The Wonder of Windmills

Published: Friday 27th Apr 2018

Written by: Georgia Dawson

There are many windmills and watermills in Norfolk. When exploring the Norfolk countryside, they sprinkle our landscapes with beautiful shapes and interesting histories. Some windmills in Norfolk were used for grinding corn and flour and some were used to help the drainage of water, particularly around the Norfolk Broads. Some windmills have been renovated and are open to the public. Below are a few of the wonderful windmills to keep an eye out for when exploring the Norfolk countryside: 

1. Horsey Windpump

Horsey Windpump is iconic landmark standing next to Horsey Mere. The main brick structure of the current windpump was built by Dan England in 1912 on the foundations of an older windpump. The old mill suffered numerous catastrophes, culminating in the whole top of the mill being blown off in a gale of March 1895. In 1912, the mill was taken down to its foundations, brick by brick. In the same year of 1912, the current mill was built. The mill was finished in time for the floods of the summer in 1912. The windpump worked well until it was severely struck by lightning in July 1943. The lightning strike split the timber stocks which held the sails completely in half. Due to the shortage of timber throughout World War II, these didn’t get fixed until many years later. In 1948, Horsey Windpump was acquired by the National Trust. In 1956, the damaged timber stocks were considered to be too dangerous and were removed, before being replaced with an electric pump in 1957. In 1987, the windpump was once again hit by horrendous weather conditions. The fantail got blown off and the cap was badly damaged. Repair work began in 1988 and it was reopened to the public again in 1990.  

2. Sutton Windmill

Sutton mill is the tallest windmill in the UK when it has the cap on and it stands at 80ft. Without it’s cap, it is thought to be the second tallest. The mill stood at about 67ft 6inches to the curb and about 79ft 6inches to the top of the cap. The four double shuttered sails had a span of 73 feet and were 9ft 4inches wide. The mill was built in 1789 with eight floors. It suffered a fire in 1861 and in the restoration process, an extra floor was added to make nine.  The mill was built on the site of an earlier mill which was burnt down in 1789. The new mill suffered a similar fate when it was struck by lightning on 4th July 1875. The lightning bolt hit one of the large sails and travelled down the centre of the mill via the sack chain, causing a massive fire. The mill was again struck by lightning in 1940 when the sails were hit and this caused the mill to retire. 

3. Old Buckenham Mill

Old Buckenham is a tower mill with the largest diameter in England – 23ft across its base. The mill was built in 1818 and is believed to have been fitted with eight sails, before being replaced with four after serious storm damage in 1879. The mill had various owners, including James Colman, who married the daughter of the first miller and later went into business with his uncle Jeremiah to form the J & J Colman business. His Excellency Prince Frederick Duleep Singh lived with his wife Princess Sophia Alexandrona in Old Buckenham Hall towards the end of the 19th century. The last miller was Billy Gooderham who took ownership of the mill in 1922. At this point, the mill was in terrible condition and after 107 years of operation, the fantail broke down and the mill retired. Subsequently, the mill became a farm store. In 1976, the cap and sales were so rundown that they had to be removed due to safety reasons and a metal roof had to be installed to protect the mill from the damaging weather.In the 1980's, the Norfolk Windmills Trust took ownership of the mill. In 1996, a restoration programme began with funding from Norfolk County Council and English Heritage. The cap and sails of the mill were rebuilt and reinstalled and the mill opened to the public in 1997.

4. Thurne Dyke Drainage Mill

Thurne Dyke Drainage Mill is one of the most picturesque and photographed mills on the Norfolk landscape. Located at Thurne, it was built in 1820 on the east bank of the River Thurne. The mill was built by England & Co. of Ludham. The mill had four sails which drove a scoopwheel to raise water from Thurne Dyke and empty it into the river. The sails failed to turn automatically with the wind – instead, marshman had to keep an eye on the sails and manually turn them depending on the direction and strength of the wind. In 1835, the mill was raised in order to install a new turbine pump and patent sails. At the same time, a fantail was installed in order to direct the patent sails. The new patent sails turned automatically in the wind, with help from the new fantail. However, in 1919 the cap got blown off during a severe storm and the mill had to be restored. In 1926, a steam turbine and shed were installed. The mill finally retired in 1936, after 116 years of operation.The mill was in terrible condition when it was bought by Bob Morse in 1949. This prevented the mill being destroyed. Morse and Albert England, a direct descendant of England and Co. that originally built the mill, restored it to full working order by 1951. Subsequently, they leased the mill to the Norfolk Windmill Trust. The mill is now open to the public from spring until autumn. 

5. Cley Mill

Cley Mill is а five story tower mill with а stage at the second floor and is one of the most famous landmarks on the north Norfolk coast. Cley mill was built in the early 19th century, when it was owned by the Farthing family. The mill stayed in the Farthing family until Dorothy Farthing, the owner, died. Steven Barnabas Burroughs then bought the mill and lived and worked in it from 1840 - 1929, at which point it fell into disrepair. It was bought by Sarah Maria Wilson in 1921 for £350 and turned into a holiday home. During this renovation, most of the working parts of the mill were removed.In 1934, the mill was inherited by Lt Col Hubert Blount. On 31st January 1953, water of at least 8ft deep flooded the mill. In 1960, Norfolk County Council and the Pilgrim Trust both made grants for the sails to be replaced. More grants were received from the council in 1963 and 1971, which paid for the sales, fanstage and galleries to be replaced in 1988.

Georgia Dawson
Georgia Dawson


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