We met in the rain at Windmill Hill Mill, the largest post-mill in Sussex, now re-erected after much restoration work over the past year. The visit gave members the chance to inspect the work carried out by the millwrights, I.J.P.
As expected the visit proved to be very interesting with much discussion about the wind generator and solar panels mounted on the roof of the buck to provide power to the motors that wind the mill. The monitor approved the scheme on the basis that had mills continued to evolve, this type of development would now be the norm. Most, us traditionalists, were against. How this automatic motorised winding system reacts to a fast approaching storm will be interesting.
Computer simulation dictated that the steps had to be strengthened by two large timber banisters. The consensus was that they were ugly; that a better engineered solution was available and that the design was questionable. Health and Safety issues such as why the outside steps into the first floor could not to be reinstated were not answered to the satisfaction of most members. Also of concern were how would the front sprattle beam be installed with a metal shaft and gearing in the way and would the brake be reinstated before the sweeps are fitted ?
We all wondered how on one hand English Heritage can be so pedantic about minor matters, but on the other hand can make sweeping changes to a historic building which are not in keeping
A number of visitors said that they would have preferred that the funding received was divided among other Sussex mills, such as Cross in Hand and Argos Hill. However, all agreed that nothing could, or should, be taken away from Bee and Paul Frost for their perseverance, determination, dedication and extremely hard work to bring this very important mill back from the dead.
The next mill was Stone Cross Tower Mill. Most members already knew the mill well, having inspected the remedial works during the 2003 October Open Meeting, but how could we pass by when on the 'Tour of Sussex Mills' ? The tour may not pass this way for another six years. It also gave me the opportunity to say that by the end of the day we would have visited all three types of windmill.
Bill Crittenden, John Ridler, Pam and Michael Chapman received us with biscuits, cups of hot tea and coffee, which was very much appreciated. Even after a number of visits there were machinery parts we didn't know. Three 'bats' many thought were for bringing the apprentice to heel, turned out to be a long handled wedges to ensure that the stone nuts did not disengage.
Lunch was in keeping with tradition with most on the tour taking refreshments together at a pub, this time The Old Oak Inn, Arlington.
The first mill after lunch was Michelham Priory Water Mill where we were met by John Harvey and Tony and Hanna Williamson. Only one month before the visit it was doubtful that we could gain access because of the precarious state of a beam on the first floor. Fortunately the offending beam was propped up and, although the structural engineers would not permit milling, the machinery was seen in motion.
Dicker (Golden Cross) (Wicken's) Post Mill remains came next on the tour. Built in the first quarter of the 19th century she worked up till the outbreak of World War I. Tailpole and talthur originally winded the mill, but after the damage caused to the mill by a great storm in 1867, she was fitted with a Sussex tailpole fantackle. Now only the roundhouse wall survives. That's what every one in the party thought, but inside the 7 foot high piers carry the cross trees and two quarter bars supporting the post, cut off at roof level. All expressed their thanks to Lucy Howgego and James Clow for giving us the opportunity to inspect the roundhouse, especially as they had only just moved in. The roundhouse was only decorated and refurbished as a holiday/house let the week before.
Aluminium sweeps had also been tried; the last tests were carried out using stainless steel. One of these sweeps was still in situ, the others being destroyed by high winds. Various drive arrangements had also been tested. A crank from the centre shaft drove a hydraulic ram. The current arrangement is a belt driven alternator. A belt is run around the outer circumference of the 30 ft. diameter large wheel, which is in effect the drive pulley, then to the pulley of the alternator. Peter was on hand to answer the many questions and very kindly provided tea and biscuits.
Burchetts Farm Wind Engine
The second surprise of the tour was only a mile and a half away at Burchetts Farm where there is a large 36 ft. high prototype wind engine. Peter Gunner had built the wind engine to test various sweeps, water pump, heat pump and electrical generation options for use in third world countries. The machine was constructed from recycled components. The current machine was Peter's third prototype. The framework for various sweep options could be seen, including a self-reefing canvas arrangement.
On the way to the next mill site we briefly stopped in a lane to see Broomham Wind Pump. Unfortunately the sweeps and gearing were away being refurbished.
As the afternoon progressed the weather slowly improved and by the time we reached the remains of Ringmer (Glyndebourne) post mill, the sun had come out. All that is left of this little white post mill is the original post, as the quarter bars are reproductions. The post was re-erected in 1968 by the Glyndebourne Estate Trust as a tribute to this once local landmark. The mill worked until 1921. Her end came at 4 p.m. on June 6, 1925 when she finally collapsed, having sustained damage in 1922 when one of her side girts failed, causing her to list dangerously.
Bishopstone Tide Mill remains were visited next. The first mill was erected in 1788 and had, apparently, 5 pairs of stones. After 1792 a large three-storey mill was built, containing 16 pairs of stones that, under favourable tidal conditions, could produce up to 1,500 sacks of flour weekly. Power to drive the stones came from water stored in two large ponds and other small lagoons through three undershot waterwheels, each approximately 15ft. in diameter. A six-sided smock windmill with patent sweeps was built on the roof of the watermill in around 1864. This drove a hoisting tackle, using endless belt with buckets attached, to raise the grain from sailing barges on the creek below. There was a little thriving community with 60 men employed in 1851, most living on the site with their families. All that is left of the small village and the largest mill in Sussex are the remains of outer walls and three brick culverts. Boards have been placed around the site and they provide interesting and informative information.
Our last mill on the tour was Rottingdean (Beacon Hill) Smock Mill. We arrived with the sun low in the sky, the mill a splendid sight with new paintwork and sweeps. John Cooper was there to greet us at the door and introduced Paul Rigden who had carried out the recent renovation. Paul took us up into the cap to see the finished cant posts and oak framework, the best that Peter Casebow and Peter James had seen. Praise indeed from two perfectionists. We were all pleased to see that Rottingdean's unique twist was still there. Everyone hoped that sufficient funds could be found to replace the three remaining faulty cant posts so that the internal metal supporting framework can be removed.
To conclude, it was again a real pleasure to organise and guide such a band of mill enthusiasts around Sussex.