Hertfordshire

 Cuffley Industrial Heritage Society

Next page  
Home About Us Gallery Society Trips Contact Us

Hertfordshire

Driving - East of England Mills   


Before the invention of the steam engine man harnessed his natural environment to provide the power to drive machinery and tools. Wind and water mills became established in Britain from around the 11th century and were mainly used for grinding corn.

The miller was a very important person in the village, third only behind the lord of the manor and the priest. The skills of the millwright were often passed down through generations of a family, with the son taking over the mill from the father. The miller, however, also had a reputation for being dishonest and was often said to have a "golden thumb". This referred to the practice of pressing his thumb on the scales to increase the weight and therefore the price he charged.

In 1796, a law went into affect that made payment for the miller's services in money compulsory. Prices had to be posted or the miller was fined 20 shillings. This was done to eliminate the illegal practice of "hanging up the cat", in which a miller took some of the farmer's grain for himself.

Eastern England has some fine examples of the different designs of wind and watermills, which also demonstrate their variety of uses, from sawing wood to draining the marshes.

1. Lode Mill

The waterwheel is one of the earliest forms of power used by man and references to its usage date back over 2000 years. In a poem by Antipater, an early Greek writer, he refers to the freedom from toil of the young people that used the water wheel to grind corn. The Romans also used water wheels and introduced them to England during their occupancy.

It was only during the 12th century, however, that the use of watermills became widespread across Britain. At first the mills were controlled by the Lord of the Manor or the monasteries and they would exercise what were known as "soke rights". This meant that all the tenants on the land were obliged to have their corn ground at the mill and they would have to pay one sixteenth of the grain for the privilege. This gave rise to the expression to get "soaked" or overcharged.

By the 18th century the mills were no longer in control of the landowners or the church. The dissolution of the monasteries, the growth in the population and improved transportation all led to the establishment of the independent mill, owned and run by the miller.

Lode Mill is situated in the grounds of Anglesey Abbey, on the edge of the Cambridgeshire fens. The mill stands on the point where Quy Water meets Bottisham Lode (a man-made waterway that was built between Roman and medieval times to bring supplies to the village from the River Cam).

A watermill is believed to have stood on this site since the 11th century, but the present structure dates from the 18th century. The mill was used for grinding corn up until 1900 when it was converted for grinding cement. This continued until 1920 when the cement company closed. The mill has now been restored to a fully working corn mill, and the flour is on sale to visitors.

Water from Quy Water is diverted by a series of sluices to turn the 14ft waterwheel. The wheel drives four pairs of millstones via a "pit wheel" which is attached to the same axle as the waterwheel and is built of iron with wooden teeth. The pit wheel turns another wheel, the "wallower", which is mounted at right angles to it, on the main vertical shaft. In this way the horizontal rotation of the waterwheel is transferred to the vertical rotation of the main shaft which is needed to turn the millstones and hence grind the corn.

Lode Mill Anglesey Abbey and Garden, Lode, Cambridge, Cambridgeshire. CB5 9EJ. Tel: 01223 811200 Open: Late March to November, Wednesday to Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday 1-5. Directions: By Car- In the village of Lode, 6 miles north east of Cambridge on B1102. By Bus- Stagecoach 111/122 from Cambridge. (There are frequent services to Cambridge BR) By train- Cambridge BR.

The mill is in the care of the National Trust http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/

2. Woodbridge Tide Mill

Fast flowing river water was not the only method adopted for driving a water wheel, the ebb and flow of the tide has also been used. Woodbridge Tide Mill in Suffolk is one of the few working tide mills left in Britain.

A mill has stood on the site at Woodbridge since the 12th Century and in the middle ages it was owned by the Augustinian Canons of the local priory. However, Woodbridge priory was one of the first to be dissolved by Henry VIII and so the mill was granted to Sir John Wingfield. Upon his death the mill returned to the crown, until Queen Elizabeth granted the mill to one of her court officials in 1564. Over the years ownership of the mill passed through a number of families, and in 1793 the Cutting family decided to restore the mill and the buildings, and the ones they erected are still standing today.

The mill continued to be worked up until 1957 when one of the oak shafts broke. The mill fell into disrepair until a group of volunteers organized its restoration during the 1970's. The mill has now been returned to working order.

Tide mills, like Woodbridge, tend to be situated along shallow creeks to avoid the ravages of the coastal waves. A large pond is built next to the mill that fills with water when the tide rises. The sea water enters through a one way gate and is trapped in the pond when the tide falls.

The miller then lets the water out of a sluice gate to drive the water wheel and a full pond provides about four hours of milling. This practice would take place twice a day and would mean that the miller led very irregular hours because of the changing times of the tide.

Woodbridge Tide Mill Tide Mill Way, Woodbridge, Suffolk. IP12 4SR Tel: 01473 626618 Open: Easter and May to September, daily 11-5. October, weekends 11-5.

Directions- By Car - Off the A12, north east of Ipswich. Signposted in Woodbridge. By Train - Woodbridge Station is on the East Suffolk Line. By Bus - Eastern Counties (01473 253734).

3. Saxtead Green Post Mill

Life might not have been much easier for the owner of a windmill who depended on the right weather conditions. Windmills were developed in England in the 12th century, around the same time as watermills became established. They were designed to replace the use of animal power in the grinding of corn and wheat. The use of windmills became widespread and by the 15th century they were over 10,000 across Britain, particularly in East Anglia, Kent and Sussex.

The Post Mill was the earliest type of mill built in this country. Saxtead Green has four sails with a span of 54ft and consists of a brick roundhouse situated below a three-storey wooden "buck" which contains all of the machinery.

In order for a windmill to work properly the sails must face directly into the wind. The Post Mill pivots on a vertical shaft so that the whole buck is turned to face the eye of the wind. The direction of the buck is controlled automatically by the fantail or can be turned manually by the miller. The fantail is mounted on the ladder that runs from the ground to the buck. The wheels at the bottom of the ladder are on a track around the mill so that they rotate as the buck moves around.

The millstones are driven via a "break wheel" which is mounted on the same axle as the sails. In a similar way as the waterwheel, a "wallower" is set on a vertical shaft at right angles to the "break wheel" and so converts the horizontal drive to the vertical shaft.

The buck of the mill is divided into three floors, with the "bin floor" at the top, housing the grain bins. The grain runs down spouts to the grain hoppers on the second floor, known as the "stone floor". Here, the two pairs of millstones are fed with grain by the hoppers. The grain is crushed between the lower stone, which remains stationary, and the upper stone, which revolves around. The ground meal is then discharged into waiting sacks below on the meal floor.

Like most wind and watermills, Saxtead Green had two pairs of millstones; Peak stone and French Burr. The Peak stones were made of Derbyshire millstone grit and were used for course grinding for animal feed. The French Burr stones were made from chert, a very hard form of flint, which was quarried near Paris. It could not be quarried in large pieces so each stone was made up of smaller pieces held together by iron hoops and Plaster of Paris. The Burr stone was so valuable to the millers that even at the height of the Napoleonic wars, the English government allowed trade in the stones to continue.

Saxtead Green Post Mill The Green, Saxtead, Woodbridge, Suffolk. IP13 9QQ Tel: 01728 685789 Open: 1 April or Easter (whichever is earlier) to end of September, Monday to Saturday 10-1 and 2-6. October Monday to Saturday, 10-1 and 2-4.

Directions By Car-On A1120, about 3 miles north west of Framlingham. By Train - Nearest station Wickham Market (9 miles) By Bus - Eastern Counties (01473 253734)

4. Billingford Windmill

Even though the miller was dependent on the wind, strong winds could mean danger. At one incident at Billingford post mill the miller had a very lucky escape.

George Goddart was on top of the mill in strong winds on 22nd September 1859 when the mill was blown over. He fell 25 feet along with all the debris from the mill. He was found wedged between the mill stones and a large cog wheel, either of which would have crushed him to death if they had fallen on him.

By the following year a new mill had been constructed that still stands today. However, this time a different type of mill was built, a tower mill.

Tower mills first appeared after the post mill was established in Britain and they were usually made of stone or brick. The main difference between the tower mill and the post mill is the way it turns to face into the wind. While the whole of the body of the post mill revolves about the central shaft, it is only the top, or cap, of the tower mill that moves.

On the top of the brickwork of the tower there is a track. Inside this track is an independent set of rollers, and on top of these rollers is another track attached to the bottom of the cap. This allows the cap to revolve about the brick structure. As with the post mill, a fantail is located at the rear of the mill. The fantail will remain still, so long as the wind is blowing directly from the front, but as soon as the wind changes, the blades rotate, driving a set of gears which turn the cap until it is once again facing the wind.

Billingford Mill is a five storey brick tower cornmill with a Norfolk boat-shaped cap and six-bladed fantail. Ownership of the mill passed through a number of hands until it was bought by George Daines in 1924. His son Arthur, spent £300 repairing the mill after the Second World War, and it continued in use until 1956 when the sails suffered damage. It was the last mill in Norfolk to be worked by wind, although Arthur continued to use engine power at the mill until 1959.The mill has been restored to working order by the Norfolk Windmills Trust.

Billingford Windmill Billingford Common, Billingford, near Diss, Norfolk IP21 4HL. Tel: 01603 222705 http://www.ecn.co.uk/norfolkwindmillstrust/ Open: All year, daily, 11-3, plus evenings from May to September 6-9.

Directions By Car: The mill stands on Billingford Common, three miles east of Diss on A143 Bury St Edmonds to Great Yarmouth Road. By Train: Diss BR By Bus: Norfolk Bus Information Centre Tel: 0500 626116

5. Horsey Wind Pump

At one time Norfolk and Suffolk were reliant on wind power to keep the marshes drained. During the 19th century there were over 240 wind pumps in action and one of these was Horsey.

Horsey Windpump was built in 1912 on the foundations of Horsey Black Mill which was severely damaged by a gale in 1895. It was called Black Mill because the fabric that covered it was tarred to keep out the weather. The new mill, built red brick and constructed within a year, was able to deal with the floods of 1912.

The horizontal pumping shaft at ground floor level is the original one, as is all the machinery. When pumping, the sails would have turned at about 10 revolutions a minute but in a gale this would reach 15.

Horsey Windpump was working up until 1943 when it was struck by lightening which split the massive timber stocks that held the sails from end to end. After the National Trust acquired the mill, restoration was carried out on the cap on the windpump, although further damage was done during the Great Gale of 1987. Repair work was completed and the mill re-opened to the public in 1990.

Horsey Windpump Horsey, near Great Yarmouth, Norfolk. NR24 4EF. Tel: 01493 393904 Open: March to October, daily 11--5

Directions By Car: 3 Miles north of Winterton-on-Sea on B1159. By Bus: Eastern Counties 623/6, 723/6 Great Yarmouth--Martham (passing close to BR Yarmouth), alight W Somerton School, ½ mile. (Tel. 0500 626116) By Train: Yarmouth BR

The mill is in the care National Trust http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/

6. Gunton Park Sawmill

As well as draining the marshes, wind and water mills provided power for all sorts of industrial activity. Along the A149 to Cromer is a fine example of a water powered sawmill.

Gunton Park Sawmill was built in 1820 and probably contains one of the oldest working mechanical saws in Britain. The mill was built on the Gunton Park Estate where timber was an important requirement of the estate's maintenance. Hardwoods like oak, ash and elm would have been needed for the buildings while other timbers would have been used to build fences and gates.

The mill has two waterwheels, which are fed from two artificial lakes created by damming Hagon Beck which runs through the estate. The water runs from the lakes to the mill via the leat, which is constructed of rendered brickwork. The right water wheel drives the circular saw, while the left drives the frame saw. The wheels themselves drive an intricate system of pulleys and belts which in turn provide the motion for the saws.

The mill was worked up until the 1950s and has since been restored to working order. It is staffed by volunteers from the Norfolk Industrial Archaeology Society.

Gunton Park Sawmill Off White Post Lane, Gunton Park Estate, Norfolk NR11 7HL Tel: 01603 222705 Open: April to September, 4th Sunday of every month, 2-5.

Directions- By Car - Off A140 between Aylsham and Cromer, turn for Suffield. By Bus - Norfolk Bus Information Centre Tel: 0500 626116 By Train - Gunton BR (Norwich to Cromer line).

The mill is in care of The Norfolk Windmills Trust http://www.ecn.co.uk/norfolkwindmillstrust/

7. Denver Windmill

The problem with both wind and water power was with adverse weather conditions, a lack of wind or a draught could keep a mill out of action for days or even weeks. However, a forward thinking miller from near Downham Market came up with a solution to this problem.

Denver Windmill was built in 1835 and is a six-storey tower mill. To ensure that he could keep on grinding even when the wind wasn't blowing the miller built a steam mill next door, that was powered by a 12 horse power steam engine. The steam engine was eventually replaced by an oil engine in the early part of the 20th century.

The engines powered a number of machines that are still on display in the mill. These include a "cereal cutter" which was used for cutting maize or wheat for chicken food, and a "Juggernaut" mill where the grinding stones are set vertically instead of horizontally as in a windmill.

The opening times of the windmill may vary during 1999 because the Denver Windmill Project has just been awarded a heritage lottery fund grant of £278,000. This, added to over £600,000 raised by the Norfolk County Council Historic Buildings Department, will enable the project to proceed. It will include the fully working windmill together with it's ancillary machinery powered by the oil engine, three holiday cottages, educational facilities, craft studios and a traditional bakery.

Denver Windmill Denver, near Downham Market, Norfolk. Tel: 01603 222705 Open: Easter to September, Wed, Sat and Bank Holidays 10-4. Sun 2-4.

Directions By Car - About 2 miles south of Downham Market. By Bus - Norfolk Bus Information Centre Tel: 0500 626116 By Train - Downham Market BR

To find out more about the project look up The Norfolk Windmills Trust website http://www.ecn.co.uk/norfolkwindmillstrust/

Return to Home Page