Posted on

Technical descriptions of English windmills



Smock mill, standing today (smock tower and base only, house-converted)


This stood on a stone base. The cap was of ogee type(1). It turned on a dead curb with renewable shoes clamped to the skid blocks, in a similar fashion to Upwood mill. The wooden windshaft, largest of its type in the region, was fitted with an iron poll end. It measured c21” diameter at the brakewheel and 19” at the tail. The great spur wheel was a wooden clasp-arm, with rim in three layers, between two of which were held the iron segmented cogs. There were originally two rows of wood cogs.(2)

 There were two external pulleys for the engine drive, one on the base and the other at stone floor level.

(1) Photographic evidence

(2) RW 19/4/1950


Downfield Mill

Tower mill, standing today


This mill has undergone at least two major reconfigurations during its lifetime. Originally a smock mill, it is thought to have been built around 1720. In 1857 (Wailes(1) says 1860) the tower was jacked up and a high brick base built up underneath, the work being done by the local millwrights Hunts; it is not clear whether the structure had any brickwork in it previously or was all wood. After the mill was wrecked by a tailwind in 1890 the timber section was rebuilt in brick, but following the octagonal pattern of the base and smock. This created, in effect, an octagonal tower mill. It must have been thought a simpler option than mating a round section with an octagonal one. There are no other known examples of it being done. Photographs of the mill after its raising and before the 1890 reconstruction survive. As with other Cambridgeshire smock mills (e.g. Impington  (an extreme example), Cambridge (Chesterton) and Fordham) the wooden section was shorter than the brick, resulting in what could be called a part-tower mill in any case, and at Downfield the latter contained the stones, great spur wheel and stone nuts, tentering gear and auxiliary plant. Had Fordham mill received the same treatment as Downfield the two would have looked very similar. At Downfield the base section is almost vertical and comprises the high spout floor plus the stone floor; the second floor (from about mid-height), bin floor and dust floor, making five storeys in all, are within the brick “smock”. There are two small square apertures, closed by removable wooden slats, in the brickwork close together on the dust floor on the south side; it is thought timbers were inserted in these when required to form part of a platform from which repairs could be carried out to the cap. The base is slightly stepped at a couple of points near ground level. There are a number of bosses in the brickwork on one facet of the octagon; they are presumably intended to reinforce it although they do not correspond to any ties within the mill.   

 Downfield mill remained in use until 1955 and so was more or less complete when acquired for preservation by windmill enthusiast Nigel Moon in the 1970s. It is currently owned by Andrew Kite who is carrying out further repairs.

 That the mill was rebuilt at such a late date leads one to expect all the “mod cons” of the time, including mainly iron machinery. In fact the alterations seem to have been largely structural and it is clear that the existing wooden gearing and shafting was retained. I am unsure of their exact age, but it seems that since they were in good condition (and still are, remarkably so) and doing their job adequately the (expensive) opportunity was not taken to replace them. The components are of large size and notably fine quality. Altogether, though, this is a large and splendid mill which reflects a high quality of craftsmanship. The upright shaft has an iron section grafted on. 

 As with many other mills in the region the tower is tarred and the cap, sails, fantail and fanstage painted white. The sails are double-shuttered patents with the leading edges narrower than the trailing, instead of both being of equal width. They have a very pronounced angle of weather. The cap is a typical East Cambridgeshire pepperpot dome, vertically boarded beneath (in the current restoration) a layer of Belzona sheeting. The fanstage is braced to a point just behind and beneath the short decorative finial. The eight-bladed fan drives down through the usual shafting and bevel gearing to a large toothed gearwheel on a spindle positioned at a slight angle to the centreline of the cap. At this inner end the spindle presumably carries a further gear meshing with the rack. Striking for the sails is by rocking lever.  The cap frame is of similar construction to those at Soham (Northfield) and West Wratting, with no continuous sheers and the pairs of timbers connecting the main members being staggered rather than aligned. The sprattle beam and the lateral timber in front of the brakewheel are full-width, the tailbeam apparently not. The weatherbeam is in a position that makes it difficult to inspect. There are six truck wheels in all: two are located in slots in a curved timber bolted to the underside of the tailbeam and following the cap circle, the other four in shoes on the undersides of the short longitudinal timbers connecting the weatherbeam to the second lateral beam and of the ends of the sprattle beam. On either side a diagonal timber of light construction goes to the cap circle from the timber connecting the sprattle beam to the tailbeam, acting as a stay. The curb is dead, with skid plates running in a channel outside the iron rack(2) and not visible from the inside. It is not clear if the curb and rack are integrated. Below the assembly the tower wall is stepped out for a foot or so.  

 The 8ft(3) all-wood clasp-arm brakewheel is mounted on square plates hung on the cylindrical iron windshaft with eight keys clipped to the latter. Horns on the shaft stop the wood packing from slipping.(4) Like many in East Anglia the shaft is relatively slender. To stop the mill a wooden brake is applied to the wheel; the lever was not seen.


The stairwell is on the northeast side. The sackhoist, driven by the crownwheel on the floor below, is on the north, the apparatus being mounted low above the floor on short vertical posts with horizontal timbers carrying the bearings of the wooden bollard. At the north end of the latter is the wooden pulley which receives  the drive belt. The chain goes across the stairwell to a small guide pulley before descending through the mill.

 The 6ft diameter(5) clasp-arm wallower has an inner and an outer (with iron cog ring bolted on) rim, both segmented. It is mounted on a substantial wooden upright shaft, the largest in the Cambridgeshire-Huntingdonshire region according to Rex Wailes who measures it at 18 inches square (Simmons(6) says 14).  


There are windows on the northwest and southwest sides. The stairwell is to the southeast. The ladder is on the northeast side and mounted on a raised section of the floor, presumably containing bins, in which is the sack trap. The purpose of a  wooden box on the north side is unclear unless it is another bin. The upright shaft is encased in protective trunking for two-thirds of its height, beneath the solid wood crownwheel which is believed to be the oldest gear in the mill(7). In two segments pegged together(8), it is a downturned face gear with bevelled teeth which engage on the north side an iron-bound wood bevel nut on a square iron layshaft carrying at the wall end a flanged wood belt pulley corresponding to that on the sack hoist, which it drives. The mechanism is permanently in gear unless it can be adjusted from the dust floor; I regret I did not check to ascertain if this was the case. The horizontal timbers carrying the bearings for the layshaft are on hangers from the ceiling. Simmons(9) measures the crownwheel at 3ft 6in diameter, the bevel nut at 14in and the belt pulley at 2ft 3in.   


According to Simmons this is the bin floor, but I saw no evidence of any bins on my visit.

 Windows are provided on the northeast and southwest sides. The stairwell is on the south side and the ladder to the bin floor on the southeast. On the east is a square wooden spout, the height of the floor, from one of the bins.

 On this floor we see that the upright shaft is a graft shaft. It is wooden for the top half of its height here, with chamfered corners; a slenderer iron section, bound in place with a four-hoop gudgeon, is then bolted on. A dog coupling is provided just above floor level. The additional section was fitted when the mill was raised, requiring that the shaft be lengthened. It is measured by Simmons at six and a half inches diameter. 


Here there are windows on the northeast, northwest, southwest and southeast sides. The ladder to the floor above is on the south side to the left of the stones there, and the stairwell on the northwest. The sack trap on the northeast side is raised. There is a steady bearing on a ceiling joist for the upright shaft.

 There are four pairs of stones altogether, underdriven and located at the main compass points. The eastern pair are fed by a large chute from the floor above. On the south side is the hopper which feeds the flour machine on the spout floor.

 The southern stones are without their tun, which appears to have been partly dismantled and placed on top of the eastern pair. The western pair are also missing their runner. The eastern and northern retain their wooden furniture; they have large, long shoes a little reminiscent of those at Thornton mill, Lancashire, and Six Mile Bottom, and damsels which are divided in such a way that they act as cams agitating the shoe. The tuns of all the stones were octagonal(10)

 On the northwest side is an iron secondary upright shaft which carries near its top a large six-spoked iron pulley. The upper bearing of the shaft terminates in a bearing on the side face of a ceiling joist. Displaced on the floor beside the hopper is what appears to be the reel of a rotary smutter/grain cleaner, which this apparatus may have driven. A hole in a horizontal timber depending from the ceiling on hangers appears to indicate the former presence of a bearing for a vertical drive shaft for the machine, carrying a belt pulley corresponding to that on the secondary upright shaft.


There are doors on the north and south sides, and windows on the east and west. The ladder to the stone floor is on the east.

 The substantial main timbers of the supporting frame for the upright shaft run northeast-southwest. Further support is provided by an iron column under the doubled bridge beam. The 9ft diameter (11) wood clasp-arm great spur wheel, with doubled arms, is mounted on a large square iron boss on the foot of the upright shaft. It has two sets of cogs, one wooden on the side face of the rim and one iron on the upper. The former drove the eastern and western stones and the machine on the stone floor and the latter the southern stones plus the auxiliary equipment on this floor. The nuts are large, of iron mortice type and mounted on ribbed tapers on cones keyed onto the spindles. The eastern stones can be driven by engine; I don’t know whether this has always been the case or is an adaptation. A bevel pinion on the now missing layshaft from outside presumably meshed with the large four-armed iron gear on the spindle below the stone nut. An empty bearing on a timber spanning the main H-frame beams between the bridgetree and the steelyard indicates the former position of the layshaft. No trace remains of the engine itself, unless it is stored somewhere on site. It appears that the stones could be driven either by wind or by steam, with the wind drive being disconnected if required.

 The bridgetree for the western stones is of iron and ribbed (resembling those at Northfield mill), those for the eastern and southern are wood. The southern bridge tree is set between a pair of timbers running off the main “H-frame” at right angles to it. The east and west governors are mounted on the main timbers of the H-frame, the eastern on the “northern” timber and the western on the “southern”, while the southern governor is on the subsidiary timber nearest the door. All the governors have wooden belt drums, the drive being from the stone spindles. In each case the steelyards travel across to a link on the end of a wooden brayer which is in line with the governor, the other ends of the brayers being connected to the bridgetrees near their ends, running parallel to the adjacent main or subsidiary (whichever the case may be) timber of the hurst frame, so as to form an “L” shape. The short second stage of each steelyard terminates below the brayer in a handle for manual tentering. On the east side the spur wheel engages with the large four-armed all-iron nut on the end of the secondary upright shaft which drove the stone floor machine. Simmons measures the nut at 17in diameter.

 The western stone nut is slightly off-centre to make way for a layshaft which drove the large four-spout flour dresser suspended from the ceiling on the northwest side via a countershaft. A solid wood pulley which was part of this arrangement leans against the wall on the southeast side. The drive was presumably off the upper cog ring of the great spur wheel. There is an empty bearing on a timber spanning the H-frame beneath the spur wheel which is thought to be for a shaft forming part of the apparatus, although to me its position suggests this is unlikely. The dresser spindle has two flanged belt drums on it, one large and one small; it would appear that there were two different drives although the nature of the other is not apparent. A sifter on the northwest side has disappeared.      

 As at other Cambridgeshire mills such as Swaffham Prior (where jack rings were also employed) the stone nuts are lifted off their tapers and so put out of gear by riggers, cord-operated wooden pulleys, using ropes and hooks, although the western nut also has horns going from the screws on the glut box to two of its teeth (one horn appears to have broken away from its screw); the latter would have assisted in raising the nut out of engagement with the great spur wheel. The nuts could also of course be swung sideways out of mesh by adjusting the screws. 

 There is a wooden safety guard around part of the circumference of the great spur wheel on the east side. A spout emerges from the ceiling on the northeast. 

 Leaning against the wall on the southeast side is a displaced governor of an unusual type, possibly not from this mill.

Based on survey carried out 3rd September 2016 by Guy Blythman. Thanks to owner Andrew Kite for allowing access.

(1)  19/4/1950

(2)  RW 19/4/1950

(3)  HESS 6/9/1947

(4)  RW 19/4/1950

(5)  HESS 6/9/1947

(6)  6/9/1947

(7)  A Kite 3/9/2016

(8)  6/9/1947

(9)  Ibid

(10) HESS 6/9/1947

(11) A Kite 3/9/2016; Simmons gives 8ft 6in

Northfield or Shade mill

Smock mill, standing today


Northfield Mill, situated beside Shade Common at the very northern extremity of the town of Soham, was originally a drainage mill, which explains its small size and dimensions along with any deviations from the normal pattern of corn mill construction. It was moved to its present site, and converted to flour production, from Soham Mere in the 1830s when a number of the pumping windmills there were replaced by steam engines(1). Structurally it is now the only complete surviving Fenland drainage mill in existence. The hexagonal (whereas most corn smock mills were octagonal), strongly battered timber tower was described as “narrow-gutted” by Rex Wailes; it tapers from 14ft 6in at the sills to 7ft 8in at the curb(2). Though cross-braced to give added rigidity the framing is relatively frail, with the cant posts very slender, and has been frequently strengthened; as part of restoration in the 1980s and 90s a layer of plywood was placed over it(3). The earliest photograph, dating from the 1890s, suggests it was originally clad in horizontal boarding overlaid either from the start or at some later date with vertical; it has now been restored with horizontal only, over the plywood. There is no evidence today of the lath and plaster with which it was once lined internally(4). It rests on a single-storey brick base, also hexagonal, and the mill is tarred overall apart from the cap, sails etc. The vertically-boarded “pepperpot” cap, the smallest in the region at 10ft 3” diameter by 6ft high(5), with its short finial is typical of Cambridgeshire smock and tower mills, but may not have been the original design; Peter Filby believes it was wrecked in a tail-winding at least twice after the move to Northfield. It is winded by an eight-bladed fantail on a supporting structure to which access is gained through a small dormer in the rear of the cap, and which is stayed by two almost horizontal cross-braced timbers to the apex of the cap roof. The fan blades are currently stored on site. The sails were the usual double-shuttered patents.

 The construction of the cap frame follows a pattern which is now very rare. The sheers are short, and are not continuous but end at the sprattle beam, which is then connected to the tailbeam by two long timbers inset several feet from the side. This design was probably developed from drainage mill caps where a tailpole assembly was attached to an extended sprattle beam(6). A similar arrangement may be seen in the south of the county at West Wratting mill (which may also have been an ex-drainage mill?). In the 1930s cantilever trusses were added to strengthen the frame; these were removed in the 1990s restoration. Seven truck wheels are provided: two on the breast beam, located a little way in from the sides, one on each end of the sprattle and tailbeams, and one at mid-length on the tailbeam. Apart from the one on the tailbeam all are mounted in wooden shoes. The wooden curb, of shot type, is in two layers with an iron bearing surface bolted on top of the upper. To a circular boss on the very short iron windshaft is attached a large clasp-arm brakewheel, fitted with an iron cog ring, to which is applied a substantial wooden brake.


This is combined with the bin floor. There are windows on the north, west and south sides. The sack trap, in a raised frame, is on the south side as is the spout from one of the bins; the latter are now missing. The ladder to the stone floor is on the northeast. Two longitudinal timbers spanning the mill at three-quarters of the height of the floor have four lateral ones, going north-south, fixed between them to form a frame which supports the sack hoist, although the first and second timbers are not required for that purpose and indeed appear superficial. The third and fourth, the latter supporting the bearing of the sack hoist bollard, flank the wallower. 

 The wooden upright shaft, old and noticeably worn on one side, is square with chamfered corners. At one point on the stone floor the weathering has enlarged one of the chamfers so that the shaft is effectively five-sided. It has a short final section of iron, with a dog clutch in the latter just above the level of the stone floor. An iron mortice wallower, with a segmented wood friction ring for the sack hoist, is stayed to it by four iron struts, one to each of the full sides of the shaft. The hoist is on the south-west side; the friction ring bears on an iron-bound solid wood drum on a wooden bollard which is also old and worn and with its thickness much reduced where the chain bears on it. 

 Propped against the wall is another wooden bollard, likewise with an iron-bound solid wood drum on it; its purpose is unclear unless perhaps it is part of a machine drive, or the second sack hoist (there were two independent drives off the wallower friction ring, one for each of the two bins(7)).

 On the east side of the floor in line with the sack hoist, two stub timbers are fixed to the eastern main timber of the support frame for the hoist and between them is a spindle carrying a pulley flanged for the chain. There are also a small guide pulley and chain on the south side.

 On this floor each panel of the framing has a central upright breaking a transverse beam, at about two-thirds height, above which two diagonals form a V-shape; below the transverse beam there is cross-bracing, breaking the uprights with the diagonal timbers tenoned into the main one. There is a further transverse beam above the principal one. The flooring hides the transoms, which carry its main beams. The arrangement is the same on the stone floor (the lower floor of the smock). On the stone floor there is a gap between the transverse beam and the cross-bracing, though this feature may stem from the current restoration.


The windows are again located on the north, south and west sides, with the ladder to the dust floor on the east and the stairwell on the southwest. The main dust floor beams run northeast-southwest and their ends rest on those of lateral timbers which are halved and on each side run to the common adjacent cant post, being tenoned into it and the uprights on either side of it.  

 Two pairs of stones are underdriven to the south and west. The western pair are missing their casing and furniture; those for the southern remain without the hopper and with the horse out of position and lying on top of the casing. The west stones rest on an octagonal wooden plinth, the south on a circular one.


There are entrance doors on the southwest and northeast faces and windows on the north and south. The ladder to the stone floor is on the south. The principal ceiling (stone floor) timbers rest on top of the walls of the base. The main beams of the H-frame supporting the upright shaft (constituting if one likes a dummy floor) run northeast-southwest. They are connected to the ceiling beams, which run above and slightly to the left and right of them, by short vertical members. 

 The large wooden great spur wheel has doubled clasp arms rebated where they join the rim. Two iron cog rims are bolted to the latter, one on the side for the stone nuts and engine drive and one to the upper face for the machine drive. The nuts are of iron mortice type. The ribbed iron bridge trees are both of the same design; that for the northern stones is mounted between the main dummy floor beams, and the southern between two longitudinal timbers running off them, which form part of the support frame for the engine drive (see below). The brayers are wooden. Depending from the southern (more or less) main H-frame beam northeast of the great spur wheel are vertical stub timbers with slots in them, which may be hangers for a former all-wood tentering system. On the spindle for the southern stones beneath the nut is the large four-armed bevelled iron mortice gear for the engine drive. This engages with a pinion on an iron layshaft running north-south and terminating outside the mill in the external pulley. The neck bearing of the layshaft is mounted on a bowed timber one end of which is pivoted in a vertical post resting in a wooden block fixed to the underside of one of two lateral timber going north-south from the southern main dummy floor beam to the wall. The other end is pivoted in a hanger depending from the second timber.

Above the stone nut is the flanged drum which receives the belt drive to the governor.

 In the ceiling to the right of the timber supporting the southern stone spindle is a rigger, in the form of a small wooden pulley and layshaft, for raising the nut out of gear. 

 There is one governor for each pair of stones. That for the western is complete; it is located on the west side, on the northern main dummy floor beam with the steelyard running more or less southeast to the link which is on the southern main dummy floor beam. The governor for the southern stones, with one arm displaced but stored in the mill (the ball is missing), is on the southern main dummy floor beam between the western bridgetree and the great spur wheel; the steelyard goes southeast to a link, with hand tentering screw, on the adjustable timber in which the engine drive layshaft bearing is located. Both governors have wooden belt drums.

 The auxiliary plant appears to be missing. However an unidentified iron mortice gear with some cogs left in it and a displaced wooden pulley lie on the the north main dummy floor beam. Various other odd items, which might be machinery of some kind or to do with it, are scattered throughout the mill. There is evidence for a dresser, which was suspended from the ceiling above the northern window, on the ground floor from marks in the timber(8).

Herbert Simmons took the following measurements (6th September 1947):

Brakewheel 8ft diameter

Wallower 4ft diameter

Upright shaft 11in square

Stone nuts 15in diameter

Great spur wheel 6ft diameter

Based on surveys carried out by Guy Blythman on 16th May 2009 and 7th September 2013 

(1) Source unclear

(2) RW 19/4/50

(3) Source unclear

(4) HESS 6/9/1947

(5) RW 19/4/1950

(6) SPAB mill tour notes 2009

(7) RW 19/4/1950

(8) Umesh Patel 28/7/2016, per A Kite

Mann’s Mill

Smock mill, gone

There were five storeys in all. Four double-shuttered patent sails were fitted. The great spur wheel was below a level with the stone nuts. The brakewheel and crownwheel were both wood with iron cogs. The brake was iron.(1)

(1) HESS

Hardfield mill

Smock mill, gone


A vertically-boarded smock mill winded by a tailpole and with a cap of the shape common on the Fenland drainage mills, of which perhaps this was originally one. There was a dead curb with the skids serving as centring wheels. The mill had one of the smallest iron windshafts in the region, 6” square at the brakewheel and 8” diameter at the neck journal. It was fitted with a balance weight. The clasp-arm wallower was held to the upright shaft by two arms and two stretchers and incorporated what appeared to be either a wooden sack hoist spur gear ring or an old trundle wheel. The stones were underdriven, with the nuts moved in (but not out) of gear by riggers of the kind common in Cambridgeshire.(1)

(1) RW 19/4/1950


Smock mill, gone

Similar in some ways to West Blatchington mill, Sussex, this was a utility mill, serving only the farm on which it stood. The very slender tower, which was tarred, stood on pitch pine supports within a wooden substructure which formed part of a large barn. It was crowned by an ogee cap clad in white-painted felt and with a petticoat. There was a narrow asphalted stage with no outside rail. Clockwise patent sails, struck by rocking lever, were fitted and the fan operated through a vertical shaft driving a horizontal one through a worm.(1)

 The mill is thought not to have been of great age, and to have worked into the early twentieth century (it stopped in 1919 according to Hawksley). All the machinery was of iron except the windshaft and the great spur wheel cogs. Only one pair of stones was installed, mounted on a hurst frame, and no sack hoist or bins. The spur wheel drove a chaff cutter and a cake crusher through pulleys one on either side of it. Pumping machinery was apparently also driven. (R Hawksley: “High erection above the floor of the barn at the side of the main room had gear just above it, and spur wheel had the cogs on lower side. Horizontal shaft from this had an all-iron wheel gearing to the quant whose bearing was fixed below the beam. One pair of stones only with separate tenter bar adjustment. Another shaft drove two pulley wheels. A third shaft drove one inside and one outside. The inside one was not latterly used. The outside one was connected with {an} oat crusher and pumps.”)

(1) HESS; HRH in same


Smock mill, gone


The curb was wood, with an iron rack on the side in segments. The windshaft was iron and measured 10½ ins at the neck journal, 8½ ins square with raised corners to the brakewheel, and then 6½ ins round behind the latter, tapering to 5½ ins at the tail, near where “J Rawlings 1834” was cast in raised lettering. The all-wooden brakewheel was 8’ in diameter with cross arms clasping the four segments of the rim at top and bottom, and forming a 2ft square centre where the wheel was secured to the shaft with wood packing. Carved on two of them were the inscriptions “J X A, Aug 5th 1860” and “H.S. 1861”. Six consecutive teeth had Roman numerals marked against them. The wallower was wooden with an iron cog ring cast on. The wood upright shaft was 18” square at the top and chamfered between the wallower and great spur wheel. The latter was an 8ft clasp arm with {“a 5ft 6in wood ring” and} wood cogs on its upper face and iron cogs cast on the rim in segments of 16. Two pairs of stones were overdriven via 22” by 18” wooden nuts on 2½ in. round quants.(1) A photograph of the derelict mill shows an external pulley for an engine drive.

(Simmons’s visit was 9th September 1946, when he inspected the wreckage following the mill’s collapse)

(1) HESS


Saunderson’s Mill


Smock mill, standing today in preserved condition with cap and windshaft but no sails or machinery below curb

The brakewheel has wooden teeth(1).

(1) HESS

Flitton’s Mill

Smock mill, gone

The cap had a scalloped petticoat and a large ball finial made from sheet copper. The brake lever was of iron. The great spur wheel was wooden with an iron mortice rim bolted to the clasp arms.(1)

(1) HESS


Tower mill

Standing today, house-converted with restored cap and sails


A tarred tower mill with white-painted ogee cap, four clockwise double-shuttered patent sails and a fantail on vertical supports braced to the top of the dome cap just below the finial. The curb was dead. The windshaft was iron with ribs, running its entire length, for the brakewheel mounting and a balance weight which was 14” diameter and 18” long. The brakewheel was wooden, the upright shaft (at four inches in diameter the smallest in the region) and crownwheel iron. As well as the stones a silk centrifugal flour dressing machine and a bean kibbler were driven, and there was an external pulley on the wall of the first floor for an engine drive.(1)

(1) RW 1950, 1956


Smock mill


Standing today, heavily rebuilt and converted to a house, with restored cap and sails

The mill was vertically boarded and lined with lath and plaster internally. The fantail was mounted high as on the tower mill, with diagonal bracing to the dome cap, which had no finial and turned on a live curb, with rollers. The windshaft was round, and 9” at the neck tapering to 6” at the tail. The brakewheel and wallower were both all-wood clasp arm types; the former was 7ft 6” diameter and the latter, described by Simmons as an interesting example and very solidly built, 4ft 6”. The sack hoist consisted of a 2ft by 5½ in iron drum, friction driven from the wallower, on an 8” bollard, friction driven from wallower. The 16-sided(1) wooden upright shaft was 13” square at the wallower and octagonal below. When inspected the bin floor was empty. The great spur wheel was another all-wood clasp arm, 8ft across. It drove two pairs of 4ft 4in stones through iron mortice stone nuts, 21” in diameter, with large cruciform tapers. The stones, in octagonal casings were located on the south and east sides; each had a separate governor. The spindles were mounted on iron bridgetrees. The dresser drive was by a 16” iron nut, layshaft and pulley. The ground floor measured 14ft 6in internally.(2)

(T C Hunt 9th April 1958: If a smock mill carcase wanted reboarding we did not remove the old boards but we put 2in sq. deal on each quarter post; measured the top and the bottom and had the boards cut taper to fit in each quarter; we grooved both sides of the boards above 7/16 in deep and put in ¾in galvanized hoop iron; it was a better and cheaper job. We had a special thick saw for grooving, run one side of the board against the fence and on the other side of the board an upright idle roll; the best of that job was you could do most of the work in the shop. Foster’s smock mill at Swaffham Prior was boarded like that.(3))

(1) RW 19/4/1950

(2) HESS 9th September 1946

(3) In HESS

Tower mill, standing today


Like that at Thelnetham in Suffolk, Swaffham Prior tower mill is engaging in its small size and compactness, the latter feature resulting in plenty of room in which to move around comfortably. It was use until c1950 and entirely complete, though starting to deteriorate, when restoration began in the 1970s, continuing under successive owners the present being Jonathan Cook, Chairman of the SPAB Mills Section, under whom it has been returned to working order and is once again milling. Consequently there is a lot of flour dust around, which adds to the atmosphere but also affected the quality of some of my photographs!

 The tarred, quite strongly-battered tower is built of clunch encased in brick(1) and plastered on the inside. The cap is a dome, with a sharper curve than say Thelnetham’s, topped by a short finial and clad in white-painted vertical boarding. It has had external railings, which it did not possess during the mill’s working life, fitted at some point (what is their purpose?). Two short longitudinal timbers connect the lateral timber in front of the brakewheel to the breast beam, with a pair of corresponding but longer timbers, between which is mounted the very short tailbeam, bracing a further lateral one to a transverse beam at the rear. The sprattle beam is curved. The whole turns on a shot curb, on which the number of rollers was too great to count. There are six four-spoked iron centring wheels: four at the sides (a pair towards the front where the forward lateral timber joins the sheers, and a pair carried on short timbers off the latter on a line with the sprattle beam), and two on the sheers towards the rear with the lower ends of their spindles located on a transverse iron girder mounted between the sheers. These final two centring wheels are mounted in iron columns bolted to the sheers, the others in wooden shoes fixed to the undersides of the members. The curb is in three layers, the topmost iron one against which the truck wheels bear and two wooden ones the lower of which rests on the brickwork and is secured in place with wooden blocks resting on the ledge formed by the final course of brick being stepped in a few inches. 

 There are four double-shuttered patent sails, originally of equal width each side of the stock, with rocking lever striking gear and a six-bladed fantail the vertical posts of whose support structure are stayed at their tops to a point just below the cap finial by a pair of cross-braced timbers which are almost horizontal. Interestingly, the fan spindle is fitted with a drum brake and the rocking lever with a swinging catch which holds it up as a precaution against tailwinding. A clasp-arm wood brakewheel, 7ft 6in in diameter(2) and with an iron brake(3), is hung on an iron windshaft with four ribs(4). This windshaft is elevated 3 feet at the neck, so that its angle is steeper than at other English windmills, as is obvious from the attitude of the sails when the mill is viewed from outside. It is quite short, not in fact projecting beyond the curb (a fact the high angle disguises), but also the largest in the Cambridgeshire-Huntingdonshire region, being 9ft 6 inches long and 18 inches in diameter, and has a counterbalance, in the form of a large drum-shaped casting in two halves, bolted around it near the tail. Presumably, as the shaft tapers towards the latter, it would otherwise be too heavy at the neck (Simmons describes it as “tail-light”). Wailes gives the dimensions of the counterbalance as 23 inches long by 18 inches in diameter(5).

 The tower contains four floors, dust, bin, stone and spout, the last being the ground floor.


The sack trap is on the east side, the stairwell on the south-east.

 The wooden brake lever is hinged in a vertical post on the right sheer, whose upper end is tenoned into a horizontal member of the cap roof framing. The brakewheel meshes with a 6-armed, 4ft diameter(6) all-iron wallower, which has a bevelled wood friction rim for the sack hoist. The hoist consists of an iron pulley braced by a number of ties to a square section of the wooden bollard. The latter is heavily padded with leather to reduce wear. It is mounted at an angle to the windshaft in a wooden frame on the north-east side, with the usual lever for adjusting the gear. Before descending to the sack trap the chain goes to an iron pulley in a bracket projecting from the wall and braced to it by two diagonal timbers. Mounted parallel to the sack hoist on its left and supported by the same wood frame are a wooden layshaft and flanged pulley with a rope hanging from the pulley.

 The slender upright shaft, measuring 4 inches in diameter, is circular and of iron throughout its length.


There are windows on the east and west sides, and a single large bin on the north side. The stairwell is on the south with the ladder to the dust floor beside it on the south-west.

 Here a modern milling machine has been set up by the present owner. There is a dog clutch in the upright shaft just above floor level, with below it a bearing for the shaft bolted to a vertical post which terminates in the ceiling. 


This is well-lit by four windows at compass points. The stairwell is on the west side and the ladder to the stone floor on the east.

 On the west and northeast sides two pairs of stones in circular tuns with wooden horses, hoppers etc. are underdriven. A wooden stone crane, which could be taken out of its bearings when required(7), is located to the right of the upright shaft. On the south-west side is a four-spout flour dresser, a modified smutter, to accommodate whose drive pulley when it was first installed a section of the wall has been knocked out. Through an opening in the floor a belt goes up to the pulley from the machine drive on the spout floor.


As in many underdrift mills, above head height this is rather a tangle of machinery (and mostly on one side of the floor), pleasing to fans of the late W Heath Robinson though occasionally making interpretation difficult.

 There are doors in the southern and northern sides and windows on the east and west. The main beams of the dummy floor run north-south, flanking the doors, and a lateral timber fixed between them supports the foot of the upright shaft, being itself supported by a vertical post from ground level. The 9ft(8) diameter great spur wheel is all-iron with eight arms. It engages with four nuts: the stone nuts on the north-east and east sides and then, going clockwise, those for the engine and machine drives. The stone nuts are of large diameter iron mortice type and tentering is by iron bars mounted beneath the fixed support timbers and operated by vertical rods with hand screws provided. There are two governors, one for each pair of stones, on the northeast side, plus a third on the southwest; it is not clear what the latter was for unless the positions of the stones have been changed at some point or there were three originally (such an arrangement turning out to be too cramped).

 A short lateral timber between the main dummy floor beams carries the spindle of the north-east stone nut. Three timbers on the northeast and east sides run off the right-hand main timber of the dummy floor, with further timbers depending from them, to support the governors, the spindles of the other nuts, the steelyard links and the engine and machine drives. From the first (travelling clockwise), which is braced by a pair of timbers to the longitudinal beam, a timber goes diagonally to the northern end of the longitudinal, and halfway along this is mounted the first of the north-eastern governors, that is the one nearest the door. The second lateral timber supports the eastern stone spindle and the link to the bridgetree of the steelyard from governor(1). The third timber supports the spindle of the engine drive nut. From the second timber and at a right angle to it a beam (X) goes south to wall, supporting the casting bearing for the engine drive layshaft, which is mounted on a block on the third timber where (X) crosses over it.

 Governor(2) is located at mid-point along another diagonal timber between the first and second lateral timbers.

 Governor(1) is controlled from the eastern stone spindle, the belt going north-west; the second governor, that further from the door, from the north-east stone spindle, the belt travelling north between the two and crossing over the one to governor(1) from the east stone spindle, adding to the tangle. In view of their positions it would have made more sense to have governor(1) driven from the northeast spindle, but that’s windmills for you. The steelyard from governor(1) goes south to the link on the middle timber running off the eastern dummy floor beam. That from governor(2) goes north-west to the link to the bridge tree for the north-east stone nut, crossing over the steelyard from governor(1).

 On the southeast side, the engine drive nut is of the same type as the stone nuts, but mounted on a four-armed boss on the spindle. Beneath it on the latter is a larger diameter, four-armed bevelled iron mortice gear, one of a pair via which the drive goes to the timber layshaft carrying the pulley on the outside of the tower.    

 The nut for the machine drive on the south side is again of iron mortice “tambourine” (the shape is similar) kind; it is moved in and out of gear (as is the engine drive nut) by a jack ring and screw, and the upper bearing of the spindle is located in the right main dummy floor beam. Above the nut on the spindle another bevelled iron mortice gear engages an iron bevel pinion on a layshaft which runs to the wall beside the dummy floor beam to terminate in a pulley from which a belt passes above the door to a corresponding pulley on a second, shorter layshaft parallel to the first. This second layshaft carries three pulleys; a belt from the middle, largest one goes up to the flour dresser on the stone floor while the others drove items of machinery that have now disappeared.

 The south-western governor is mounted on a timber running diagonally between the western longitudinal member of the H-frame and a timber running off the later to the wall. Running from the governor above and parallel to the support timber is a short iron steelyard with an empty link at the other end. This and the other governors have wooden belt drums, whereas those on the stone spindles are iron and of small diameter.

 On the north-east side between the dummy floor timbers, adjacent to and partly forward of the stone nut, are a short layshaft and wooden flanged disc from which a rope goes down to a twist peg.

 Finally, a modern (that is, early-mid twentieth century) machine has been installed on the west side of the floor by the owner.

Survey based on inspection carried out 16th July 2014 by kind permission of the mill owner, Jonathan Cook.

(1) Guide pamphlet for SPAB day tour of Cambridgeshire mills, 2009

(2) HESS 9/9/1946

(3) ditto

(4) ditto

(5) RW 16/4/1947

(6) ditto

(7) RW 19/4/1950, in HESS

(8) HESS 9/9/1946


Tower mill, standing today (tower only)


The mill had four double-shuttered anti-clockwise patent sails(1). As at Burwell the curb was set on folding wedges, enabling it to be levelled up easily, but here they were continuous which resulted in them continually coming loose(2).

(1) HESS

(2) RW 19/4/50


Tower mill, standing today (tower only)


The seven-storey tower, of stone plastered over, tapers from 26’ to 13’ diameter. The brakewheel and the polygonal windshaft were of iron, while the great spur wheel had an iron mortice rim bolted onto the arms. There is a stone over the door with the inscription “HFG 1787”.(1)

(1) RW 19/4/1950


Post mill, gone


The buck had a steeply pitched roof(1) and was painted white(2). At 12’ by 18’ 6” it was the largest encountered by Wailes in the region. The mill also had the largest roundhouse, which was 22ft in diameter and constructed of pink brick. It had no roof, a petticoat on the underside of the buck, which was set very close over it, serving this purpose. Wailes measured the crowntree at 24” by 21” deep.

 Four single-shuttered patent sails were carried by a wooden windshaft which was 19” square at the brakewheel. Spur gearing was fitted, overdriving two pairs of stones in the breast. The wallower was a wood clasp-arm 7ft 4in diameter having a wooden ring built up on top of the arms and carrying the segment cogs. The upright shaft, great spur wheel (planked in solid) and stone nuts were also wooden. The great spur measured 5’ 8” diameter. The nuts were moved in/out of gear by glut boxes. Each pair of stones had its own governor, driven by belt from the upright shaft. The sack hoist drive was by spur pinion from the inside of the brakewheel cogs.(3) There was a clutch connection with the flour machine. The wallower had applewood teeth(4).

Watts refers to the sails as being “set by windlass”.

(1) Photographic evidence

(2) G A Watts, The Windmills of Tilbrook, Hunts, 1933

(3) Wailes 1950

(4) Watts 1933


Tower mill, standing today (tower only)


The tower had been raised one floor. The striking rod was mounted between twin levers.(1)

(1) RW 19/4/50

Upwell, Christchurch

Tower mill, gone

The curb was dead; both it and the skids were of wood. The trundle wheel wallower was over 6 feet in diameter.(1)

(1) RW 19/4/50


Tower mill

Standing today (tower only, but machinery rumoured to survive)


The skid blocks of the curb had renewable shoes clamped onto them, as at Sawtry(1).

(1) RW 19/4/1950.