by Philip Hicks
The 14th and 15th May is National Mills Weekend, a celebration of our milling heritage and the opportunity for you and your family to visit some of the glorious examples of wind and water power still standing today.
This annual festival of our milling heritage provides a fantastic opportunity to visit mills, many of which are not usually open to the public. For the past few years the event has been given a theme for mill owners to follow and provide relevant displays and exhibits. The theme for 2016 is “Vintage Power.”
Before the widespread use of fossil fuels and electricity, wind and watermills provided the only source of power for many different processes – from making flour, paper and cloth to hammering metal and extracting oils. You can explore mills that produced, or still produce these products, some restored to working order, some derelict, some still working commercially.
There are three main types of windmill in Sussex: the post mill, smock mill and tower mill. A post mill is so named because the timber body pivots round a central timber post so the sweeps can always face into the wind. The body containing the machinery and millstones weighs over twenty tons and were often turned manually by the miller using a long timber pole projecting from the rear. Later post mills were fitted with fantails which harnessed the wind to turn the body automatically. Tower mills have a static tower of brick or stone topped by a timber cap which could revolve to allow the sweeps to face into the wind. Smock mills have a tower of timber construction and are said to have taken their name from a resemblance to an old farm worker’s smock garment. Sweeps are the term used in Sussex and Kent for the windmill’s sails.
There are many mills to visit all over the country, but here is a taste of those situated in Mid Sussex:
Chailey Smock Mill
Chailey smock mill is situated on Chailey Common adjacent to a Yew Tree which is said to traditionally be the centre of Sussex. The Mill has stood on this site since 1864, having been moved by oxen cart from Newhaven. It ceased to grind corn in 1911. During the war the Windmill was used for sleeping quarters for the nurses from nearby Chailey Heritage, when it was camouflaged. The Friends of Chailey Windmill was formed in 1988 and a museum was created consisting of rural implements used by the likes of Blacksmiths, Farriers and Woodworkers. Over the years the exhibits have become more varied and now include a fine collection of photographs depicting Chailey over the past 150 years and a record of the Village’s military history dating back to the eighteenth century. On National Mills weekend the Downland Radio Group will be using the Mill to make contact with other Mills throughout the UK and Europe and they will welcome visitors on the Saturday and up to mid-day on Sunday.
Nutley Post Mill
Nutley post mill is the oldest surviving windmill in Sussex although she has only stood at her present location since the 1830s. The central post has been dated to the mid sixteenth century by dendrology testing. It is also one of only five surviving open trestle post mills in England and is currently the only example in working order. Milling ceased in about 1908 and the mill remained semi-derelict until 1968 when a restoration project commenced which lasted for four years. Most of the work was undertaken by unpaid volunteers. The mill is open on Sundays from 10am to 5pm starting from 24th April, including on Sunday 15th May for the National Mills Weekend.
Jill Post Mill
Jill is a post mill in Clayton. The earliest reference to a windmill at Clayton is from September 1765 when an indenture was made between Viscount Montague and Edward Oram of Clayton: “Lease all that part of ground near to Duncton Gate on which a windmill has been lately erected by the son of the said Viscount and contained in the whole by five rods every way for a term of 99 years.”
John Young Lashmar had been working a Brighton post mill, built in 1821, which stood to the east of Dyke Road. Brighton was expanding rapidly with the coming of the railways and building work progressed back from the sea, taking away Mr. Lashmar’s wind. In 1852 Lashmar’s mill was sold then brought up to Clayton where it was re-erected to the west of Duncton.
A tower mill was erected in 1866 next to the remains of Duncton. The windmills ceased commercial work around 1906. It was around ten years later that they acquired the names of Jack and Jill. Jill Mill was restored to full working order by a team of volunteers between 1978 and 1987. She will be open to visitors from 2pm to 5pm on Sunday 15th May only and a local group of morris dancers will be performing about 2pm.
Oldland Post Mill
Oldland post mill, Keymer is another example of an old post mill which was substantially modified with iron machinery during the latter half of the nineteenth century. This included installation of a steam engine drive to run the millstones when the wind failed to blow. Although auxiliary power was common in smock, tower and watermills, such features in post mills were rare and this is now believed to be the only surviving example in England. First evidence of the mill’s existence is an estate map with the faded date believed to read 1703 and was in the ownership of the Turner Family throughout her working life. Milling ceased in 1912 as the mill’s aging structure became unsafe. From 1927 it was cared for by the Sussex Archaeological Society and various repairs were undertaken, but by the late 1970s some severe structural problems became the cause of great concern. A major renovation project commenced in 1980 with most of the work undertaken by unpaid volunteers and the mill is now in working order. The mill will be open to visitors on Sunday 15th May only from 2pm to 5pm and local morris dancers will be performing about 3pm.
Sheffield Watermill is a small old watermill which stands on an ancient watermill site. The site also once had a furnace. The building is partly of brick and sandstone and partly timber framed and weatherboarded. The iron waterwheel was installed in 1869 by S. Medhurst, a renowned millwright and engineer from Lewes. The mill is well restored and retains most of the original machinery including two pairs of millstones. Although not usually open to the public, the mill will be open on Saturday 14th May only but please telephone the owners beforehand on 01825 791112.
Cobb’s watermill is situated in Hurstpierpoint. The site was occupied by a watermill as early as 1605 although the current weatherboard and brick building mainly dates from the 1860s. The known owners and occupiers included the Avery family, Lindfield family, Pickett family, Ede family, Packham family, Mr Ellins, Mr Weeks, Fred Sayers and Percy Trower. The present waterwheel was installed in 1868 and milling capacity was increased to four pairs of millstones around the same time. By the 1960s the mill was only used to grind animal feeds and the millstones turned for the last time on 6th January 1966. The building is now partially converted into a house but still retains the waterwheel, basic machinery, millstones and auxiliary engine. The mill is rarely open to the public but visitors will be welcome on Sunday 15th May. The old 50 h.p. Tangye four-stroke single cylinder suction gas engine, which was installed in 1906 to supplement water power, will be running and always proves a source of great interest to visitors.
National Mills Weekend
More details about events and opening arrangements can be found at www.nationalmillsweekend.co.uk/