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Page 6

Newsletter 113, Summer 2016   © Hampshire Mills Group


Harnessing the Power of Wind, Worldwide


Peter Hill's talk to the Hampshire Mills Group

as reported by Alison Stott, with images by Ruth & Keith Andrews



A simple mill in Lithuania


Peter began by talking about TIMS – The International Molinological Society – which was formed in 1967;  every four years a symposium is held and excursions take place in other years giving a chance to visit mills in a wide variety of countries.  Peter showed us many slides to accompany this talk. 

Having learned to cultivate cereal crops, grain was initially ground by human power.  Later this was superseded by animal power and in turn by waterpower around 85BC.

Another 600 years were to pass before wind-power was harnessed in Persia, and it was to be some 500 years later still that the conventional windmill we recognise today was to appear.

The earliest design had a centre post sunk into the ground, around which the body pivoted;  problems of rot and the difficulty of excavating the hard ground led to the development of the open trestle post mill (five remain in England).  The upright post was usually supported on four quarter bars but there were variations such as doubling-up the number of quarter bars and crosstrees.  In time the trestle was encased in timber or brickwork, thus overcoming the lack of storage space and providing shelter from the elements.  The roundhouse also enabled the mill to be built higher;  sometimes the trestle itself was mounted on brick pillars thereby gaining even more height and storage space.

It is vital for efficient working of a windmill to be able to keep it turned into the wind, so how was this done?  

A tail-pole enabled the mill to be pushed round by hand; sometimes this tail-pole was braced, particularly on the continent.   Peter had an example of a tiny mill in Portugal where, with the crosstrees pivoted beneath the mill the whole was turned using old millstones as wheels on a crude stone track around the mill, pushed around with a crowbar!


A very smart drainage smock mill at Leidschendam in the Netherlands.  It has a braced tailpole and a winch to turn the cap.

In 1745 came the invention of the fantail, turning the mill automatically into wind; it could be mounted on the tail-pole, mounted on the steps or on the rooftop, as seen here at
Heckington Windmill. 

With the realisation that increased height meant increased production, smock and tower mills began to be developed, the body remaining static whilst only the cap turned.  There were various methods of turning into the wind  (apart from the fantail) such as pulling round with a winch at the bottom engaging with cogs at the top, or an endless chain which, when pulled, turned the cap. 


Two of the very tall tower mills in Schiedam, Netherlands, which Peter mentioned.



Another type, which we don’t have here is the Paltrok mill, where the whole body of the mill is supported and winded at almost ground level on a series of rollers running round an iron curb on a low wall. 

Peter’s particular favourites are the short squat tower mills of Portugal, small and manageable, often with eight triangular sails and sometimes with ‘whistling pots’ mounted on the sweeps possibly to warn children and animals by the whistling noise which they emit.  At Gavinhos there are 14 of this type on one hilltop.

Wind was used to power Archimedean screws for drainage, the sweeps turning the screw to lift water to a higher level.   (Scoop wheels were also used as is the case at the smock mill at Leidschendam – Editor.)  Sometimes mills had multiple sails and Peter showed us slides of mills with six, eight, and even more.  

His final slide was a magical mill he saw in the Czech Republic turning happily in very calm weather – only to discover that it was turning thanks to friction drive off an electrically powered car tyre!  So much for harnessing the wind!

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