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Website Design : Simon Potter   A Smock Mill, a Tower Mill, a Post Mill, a Donkey Wheel, a Wind Pump, a turning Water Mill and remains of three other watermills, all in a compact area nine miles by five miles greeted about 40 members and friends of the Sussex Mills Group who participated in another of Bob Bonnett's superb tours on a cool but sunny day.

Sussex Mills Group logo
 
Sussex Mills Group

Starting with tea, coffee and biscuits at 'base camp', West Blatchington Windmill, we were treated to a guided tour of this smock mill, where current investigations centre round the history of the square tower on which the smock mill sits, before setting off in glorious sunshine to the next venue, the converted Tower Mill at Patcham.

 

Saddlescombe Donkey Wheel

Due to the large number of tour participants it was not possible to view the inside of this private dwelling, so having taken photographs of the exterior of this 1885, mill we travelled northwards to Saddlescombe Donkey Wheel on the large National Trust owned estate, which includes Devils Dyke. The gate to the building which houses the wheel was unlocked by prior arrangement, so we were able to study the mechanism and well head, only normally accessible on the occasional open days of the farm complex.

 

Travelling a short distance north we turned off into the small village of Poynings where the back garden of Mill Cottage revealed the remains of the Manor Water Mill and its machinery embedded in the ground. The pit wheel and shaft were easily visible, and the spur wheel nearby had tipped over and then part buried as a feature within the paving. However the cottage owners, Kevin Thornton and his wife, who kindly brought out a table to display their collection of historical framed prints of the mill in use, have plans to excavate the area to recover these wheels. This mill is said to have ceased working commercially in 1895, and then served as a tea room prior to eventually being demolished in about 1950.

Manor Water Mill
Firsland Farm Windpump

 

After lunch it was on to Firsland Farm Windpump to see a once typical example of farm water lifting machinery. Discussions took place here regarding the movement of the rear fin and how it would have been turned through 90 degrees to catch the wind in readiness for pumping.

From there it was on towards Twineham where a muddy walk across a field led us to the basic remains of the once large complex of Hooker's Mill. Built in 1857, this water mill was later surmounted by an open trestle post mill to supplement the water supply, and had a bakery and blacksmiths added, but eventually closed in 1890. A drawing of this large building appeared on earlier copies of our Mills Group Newsletter.

 

From here it was on to the site of Leigh Water Mill of which very little remains apart from the large mill pond, now inhabited by many geese and other wildfowl. The mill was possibly built in 1808 as the date stone originally suggests. The waterwheel was a 12 foot diameter by 5 foot overshot and drove three pairs of stones. It was demolished in the 1950s but at least the millstones survive; these now being located in the grounds of Jill Windmill.

 

A picture-postcard view of Cobb's Mill dating from c. 1900
A picture-postcard view of Cobb's Mill dating from c. 1900

Following these last two visits where only remains could be seen, it was on southwards to the complete Cobb's Watermill where Les Thorpe and his son Lee have made an impressive job of restoring not only the Mill and outbuildings but also the Tangye suction gas engine with help from the Sussex Engine and Associated Machinery Society, whose members were on hand to answer questions whilst this large 50 hp machine was running.

 

It now runs on Propane as the original gas producer cannot be used within current legislation. The Thorpe family made us very welcome and provided tea, coffee and wonderful biscuits which, together with so much to see, including the four millstones set in a straight line, slightly delayed our departure to the final venue of the tour, the totally rebuilt body and roundhouse of Oldland Windmill near Keymer.

 

Here, the dedicated team of volunteers press on with the rebuild of this post mill with her unusual octagonal roundhouse, and although some had left the tour by now - approaching 6 p.m. - the sunny evening was perfect for viewing and photography.

As we walked back down the lane in the evening sunlight towards the main road to rejoin our cars for the homeward journeys, a glance southwards towards the Downs capped the end to a perfect day, Jill Windmill turning in the distance on the brow of the hill.

Thank you Bob. Special thanks also go to Joan and Peter Hill at West Blatchington, Mr. and Mrs. Thornton at Manor Mill, the National Trust, Mr. and Mrs. Underwood at Firsland Farmhouse, Mr. and Mrs. Thorpe at Cobb's Mill, the Sussex Engine & Associated Machinery Society, Mr. Philip Hicks at Oldland Mill and all the volunteers that helped at the mills and made the day so pleasurable.

Report by David Jones with contributions from Bob Bonnett

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