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Lincolnshire’s windmills

Alford Mill - Image courtesy of Alford Mill.

It is high summer, we all enjoy the hazy heat of long summer days, sitting in our parks and gardens, calmed by birdsong and enjoying the riotous colour display of our plants and flowers.

As you travel around the beautiful county of Lincolnshire, you may have spotted one of several traditional windmills that still stand today. Windmills are a unique part of our county’s heritage. These unusual buildings offer a fascinating insight into the traditional craft of milling and their preservation is of key importance.

Windmills are wonderful buildings, full of character, and for centuries they have provided a natural source of energy. It is believed that windmills arrived in the UK during the 12th Century. As a predominantly flat, vast agricultural county, Lincolnshire was the perfect location for the construction of mills and, at one time, Lincolnshire had about 500 windmills and almost as many watermills.

Over the years, unfortunately, many have disappeared; and today there are 136 windmills remaining. Some are now just empty shells, whilst a few are still used as working mills, providing flour and attracting a wide range of visitors each year.

Ellis Mill in Lincoln, for example, is a small tower mill which dates from 1798, although there has in fact always been a mill on this site since the 17th Century. Anthony Meres, a wealthy landowner, originally owned the mill, but it changed hands several times and was eventually purchased by John Ellis in 1894.

Following John’s death in 1920, his wife and son continued to operate the mill, but it fell derelict in the 1940’s and a fire destroyed the interior woodwork in 1974. Fortunately, three years later, the mill was acquired by the Lincoln Civic Trust and was completely restored. The sails were constructed by Thompson & Co Millwrights of Alford, whilst the cap mechanism was taken from Subscription Mill in Sturton-by-Stow; and the stones and drives from Eno’s Mill at Toynton-All-Saints.

Eventually, Ellis Mill reopened in 1981 and ground its first flour for 40 years! Today, the mill is managed by Lincolnshire County Council and run by a group of devoted volunteers. It is a wonderful example of a working mill and a fantastic tourist attraction for the historic city of Lincoln.

Across the Wolds, you will find Alford’s five-sailed windmill which was built in 1837 by Sam Oxley, whose company continues to trade today as the aforementioned Thompson & Co, the only traditional millwrights in the country! Although Alford Mill has been predominantly wind powered, a town gas-driven engine was added so that flour can be produced in all weathers. A shop and tearoom on site stocks all varieties of locally milled flour and a delicious selection of cereals, scones and cakes.

In Boston, Maud Foster Windmill is a superb example of an English tower mill which was built in 1819, by the Hull millwrights Normal and Smithson, for the brothers, Thomas and Isaac Reckitt.

The Reckitt family operated the mill for several years but eventually it was sold. The Ostler family took over the mill in 1914 until 1948 when mechanical problems made the windmill unusable. In the 1950’s, Basil Reckitt, great-grandson of Isaac, the original owner, was made aware of the mill’s plight and arranged for the Reckitt Family Charitable Trust to finance essential repairs, with the work carried out by Thompsons of Alford.

The present owners of the Maud Foster Windmill are the Waterfield family. They acquired the mill in 1987. At that time, it had again deteriorated considerably and their aim was to fully restore the mill and use it! Following extensive repairs, including new sails, a fantail and a complete machinery overhaul, the mill was officially re-opened in 1988 by Mr Basil Reckitt, who was invited by the Waterfields to do the honours!

Two additional new sails have since been fitted and James Waterfield and his family continue to operate the mill as a successful business. Maud Foster Windmill is certainly one of the finest and tallest windmills in the British Isles and visitors can climb all seven floors and see flour being made in the traditional way by wind-power!

To the south of Lincolnshire, you will find Heckington Windmill, near Sleaford, the only surviving eight-sail windmill in the country! It was originally built with just five sails in 1830 by Michael Hare. Later it was bought by John Pocklington in 1892 and the mill was in operation until 1946. Today, the mill is owned by Lincolnshire County Council and operated by the Heckington Windmill Trust. It is run by a group of dedicated volunteers, who have been producing flour since 1987.

Whilst we have highlighted just a few of the windmills in Lincolnshire, there are others dotted around the county. These wonderfully unique buildings provide an insight into the traditional art of milling and these intriguing buildings should be lovingly preserved for future generations to enjoy. Our county’s windmills are well worth a visit and, as well as learning about their history and heritage, you can often also purchase locally milled flour and enjoy deliciously scrumptious, fresh bread, scones and cakes!

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