Wednesday 5 November 2008

Heage Windmill, Heage, Derbyshire

Whilst on a girlie weekend at The Firs - the latest new Caravan Club site in Derbyshire, we walked to Heage Windmill and were literally blown away by what we saw. The history of the place is fascinating and to see a working windmill in full sale is just amazing. Dogs were not allowed, so the Miller (in full costume) kindly agreed to look after Holly whilst we had a tour round the mill.

The following article is summarised from Heage Windmill's website. For the complete version, see web link at the end of this article.

"Heage Windmill is situated between the villages of Heage and Nether Heage in Derbyshire. It is a Grade II listed tower mill with six sails and fan tail and built of local sandstone and is over two hundred years old. Standing on the brow of a hill it overlooks the village of Nether Heage like a silent sentinel. The squat stone built tower is 24 feet in diameter and has a stone plaque by the entrance door marked “WSM 1850”, - the significance of which is not clear. The mill is built on a small mound and an entrance below could have enabled carts to back right into the building for loading and unloading. The first indication of the mill is in an advertisement for a tradesman in the Derby Mercury of 16th June 1791.

Tower mills were called smock mills in Derbyshire. There was a small stone building, built some years after the mill itself, alongside the mill which was used as the kiln. The roof of this later fell in and for a long time only the shell remained. This has now been restored and turned into the Visitor Centre. A kiln was often used to dry grain before it was ground into flour or oatmeal. A photograph dated before 1890 shows the mill with two common and two spring sales, a black ogee cap and a fantail which had 14 slim blades. It operated in this form until February 1894 when the mill was tail winded and the cap and four sails were blown off in a violent storm. A photograph in the Visitors Centre shows a man, presumably the miller, standing on the wreckage of the sails in front of the mill and the brake wheel protrudes from the top of the tower. When the rebuilding commenced it was decided to replace the four sails with six patent sails, presumably to obtain more power, although in other respects the mill was externally similar.

In the cellar below the mill there are four brick columns which were added about 1910 to strengthen the foundations of the mill, and the mill continued to be in regular use until 1919 and worked in conjunction with the nearby water and steam mills. However, in 1919 the fan tail was severely damaged in a gale, most of the blades being lost. The damage was serious and the mill closed down. She (windmills are always referred to as "she") became almost derelict, drawings and photographs in the 1930’s showing her with sail bars hanging down in a totally neglected manner.

The mill was struck by lightning in 1961 and a photograph taken in 1967 shows only the remnants of the sails and a stub where the fan tail and its staging had been. A preservation order was placed upon the mill by Derbyshire County Council who bought the mill for £350 and the mill was then listed "grade II*" on the 27th May 1966.

Over the next few years restoration work was carried out by the millwrights Thompsons of Alford in Lincolnshire and new floors, sails, cap and fan tail were made. New sails were hoisted on the 15th March 1972 and the fan tail was lifted into place three days later. The mill is still in the care of Derbyshire County Council and in 1993 it was necessary to replace the large wooden brake wheel, since the sails broke free in high winds, despite having no shutters, and smashed up the old gear wheel. In 1997 she was struck by lightning, fortunately without serious damage, and a lightning conductor has now been fitted. Some of the sail stocks and sheers (major support beams) had been recently replaced by Derbyshire County Council but full restoration work began in earnest in September 2000 and continued until May 2002. The working mill finally opened to the public on 1st June 2002.

Unfortunately during much of 2005 our six sailer only had four sails! We found we had wood rot in two of them during the winter maintenance work and, for safety reasons, removed them. New ones, which cost about £20 000, have been obtained and recently fitted to the mill , just in time for the start of the new season. Fortunately a six sailer can still operate quite well with four, three or even two sails, albeit with somewhat less power.

The new sails arrived from Boston and after some preparatory work were ready for lifting into position. The crane was ordered, and arrived on time, and so did the press – but also so did the wind! The wind was so strong that it was decided for safety reasons to delay operations until March 31st. Although still breezy it was much less gusty and within three hours both sails were back in place and the mill worked again with her full complement of six sails – just the day before we re-opened to the public.

Everyone who has contributed in any way to make all this work possible has to be thanked – perhaps many times over. Without these efforts the mill could so easily return to the decayed state it was in a few years ago"

Full information about Heage Windmill can be found at

Photograph above courtesy of Heage Windmill

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