism appears to be partly missing although two pulleys, one of which took the drive from the layshaft mentioned below, remain. The other pulley is of solid iron. The presence at one time of a third pulley is suggested by circular marks on the boarding.

 On this side of the floor beneath the ceiling is a north-south layshaft carrying four pulleys. A belt goes down from pulley(1) to that on the second roller mill, which is below and to the left of it. Pulley(2) is for the well pump. The belt from pulley(3) passes down to the first floor where it passes over another before returning to the spout floor, on which it is enclosed within an inclined wood protective casing, to drive the Hunt roller mill. Pulley(4) receives the belt from one of two drums on a spindle mounted within a pivoted iron frame. The second drum took the drive from the layshaft off the crown wheel on the stone floor. The pivoted frame can be lifted by a “Chinese windlass” and cord attached to a twist peg, which releases the drive while the mill is running; its original purpose was to allow belt slip if the mill ran too fast, which would have caused the flour machine to cease working properly. The whole mechanism described above could be operated by either wind or steam.(9) According to Dolman there was also provision for steam-driving the sack hoist; the belt must have been from the “mystery” pulley on the engine drive layshaft, but the exact nature of the mechanism was not clear to me.


The main ceiling beams run east-west with the eastern ends in iron shoes let into the wall. Between them are two lateral beams which rest on the cast-iron support columns continuing from the ground floor. 

 The windows are on the north and south sides and there is a loading door on the west. The ladder to the spout floor is on the north side, the stairwell on the northeast. On the northwest side is an oat roller by Harrison and McGregor.

 On the northeast side, on your right as you step up onto the floor, is one of the curious little wooden cupboards the mill seems to have been munificently blessed with, and adjacent to this an area is partitioned off. This would be the “pastry” or flour store. There is as noted a connecting door into the granary, from which the flour was loaded in sacks onto the baker’s wagon.

 On the northwest side is the layshaft carrying the four-armed iron pulley for the Hunt roller mill. The layshaft ends in a bearing on a casting bolted to a vertical stub timber depending from a joist. The hanger is braced to the northern main ceiling beam by a diagonal member. A belt goes from the pulley to the spout floor.

 On the south-western side at a right angle to the southern main ceiling beam is a layshaft carrying two pulleys, via which the well pump was driven; one receives the belt from the spout floor, the other is for the pump itself.


There are doors on the north and south sides and windows on the east and west. The stairwell and ladder to the floor above are on the northeast side. The two main beams in the ceiling run north-south with cast-iron support columns for each at mid-point.

(Description based on visits made September 2007, 4th July 2010, and 6th August 2022. My thanks to Mark Barnard of the Suffolk Mills Group for arranging access on the latter occasion and for supplying information helping towards interpretation of the mill.)

(1) Peter Dolman, unpublished guidebook to the mill

(2) R Hawksley in Simmons Collection

(3) Ibid

(4) In Simmons Collection

(5) Dolman, as above 

(6) In Simmons Collection

(7) Dolman, as above

(8) Ibid (9) Ibid