By Ralph Neville.
Fig. 1. Post mill from the monumental brass to Adam de Walsokne and his wife in St. Margaret's, King's Lynn, 1349).
DURING the past year there has been a decided awakening of interest in that beautiful landmark of the country side, the windmill; and it is gratifying to know that the general public is asking why these interesting links with our grandfathers' times are so rapidly disappearing.
The answer is simple. The demand for the white loaf has made all the farmers send their grain to the large roller mills and consequently the windmiller has had to go on coarse grinding, or out of the business.
Another reason is the high cost of repairs and upkeep ; this is well illustrated by the price of the large timbers of the sails. This, to-day, is, on a large tower mill, £60 to £70 each.
In prehistoric times man was a carnivorous animal, and hunted birds and beasts for his food ; later he found that corn formed a good sustenance, and it was only a matter of time before he discovered it was more palatable when pounded. This he did with a pestle and mortar, later came the old hand quern in which the grain is ground between two stones, and finally the better abrasive effect of grooving the stones, or as it is termed in the trade "dressing the stones."
This must have been a most laborious process, and we are not surprised to learn that animals, water and the wind were in the order named used instead of hand power.
Water mills are of great antiquity. They were used by the Chinese as well as by the Romans; and I believe there are the remains of a Roman water mill to this day in the Manchester district.
When windmills came into use in England I do not know ; there is a tradition that they were introduced by the Crusaders who saw them in the middle East, but surely this cannot be true as there are no records of them in Palestine, Persia or Syria.
It is possible that on the way back the Crusaders saw them in South Germany or Bohemia. This district of Europe is credited with the introduction of windmills and among other things toothed gearing. It is interesting to note the earliest treatise on this subject is by Agricola who lived at Prague about 1390.
The first Crusade took place in the concluding years of the 11th century, but the first documentary evidence we have of a windmill is at Bury St. Edmunds in the year 1191. It occurs in the Chronicles of Jocelyn de Brakelond, and is of such importance that I quote it in full. "Herbert the Dean built a windmill. When the Abbot (of Bury St. Edmunds) heard this he was so wroth that he would hardly eat or speak a single word. On the morrow after he had heard Mass he commanded the Sacristan that without delay he should cause his carpenters to go thither and overturn everything, and place the wood with which it had been built in safe keeping." The Dean protested that "Any profit which may come from the wind ought not to be denied to no man."
However he got the better of the Abbot in that his own men removed the mill before the arrival of the monastic carpenters.
Other early references are in the Luttrell Psalter about 1325. The Hours of Henry Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick; and very good illustrations in the stained glass at Greenford in Middlesex, and in the Walsoken brass at St. Margaret's, Kings Lynn.
The last appears in a strip below the dexter figure and represents a normal post mill such as the one at Newton, Notts., before the round house was added. The mill house, the four sails, tail ladder and tail post are just the same as to-day. (Fig. 1.) The main post with its cross trees can be seen any time, although they are now more generally hidden by the round house.
Fig 2. Post mill, Toynton, Lincs. (now destroyed).
Fig 3. Post and quarter bars, Costock, Notts.
The photograph, (Fig. 2) shews the mill at Low Toynton road, Horncastle; and it is exactly the same as the illustrations on all mediaeval manuscripts.
Later came the tower and frock or smock mills probably introduced early in the 18th century, just as we see them, except for various improvements.
I will now proceed to describe the earliest type, the post mill as we see it to-day. In this type of mill the body, with its sails, shafts, stones and other details is supported by, and revolves on a great central post very strongly supported and braced.
This is clearly shewn in the photograph, Fig. 3, in the fine, though sadly dilapidated mill at Costock.
The main post is of oak and of huge dimensions measuring about 32 inches square at the base in some cases, and weighing over 3 tons. Its weight is partially taken at the intersection of two huge oak balks, called cross trees which rest on the four brick piers. The Costock mill is unique in having 3 cross trees and six piers.
The post is stiffened against lateral stresses by four oak diagonal struts, called quarter bars and the upper and lower joints are very ingenious and always well fitted.
Originally these mills had the whole of this framing exposed to the weather. This had two disadvantages, The difficulty of working sacks in and out in foul weather and the deterioration of the timbering by the weather.
Naturally the round house evolved which protects the fabric and at the same time makes an excellent granary.
The interior of the mill is composed of an oak frame covered with painted weather boarding. The post goes about half way up the centre and is fixed as nearly as possible in the centre of gravity, actually it sometimes requires about two tons in the tail to get a tolerable balance.
The weight is taken from the top of the post by a large oak beam called the crown tree.
The bottom floor of the house has a steady journal bearing in what is called the waist.
From the ends of the crown tree are framed two cambered oak beams called side girts into which are framed the four corner posts round which the rest of the mill frame is built.
Fig 4. Wind shaft and head wheel, Costock, Notts.
In the upper story is the main shaft, or wind shaft, inclined to the horizontal at about 15 degrees. Most windshafts to-day are of cast iron, but originally were of oak, these can be seen at Newton, Costock and Tuxford. Fig. 4.
At the outer end are two square hollow sockets for the accommodation of the stocks which are the backbones of the sails. These are huge balks of pitch pine or fir, ranging up to 65 feet long and 15 inches square in the centre.
On the windshaft is the head or brake wheel with inserted teeth of apple wood meshing with a cast iron bevel pinion called the wallower on a short vertical shaft.