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News: 24 June 2019

Focus on Windmills
Windmills are stunning features of the English landscape. Over 600 windmills are listed and can be found on the Images of England website.

The oldest type of windmill is thought to be the post mill first recorded in Western Europe as early as the 12th Century. Post mills were based around a relatively simple concept of all the mechanical parts sails, gears and millstones) revolving around a single, vertical post. This would allow the sails to be manoeuvred into the direction of the wind making the mill more effective. The structures were almost always constructed wholly out of timber, apart from the millstones. Although a relatively simple concept to us today the actual construction of a post mill would have been a challenge to the carpenter building it. One of the oldest surviving examples of a post mill is thought to be Bourn Mill in Cambridgeshire which is believed to date back to 1636.

Bourn Mill, Cambridgeshire. IoE number: 051047 © Mr Brian Jenkins LRPS
Little Marton Mill, Blackpool. IoE number: 183668 © Mr G M Smith ARPS Because of their timber structures and geographical locations (normally in windy places!) post mills were frequently in peril of being blown over. Despite the central vertical post being buried quite deep within the mound that the windmill was built on disasters did sometimes happen. There are records of Bourn Mill being rebuilt in the 18th Century after one such incident.

The susceptibility of post mills to being blown over led to the emergence of a different type of mill called the tower windmill. Tower windmills were much sturdier, as their name suggests, having towers that were built out of stone and later bricks. The cap on top of the windmill was still timber and could be turned by using a tailpole attached to the cap that extended to ground level. This allowed the sails to be moved into the wind easily. As the early windmills had no brakes the sails could only be stopped again by moving them out of the wind.

Building styles tended to echo local traditions and styles so, for example, East Anglia and the South East had mainly timber windmills whereas in the Portland area of Dorset windmills were more likely to be built out of locally available stone.
Easton Windmill, Portland, Dorset. IoE number: 381890 © Mr Reg Perry

Upminster Mill, London. IoE number: 201646 © Mr Colin Carron Most windmills were designed to grind corn but smock mills, basically a timber framed tower mill, were introduced in the 17th Century for another purpose. Following developments in the Netherlands, they were built principally to drain the East Anglian Fens and reclaim the land for agricultural use. Their design made them perfect for building on more unstable ground where a stone tower would not be suitable. Smock mills were so called because their shape was said to resemble the farmers smocks of the time.

All three types of windmill feature on the Images of England website. Why not use Images of England to access the photographs and list descriptions of your local windmills and find out more about their history.

To search for windmills you will need to register to access the Advanced Search facility. Under Advanced Search choose "building type" and enter "windmill". This will allow you to view the windmills currently on the Images of England site. You could combine this search with another under Advanced Search, for example, if you wanted to find out more about windmills in a particular area.

Watts, M., Water and Wind Power, 2000, Shire Publications Ltd.

Wailes, R., The English Windmill, 1954, Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd.

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