THE MILL AND I
by Bob Sharp
My interest in Upminster Windmill began in 1967 when
the Hornchurch & District Historical Society opened it to the public as part of
the London Borough of Havering’s first Arts Festival.
This was intended to be a one-off opening but the interest was so great
that the Society decided to continue to open the mill on a regular basis from
On that first open day, about 1800 people visited the
mill and we were four of them. Sheila had
to carry our youngest daughter, Vanessa who was only one year old at the time,
up and down the mill. That first
visit was conducted by a certain George Berry who was a gunnery instructor
during the war and as a result was superbly able to hold the attention of a
group of people. The Society interested
me so I became a member, attending the winter of 1967/68 series of meetings, and
volunteered to become a windmill guide.
George helped me learn about the mill and he and his family became firm friends
of ours. Our interests were similar and
we went on most of the Society’s outings to places of historic interest.
I was invited to join the Society’s executive committee and became
chairman of the Windmill Sub-Committee, responsible for running open days and
purchasing memorabilia for sale, succeeding the Society’s treasurer who had
moved to Surrey. I also became involved
in many of the Society’s other activities, particularly those of an industrial
archaeological nature, and became chairman around 1972.
project I initiated was the excavation of a lock chamber on the Romford Canal
near the Ford works at Dagenham. The
canal was started in the 19th
century but never completed. The lock
chamber was filled in during the war as it was considered that moonlight
reflected from the water which it still held would be a navigation aid to German
aircraft. With the River Thames less than
half a mile away it seemed to me that the chamber was unlikely to be a major
Returning to the windmill, one of the sail stocks cracked in 1970 and the sail
leaned over alarmingly. Millwrights
Philip Lennard and Vincent Pargeter were contracted by Havering Council to carry
out repairs. The new sails they fitted
were, in fact, built by Chris Wilson. I
was able to spend some time with Philip and Vincent when they were working there
and was able to learn from them. These
sails and their stocks lasted until January 2007 when the ‘forward’ stock broke
during a gale. A few years later Philip,
then in partnership with John Lawn, replaced the rotting cills on the top of the
brick ground floor base. He cut out the
rotten wood and replaced it with concrete working round the mill in stages. New
cills were fitted on top of the concrete.
The rotted bottoms of the cant posts were cut away and the posts secured to the
new cills via steel brackets.
was no form of lighting in the mill, a particular disadvantage at ground floor
level where there are no windows. I
fitted some small caravan type fluorescent fittings which we ran from batteries
which I re-charged before every opening.
These lights allowed us to start putting up displays such as a brief history of
Before the National Lottery was set up, Havering
Borough Council had their own lottery, the proceeds of which were applied to
local projects. I had for quite a time
thought that mains electricity would be a great advantage and so I applied for
funding in 1980.
was successful on the basis that the installation within the mill would be
carried out by volunteers. The lottery
fund agreed to pay for all materials and the mains connection, which entailed
digging a trench over 100 yds long for the supply cable.
Installation of the lighting and power circuits was to be carried out by
volunteer labour using steel wire armoured cable.
This was specified as it was considered that volunteers would not be
skilled in the use of mineral insulated cable.
In fact I did at least 95% of the installation myself, mainly alone.
This would not be tolerated in today’s H & S (over- conscious?)society!
MK Electrical and Phillips Lighting donated many items and MK printed an
article about the mill in their house magazine.
Amusingly, three-phase cable was used for the mains connection although a
single phase supply was to be provided.
When this was realised the trench was re-opened and the cable replaced although
I suggested it could be used for the single phase so that we should have the
necessary cable should we need to have a three phase supply in the future but
this was not acceptable to Eastern Electricity.
The current restoration and development proposals suggest the provision
of a three phase supply! Availability of
mains electricity proved a great boon, not only for display purposes but also
allowed the use of power tools when we or contractors were working at the mill.
We had been aware that there was noticeable
deterioration in the structure of the fan stage and I persuaded the Chief
Librarian (Havering Borough Library held the purse strings) that repair was
essential. Millwrights International were
contracted to do the work in 1983. The
fan stage was removed and taken to their works near Henley-on Thames.
New over-sheers, rear weather-beam and braces were made but the existing
fly posts were used with rotted areas cut out and new wood inserted.
Over twenty years on these timbers still appear sound, needing little
more than careful repainting, although the fan-tail itself has had to be
removed. A new one is at present being
made by the Friends of Upminster Windmill.
Apart from the fan stage and cill repairs two
complete re-paintings were carried out during the time I was involved with the
mill,. The first one of these was done
with traditional lead oxide based paint.
A micro-porous paint was used in the second. ( I have been un-impressed with the
performance of this paint although it was apparently applied in accordance with
the manufacturer’s recommendations.) Some
re-cladding was done at this time but the overlap of the boards was insufficient
in some areas, allowing water penetration. There also appeared to be penetration
through the boards.
On both occasions the mill was completely scaffolded which gave me the
opportunity to examine the cladding and other details at close quarters.
No work was carried out on the reefing gallery at this time although I
had become increasingly concerned about its condition to the extent that we
stopped allowing visitors out onto it.
By 1994 I had become increasingly concerned about the
general condition of the mill and in 1995 Dave Pearce and Alan Wallis helped me
survey the mill and prepare a report which we submitted to the Council.
This at last triggered debate about how best to ensure the restoration of
the mill and, in best local authority tradition, a steering committee was set
up. This consisted of the Chief
Librarian, an ex-mayor, a councillor concerned with local history and myself.
In 1995 a work colleague at GEC-Marconi, who was also
an amateur radio enthusiast, suggested that it would be interesting to run a
‘HAM’ station from the mill as its location should enable good communication on
the HF (short wave) amateur bands. This
proved a great success and was actually the start of HAM stations at mills on
National Mills Week-ends. After I retired
the Havering Amateur Radio Club took over and has run the station every year
since then. Of late they have also run
stations at Aythorpe Roding and Mountnessing mills.
In 1998 my fears
about the reefing gallery were confirmed when part of it collapsed under me
while I was inspecting the soakers fitted by Philip Leonard when he replaced the
cills. Being somewhat distracted, I did
not try to estimate my terminal velocity but the impact with the ground was
painful! I wrote to the Council pointing
out that we hoped for more visitors than usual in 2000 and that it would help
greatly to have the reefing stage available.
A grant towards repairs was obtained from Havering Cleanaway Riverside
Trust under the landfill tax scheme and the Council also found money.
The gallery was ‘temporarily’ repaired in readiness for the 2000 season
and visitors were then allowed onto the gallery.
Unfortunately Health and Safety considerations have since then again
prevented visitors being allowed access.
The Council was then, as (unremarkably) usual, short
of money and could not afford to fund a full restoration.
It was realised that external funding would be necessary and the Council
commissioned a cost and feasibility study which was submitted in August 2000,
recommending the creation of a building preservation trust with a supporting
group of volunteers. Accordingly I held
an open meeting in 2001 and the Friends of Upminster Windmill was inaugurated, I
being elected chairman. I invited a
number of members of the Friends to become trustees of the Upminster Windmill
Preservation Trust which was incorporated as a charitable trust in 2003 and was
elected chairman of that as well. The
Friends gradually took over running open days from the Historical Society from
2002 onwards and became a registered charity in 2002.