Debra Nicholson, of The Wind Engine Museum (Flegg) came to talk to us in April. Showing remarkable enthusiasm for this vital and iconic part of the local landscape, she combined History and Technology in a way that held the interest of even the least engine-oriented among us. Here are some feelings, and in the box below, some facts!
We all know that they are really wind pumps, but our visitors like to call them windmills. They decorate The Broads and help to draw in the tourists, but there is more to a “windmill” than just a pretty picture.
On a journey down the River Thurne in 1950 you would have discovered fifteen of them, in varying stages of decay, having gone out of use just before and after World War II. Thirteen of them are still standing today - not a bad local record as, across The Broads as a whole, only 70 of an original 250 have survived. With the valuable metals and usable timbers stripped out, their empty shells were left to the ravages of the elements, their skeletal sails reaching sadly to the skies.
Surprisingly, as records suggest that they existed back in the 1700s, they were still being built in the Twentieth Century - Martham in 1908 and Horsey in 1911 are modern examples. Some are still derelict, some are now residences (they cost about the same as an average detached house) and some have been restored to their early glory. We are indeed fortunate that we have the restored Horsey Mill so near, and there is no more evocative sight than the sails of Thurne Mill turning on a breezy day. Their power is undeniable, whilst the white brickwork hints at a ghostly reminder of all those proud structures that have been allowed to die.
A few wind pump facts
There are three main types of wind pump:
Herring Fleet Mill - early type with a tail pole which the poor old workers had to use to wrench the sails round to face the wind.
Brick Tower Mills - the most common, with a fan tail. That’s the smaller sideways wheel that does the job automatically.
Skeleton Mill - cheaper, and almost mobile, pylon-like structure. (We are told that there was one of these in use near Martham ferry whilst the brick-clay pits were dug).
Swim Coots Mill (near Catfield) was built about 1830. Its only 19 feet high and was the only local one with grinding stones. It ground animal feed. So it really was a windmill.
Apart from humping the sails into the wind and opening and closing wooden or canvass shutters on the wind vanes, the whole wind and pump mechanism had to be greased every four hours.
Some still have their “scoop wheels” in place - a water wheel in reverse, moving the water up from cut (drainage ditch) to river.
Brograve Mill at Waxham was built as early as 1787. It is known as “The Randall Mill” as it was looked after in the 1930s by the grandfather of Martham’s Paul Randall.
The hardest thing to do is to stop the sails from moving.