Hainault Forest Website

Written, Designed and with Photographs by © Brian Ecott

Hainault Forest History

Local Windmills
by Raymond Small and Elaine Wiltshire

'View from Chigwell Row' from Lithograph printed in 1805 by illustrator P.J. De Loutherbourg

 

Chigwell with its spectacular view overlooking Hainault Forest became a popular destination for artists. There were two windmills in Chigwell, one stood near Vicarage Lane and the other near Fencepiece Road. From their prominent positions the windmills could be seen breaking the skyline over twenty miles away.

Windmills were one of the earliest inventions to harness energy by using the forces of nature. They existed before the 12th century. Popularity increased and it became rare for a village not to have one. Early mills in England were usually owned by the Lord of the Manor, but by the 18th century nearly 200 were in private ownership throughout Essex. They were normally placed on high ground to take full advantage of the wind. Initially windmills were used for milling grain for food production. Later they pumped water and produced electricity.

It can be difficult to determine the age of a mill. Construction records were rarely kept. On occasion mills got blown down or caught fire. When this occurred another mill often got erected in the same position using timber salvaged from the debris of the previous mill. A date carved on a beam of an old mill could later appear in a newer mill. This means that the discovery of a date in a mill does not necessarily reflect the true age of the building. Likewise, windmills on maps only indicate that a mill existed when the map was drawn. A windmill shown in the same position a few years later may not be the same one

WINDMILL TYPES

 POST MILLS were common in West Essex and were probably the earliest type in Britain. The main structure balanced on a large upright post and this enabled the mill to be turned manually into the wind. Later post mills sometimes had a fantail fitted near the base to make turning easier. Located at: Chigwell, Chigwell Row, Chadwell Heath, Hornchurch and Romford.

Old post mills were particularly susceptible to the threat of fire. In strong winds it became necessary to shorten the canvas, sail by sail, otherwise the wooden head-wheel used for braking overheated with friction and burst into flames. A fire could also start if the hopper ran empty and the stones rubbed together causing sparks.

SMOCK MILLS had a moveable cap with a fantail which turned the sails to face the wind. The brake that stopped the sails turning did not prevent the fantail operating – this was essential because wind blowing from the wrong side could cause enormous damage. If a strong gust caught the sails from behind it was possible that they would be blown off. Smock mills usually had six or eight sloping, weather-boarded sides and the shape resembled smocks once worn by farmers. Located at: Barking, Mark's Gate and Upminster.

 

Left: Wellington mill, Barking

TOWER MILLS were usually cylindrical and built from brick or stone. Like smock mills, the main structure didn't move and because less machinery was needed this gave extra storage room. The availability of timber from the forest is probably the reason none were built near Hainault, although tower mills existed in Essex and one still stands in Thaxsted.

Photo © Elaine Wiltshire 2016
 


MILLERS
 
Millers were highly respected professionals. With large stocks of ready flour in storage the miller could control prices. During windless periods the price of flour increased. When corn saturated the market the miller would buy large quantities cheaply for later use. Village life revolved around the mill. Before mass production of bread nearly every wife bought flour to bake her own. Ground grist was also essential for feeding livestock. If a miller wanted to keep his customers he had grind their corn as soon as possible. He depended on the wind and worked day and night when it blew. Apprentices were hard to recruit because of a preference for regular hours and Sundays off.

Some millers became very wealthy. In the Middle Ages, anecdotes were common about how much grain the miller would keep for himself when people took their bags of corn for grinding, this became known as the 'Miller's Toll'. If a miller got invited to the Manor or Court he might dust himself down with flour before going for the sake of appearances. Millers were privileged members of manorial estates and regulations were needed to keep them taking full advantage of their position. They were forbidden from keeping livestock in case their animals were fed illicit grain. If proved a miller had stolen, there was the threat of the pillory and the hurdle. The hurdle was a piece of fencing made from thin branches. The prisoner got tied to this and dragged behind a horse to a place of execution, where he was hung, drawn and quartered. To stop body parts decomposing too quickly they were parboiled and then put on public display as a grim warning to others.

SAILS
In medieval times ladder type sails had cloth wound in and out. Later, sails were spread over a lattice framework. By varying the amount of cloth being spread the miller could set the sails according to the wind available and power required. Wooden slats replaced cloth in colder climates because they were easier to handle in freezing conditions. During the 18th century sails were invented that automatically adjusted to the wind speed without the need for intervention by the miller.

 

MILLSTONES
Two millstones were used for grinding. Grain fell from a feeding tube into the eye of a runner stone spinning above a bed stone. Sails speeding up made the feeding tube vibrate faster and this caused grain to drop quicker. The runner stone pressed the crushed meal against furrows cut in the bed stone and this forced the meal out at the edges where it dropped down a chute into collection bags below. The miller tested for coarseness by running fingers through the meal and adjusted the pressure on the stones if it became necessary. Sometimes a device known as a 'governor' was fitted and this used centrifugal force to keep the gap between the stones constant. Governors prevented stones rubbing together and starting fires when the hopper ran empty. With a steady wind up to 800 pounds of flour could be produced in an hour.


FLOUR, SEMOLINA OR BRAN?

A rotating drum sieved the wholemeal to separate it into flour, semolina and bran. The drum had sides made with different meshes. White flour passed through the finest mesh, semolina fell through coarser mesh and by the end only bran remained.

MAINTENANCE
Every morning the wooden bearings got greased with animal fat to keep things running smoothly. Cogs were given a regular application of bees wax.

Millstones became inefficient when they wore down. A process known as 'stone dressing' kept them in working order. This required the stones to be separated, not an easy job because a runner stone weighed half a ton. Lifting the runner stone slightly with a crowbar enabled wooden wedges to be inserted and this created a gap large enough to allow timber rails through. The rails were there to guide the stone as it got flipped. If the stone fell or rolled it would cause huge damage so great care was taken. A hoist threaded through the stone's eye lifted the stone onto its edge. A wooden lever then tipped the stone past its balance point so it could be gently laid flat. With the rails prized off and working surfaces exposed both stones were now ready for restoration work to begin.

The surface of a flat staff covered in food-safe paint (raddle) got slide across the stones and this marked the high spots that were then chipped away with a double-headed cold-chisel called a mill bill. This process continued until a perfectly flat surface existed about six inches wide around the periphery of the stone with a slightly relieved centre area. The area near the eye on the runner stone got taken down a bit further to form a 'swallow'. The whole process of facing the stones could take one person a few days to complete.


The furrows now needed to be deepened to compensate for the amount taken off. This required more chipping with the bill and needed greater accuracy than the facing process. Depending on the state of the stones this could take as little as a day, but sometimes much longer. 'Stitching' followed. This entailed cutting fine lines in the flat surfaces between the furrows. Each stitch only needed a single blow, so as long as the bill was kept sharp, this job only took an hour or two. White flour required finer stitching. Afterwards, a handful of grain got spread over the bed stone to act as a lubricant before replacing the runner stone. The first few sacks of meal from the newly dressed stones would be fed to the animals as grit might be present.

An experienced stone dresser would get tiny steel splinters from the mill bill embedded in his skin. To check an unknown stone dresser had the required skills, it became common for the miller to ask the dresser to 'show his steel' before allowing him to work on the valuable stones.


MILLWRIGHTS
Millwrights were multi-skilled engineers that designed and built windmills. During construction cast-iron fittings weighing two tons were lifted to the top of the mill without the help of cranes. Forces exerted by turning sails and the millstone's weight put a lot of stress on the buildings so knowledge of materials was vitally important. Carpentry skills enabled the millwright to set out and cut tenons on wooden cog-wheels, in addition he needed to know about founding iron. Each millwright had his own style and no two mills were ever the same. Mills were held in great affection by their designers. The job carried risk and there were instances of millwrights being crushed to death. The job didn't pay particularly well. Millwrights often had no transport and could cover a 10 mile radius carrying heavy tools on foot.

CHIGWELL

 The earliest mention of a windmill in Chigwell is 1318.  
MOUNTPLEASANT MILL

Mountpleasant Windmill appeared soon after 1809 when Matthias Davey arrived from Cheshunt to take over a dwelling house, outbuildings and land in Chigwell. John Gleed bought the mill after Davey went bankrupt four years later. Gleed employed a Norfolk miller named Robert Self. Gleed passed away in 1827 and the property got placed in trust for his son, Ellis. The business struggled and in September 1829 fixtures and fittings were sold. The mill didn't survive long after that. Located near the Bald Hind Public House in Manor Road it stood at grid reference TQ 443923.

 


CHIGWELL ROW

Being at high altitude had its dangers as events at Chigwell Row proved when a violent thunderstorm shook the area. Lightning struck the mill and for several seconds the structure shook at its foundations; one of the sails broke off and got flung some distance, and the upper part burst into flames. Most villagers were already awake as thunder raged overhead and were quick to act. Messengers galloped on horseback to fetch engines from Chigwell and Romford. Engines arrived, but assessing the mill couldn't be saved, the firemen concentrated their efforts on outhouses. Shortly afterwards millstones and machinery gave way and the building collapsed with a tremendous crash.

 

The Morning Advertiser reported this on 1st August 1842: 'EFFECTS OF THE LATE THUNDER STORM.-DESTRUCTION OF A WINDMILL BY THE ELECTRIC FLUID-On Thursday morning last, at half-past four o'clock, during the prevalence of the violent thunder-storm, a large body of electric fluid struck the vane of a windmill in Chigwell-row, Essex, belonging to Mr. James Halls, and descended to the interior of the building and set the place in flames. Mr. Clarke, a gentleman, residing in Chapel-house, Chigwell-row, observing the lightning strike the building, and apprehensive of the consequences which would result, immediately proceeded to the dwelling house of Mr. Halls, which is situated a short distance from the mill, and gave an alarm. By the time Mr. Halls had partially dressed himself the interior of the mill was on fire and the flames bursting forth from the windows, so that all hope to save the stock, machinery was fruitless. The interior of the building was totally destroyed. The damage done, including stock, machinery, etc. is about £1000. On the same morning injuries were done by the electric fluid to various houses and buildings in the vicinity of Ilford, Woodford, and Walthamstow, but nothing of so serious an amount as that done to the property of Mr. Halls.'


The Environs of London pt.1, reported in 1811: 'There is a spring near the windmill at Chigwell Row, of a cathartic quality; the water of which was recommended by the celebrated physician Dr. Frewen, who was a native of this parish.' Chigwell derived its name from this well.

The first mill in Chigwell Row was built by Sir Robert Wroth about 1610. It was occupied by John Brand the miller who passed away in 1665. The mill got replaced about 1768 and put up for sale. The leasehold for the windmill, dwelling house and outbuildings, with 5 acres of meadow and commonage rights for over 500 acres was subject to an annual rent of £20. William Mason held the lease until about 1828 when George Packham took occupancy. The final occupier Thomas Halls began tenancy in 1836. The windmill stood about 100 yards south of Vicarage Lane.


 

  'A large body of electric fluid struck the vane of a windmill in Chigwell-row'. Illustrated by Rosemarie Khan  2016

 

Chigwell Row - approximate position of Chigwell Row Mill

Left and above: A play area (photo © Raymond Small, 2016) belonging to Wells Park School is probably where Chigwell Row windmill stood. Unfortunately, no evidence of old foundations are visible, but research suggests that the windmill wouldn't have been far from this spot. A windmill existed in Chigwell Row from about 1610 and was a predecessor to the one that burnt down in 1842, which stood about 100 yards south of Vicarage Lane.

The Cathartic Well was located near Tylney Close just beyond the School's boundary fence to the south.
 

Thank you to Deputy Head, Paul Johnson, for permission to visit Wells Park School.

STAPLEFORD ABBOTS

According to The Essex Archaeological Society a windmill of unknown type stood at Stapleford Abbotts in 1566. Another mill in the area stood directly over a Passingford Watermill in 1777.

Boyland's Oak Mill got built at Stapleford Abbotts about 1846 and stood on the property of Richard Palmer Roupell. Its location was 100 yards south west of the Royal Oak pub on the Havering road. The miller, Jonas Crouchman, employed an 11-year-old apprentice in 1851. Charles Stevens is listed as the miller in 1855 and William Dewing from 1866 to 1878. Boyland's Oak Farm, along with the post mill containing 3 pairs of stones, were put up to let in 1880 and Herbert Balls became tenant. The mill fell into disrepair after 1910. The owner, Lord O'Hagan, intended to have the mill repaired, but when the Great War broke out plans got put on hold indefinitely. On Sunday, 21st October, 1923 a gale blew the sails off and the mill got demolished two months later.

 

Boyland's Park Mill photographed about 1922 just before being demolished.


CHADWELL HEATH

 James Suckling insured a windmill, machinery and stock at Chadwell Heath for £500 in 1765. Farmer William Parsons owned two Wind Corn Mills in 1797 and Josiah Pavitt worked there as a miller. One of the mills had a very tall roundhouse at its base, possibly with three floors. Named 'Long Sally', it is uncertain how the sails were set being so high off the ground. It stood near 'Little Jenny'. Henry Moss was the miller at Bentley Mill, South Weald, and his youngest son, Archer Moss, became a miller at Chadwell Heath. A third mill brought from Bentley Heath, South Weald arrived about 1820 and this became known as 'Miss Bentley'. The three post mills formed a triangle close to the eastern entrance of St. Chad's Park. All were owned by Archer Moss by 1839 and he employed nine men. Archer was a Dagenham churchwarden and resided at Heath House on the High Road which backed on to Post Office Lane (later Back Lane). A stain glass window depicting Saints Chad and Alban got installed in his memory at St. Chad's Church. Postcard above posted in 1908.

 

In 1873, the Essex Newsman printed this headline: 'SHOCKING WINDMILL ACCIDENT AT CHADWELL-HEATH' and reported. 'On Thursday afternoon a fatal accident occurred to a groom named Joseph Rutledge, through incautiously driving beneath one of the three mills on the heath. The poor fellow, who was 48 years of age, and had been in the employ of Mr. Moss, miller, Chadwell-heath, about two years, was driving a horse and cart towards the central mill, and went too close to the sails. John Killingback, a miller, called out to him, but at the moment the point of the sail struck him on the forehead, knocking him out of the cart. When picked up he was found to be dead.-An inquest was held on the body at the White Horse Inn, Chadwell-heath, before Mr. C. C. Lewis, coroner, when these facts were deposed to by John Killingback and Mr. H.A. Moss, and the jury returned a verdict of "Accidental death."' Expressing his regret the coroner said: "in this age of progressive science some means were not invented to prevent such a dangerous occurrence". The deceased was the brother of Inspector Rutledge of the Essex Constabulary.

The Miller 3 March 1879

Archer Moss Junior converted one of the mills to steam after his father died, after that they were sometimes referred to as the high, middle and steam mills. Long Sally became another victim to lightning and one of the sails caught alight, but swift action by Herbert Moss, son of Archer Junior, stopped the flames from spreading. This mill was taken down in 1983, although the roundhouse stood for a while afterwards. Little Jenny was dismantled about 1902 and all three had disappeared by 1906.

 

 

COLLIER ROW

 

A post mill existed on Collier Row Common on ground that sloped away to the north, south and west. It had two pairs of stones operating. In December, 1815, William Blakeley, aged 15, got taken on as an apprentice for a term of seven years after his father made a payment of £84 to John Benjamin Miller and Benjamin Goodeve Miller. Blakeley's contract forbade him to commit fornication, get married, gamble, or frequent taverns and play houses.

In 1822, the Millers employed a man named Barker but their trust in him got betrayed. Later that year Barker was sentenced to the Chelmsford House of Correction for 6 months for theft of four shillings. The mill got put up for sale in November, 1833 and John Collier purchased it. The Post Office Directory lists William Blakeley as the miller at Collier Row in 1855. There is evidence of him paying tax on the mill in its final years indicating that he had become the owner. The mill got demolished in 1862.


MARKS GATE

 

Marks Gate claimed to have the tallest smock mill in the whole of Essex. Built in 1818, its structure comprised mainly of oak wood. It had five levels above the ground floor and a fan stage at the top. The stairs to the first floor were straight. Further up, the stairs varied in width and curved slightly, assembled one above the other on one side of the mill. A plaited leather handrail gave something to grip while climbing. The small stage by the fantail was reached by using a step-ladder. There were 3 pairs of working stones. In 1844, John Stevens owned the mill and Thomas Biggs occupied it. William Drake became miller in 1845 with his son William taking over afterwards. The family stayed with the mill which adopted the name 'Drake's Mill' for the rest of its working life.

Romford Brewery lowered the water level when sinking artesian wells, as a consequence the well by the mill needed to be made 80 feet deep. Gravel extraction began in a field next to the mill during the 1880's and this got used for building and repairing local roads. The mill closed for business in 1892. Its fate sealed when a gale snapped the safety chains which held the sails in place. Mr. F. Tyrell, the concerned owner, feared the sails would fall onto the old mill house close by, so the mill was dismantled to the brick bed. Various reports say this happened any time from 1917 to the early 1920's.

Above and below: Drake's Mill, Mark's Gate. Above right: The mill has lost its sails  but the fantail is still in position.


BARKING

In 1242, William and Geoffrey Dun built a windmill and were sued by the Abbess of Barking. She complained that her own mills in the town, which were a royal gift, were being affected. The defendants removed the mill and undertook never to build another mill in the Manor of Barking or its surroundings. They were consoled by being admitted to all benefits and orisons at the Abbey. Manorial accounts from the 14th Century mention how the responsibility of maintenance of Barking mill fell on the Manor. In the 17th Century Sir Thomas Fanshawe got in legal trouble for neglecting it.

Wellington Mill, built in 1815, assisted Mark's Gate with its workload. Its name honoured the victorious leader at the Battle of Waterloo, the Duke of Wellington. The mill worked four pair of stones, three pairs were for wheat and one pair for cattle corn. Standing 54 feet tall, it had a brick base with two floors and four more floors above that. Fisherman, John Brown, owned the mill and took residence on 20th April, 1815. The 'best household flour' was offered at 3 shillings a sack below the market price, with 1 shilling a sack discount.

Above: A mill bill without the handle (thrift) attached

Left: Auction at Barking in Essex Herald 14th June 1842

An unfortunate fellow named Richard Turpin worked at the mill. In 1824, while fixing a broken sail, Mr. Turpin, aged 44, caught unaware by a sudden gust of wind got lifted by a revolving limb. Hearing cries of distress his wife dashed out to help and tried to catch him, but she was too late and he fell at her feet fracturing his skull. A gust of wind had caused the shaft to kick, snapping the striking rod which allowed the sails to turn.

January, 1829, saw the mill offered for auction, but there was no obvious change of ownership. William Blakeley was the tenant paying £143 a year. In 1834, when the top price of flour was 45 shillings a sack, Blakeley was selling his 'good second flour' at 9 shillings less. On 20th July, 1829 a complaint classing Blakeley's flour as 'poor thirds' led to him reduce that bill by £2.

 

Joseph Rawlings Esq. paid £1000 to Brown's trustees in 1832 to buy the mill and sold it to Samuel Sharp in 1844 for £860. A mortgage for £700 was secured on the premises in 1846 from Messrs Whitbourn and Napper. The mill's value fell and Sharp leased the mill to Messrs John and William Ellis for a low rent, on condition that the machinery and premises had to be insured against fire to a total of £800. An option to buy the machinery for £300 and everything else for £600 got rejected by the Ellis's and they moved out after only 18 months.

Disastrous gales in January 1877 caused high tides and the marsh wall near Wellington Mill collapsed. Forty labourers worked all through the night making repairs and this stopped the whole district right up to Beckton Gas Works getting flooded.

Adam Smith gained possession of the mill in 1887 for £610, after Sharp died. William Firman became the tenant paying £55 per annum. The property became freehold in July 1890. C.W. Bartholomew Esq. became the new owner and he took responsibility for repairing storm damage. Running repairs, rates and tax had to be paid by Firman.

 

Frank Willett of Ley Farm, Ilford, visited Wellington Mill in February 1897 and saw a child floating downstream. He jumped in and dragged the body ashore, but Onslow Clifton Mills (no pun intended), from 8 Park Terrace, Fisher Street, was beyond saving. At the inquest the jury recorded a verdict of 'Death from drowning'.

 

William Firman's son, John, took over in 1902. Two sails blew off during a gale in 1905 and conversion to electricity soon followed. Edwin Firman is listed as a miller in Kelly's 1914 Directory. Wellington Mill was more or less intact up to 1926 before getting demolished. In its latter days, the sails still went round freely on breezy days. Other millers listed in Barking were the Smith family, Whitbourn & Son and T.D. Ridley & Sons.

Above and below: Wellington Mill, Barking - a fine example of a smock mill.

DAGENHAM - Beam Mill

 

Beam Mill appeared on Greenwood's map in 1825. In 1832 Charles Thompson is documented as being the owner and Henry Thompson the occupier. A directory of 1878 still has Henry Thompson listed as the miller. The final miller, Charles Borrett, listed in 1884, is not shown in Kelly's directory for 1886. Mill House Social Club stands near the site where Beam Mill once stood, 110 yards west of the River Beam.

 

 

BECONTREE HEATH

 

 

Becontree Heath Mill got built about 1816. Described as small, this smock mill initially had 2 pairs of working stones. An extra set of stones got added later. The mill appeared in the background of a political cartoon about 1820. Phoebe Seabrook held the lease in 1844, followed by Ephraim Seabrook the master miller in 1848. Lightning shattered one of the sails in 1868 during a violent storm and a worse disaster occurred in January the following year. The Essex Weekly News reported: 'FIRE NEAR ROMFORD.-At an early hour on Tuesday morning, a fire, which destroyed property to the extent of between £500 and £600, broke out through the overheating of a cog-wheel, at Becontree Heath Mill, occupied by Mr. R Wiltshire. The mill and its contents, with four cottages adjacent, were totally destroyed.'

 


ROMFORD

 

PRATT COLLIER'S MILL

Pratt Collier's Mill on the south side of London Road near St. Andrews Road stood on a raised mound. There is evidence that a post mill stood at this location in 1728 when it was known as Thomas Pratt's Mill. Stephen Collier insured the windmill and contents for £300 in 1793 - this could have been the original building or a successor. When Stephen died the mill passed to his nephew Pratt Collier in 1819. In 1864, Pratt Collier's son, who had the same name, owned the premises and the occupiers were Matthews and Mortlock. The mill stayed in use until about 1860 and may have closed because Star Steam Mills began operating in South Street.

THE RISING SUN MILL

A mill had stood on the Rising Sun site since about 1618 and described as being part of the manor of Stewards in 1642 and 1710. James and John Clark worked the mill in 1832, with John leaving four years later. In 1849 William Henry Tolbutt became the owner and Andrew Kerr the occupier. The windmill's workload reduced when a steam mill got built nearby. The embankment built for the new railway line going through Romford did not help matters because it blocked the wind.

Victoria steam flour mills is mentioned in the 1874 Post Office Directory being run by Henry Whitmore. In July 1873, a case of Boughtwood vs Whitmore went to court. Boughtwood, who lived at the post mill, claimed that Whitmore's steam mill produced vapour that condensed to fall like rain and it flooded his place. Whitmore disputed this, claiming that any water would drain down the mound on which the mill stood. The jury found in favour of Whitmore, who went on to expand his business.

The Rising Sun public house in South Street got rebuilt and became known as the 'Morland Arms' and then 'The Goose'. It is located opposite Romford Bus Station. A list compiled by a Doctor Turner mentions that Jacob Izard was killed by sails at Romford in 1718. No other details are given.

The Rising Sun Mill

John Carter, the local millwright, lived in North Street.

Left: Part of Chapman and Andre map of Essex, 1777

Pratt Collier's Mill. 

 

HORNCHURCH

Howard's Mill, formerly known as Mitchell's Mill stood at The Dell. This area found fame as a venue for traditional wrestling and fisticuffs. Conan Doyle's novel, 'Rodney Stone', mentions a prize fight taking place there. On Christmas Day men from Hornchurch and Romford wrestled to win a boar's head. The event discontinued after it became too rowdy. Mill Field became one of London's most famous 'cockpits', defined in the dictionary as a site where battle or other conflicts take place.

Cartographers Ogilby and Morgan showed a post mill on their map of 1678. William Mason the miller, insured his stock and utensils in 1772 for £100. The mill had single-shutter patent sails. On the left side of the tail ladder a slide allowed full sacks to be despatched to the ground. An elegant porch fixed above the door was a feature not often found on other mills. There were two pairs of stones in operation. In 1815, J. Mason the tenant paid £60 rent for the year. Tenancy changed to John Bearblock in 1822 and he possessed the mill for over 20 years. Richard Stevens occupied the mill from 1848. According to the Essex Standard a woman named Peartree got struck by the sails and 'grievously wounded' in 1837. From 1852 to 1861 John Mitchell ran the mill, followed by his son Edward. Edward installed steam power to work alongside the wind. The last millers were brothers called Thomas and George Howard. They closed for business in June 1912.

This became another mill destroyed by weather, but not by lightning or wind. On this occasion the hot summer sun set nearby grass alight. The Sheffield Independent reported on 27th June 1921: 'LANDMARK DESTROYED. On Saturday afternoon the historic windmill at Hornchurch and a well-known Epping landmark was destroyed by fire. The surrounding grass caught alight through the heat and the flames spread to the building which, being constructed almost entirely of wood, was burnt out.

 

Left: Howard's Mill 1909

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Approximate position of where Hornchurch Mill was situated.

 

 

 

 

 

The Dell, Hornchurch, Postcard postmarked 1914

UPMINSTER

James Nokes, a local farmer, built the mill, a bakery and cottages in 1803. Due to the growing population of London, the mill began life running three pairs of stones to cope with the heavy demand for flour, but need was so great this got increased to four. It became obvious more were needed, so in 1812, a steam engine was installed to drive two more pairs of stones.

In 1844, Thomas Abraham became foreman to Thomas Nokes earning £1 per week. Different members of the Nokes family ran Upminster mill until 1849 when the whole estate got put up for auction after being very heavily mortgaged. The sale included the Mill Estate, Mill, a steam engine with appendages, five pairs of stones, Engine House, Granaries, Storage, Stabling, Outbuildings, a detached Residence, two Millers Cottages, pond and a meadow. Ambrose Colson paid £2000 to become owner, but sold it shortly afterwards to James Wadeson.

Thomas Abraham returned to run the Mill in 1851. Working day and night when the wind was good he received eighteen shillings a week. Leaving to farm in Orsett, he returned in 1857 and bought the mill and surrounding land for £1,100. The mill became known as Abraham's Mill. On his death in 1882 the mill passed to his younger son John Arkell Abraham.

 

Upminster Mill published by the Romford Recorder

Upminster Mill incurred damage in 1889. The Essex Herald wrote: "such a storm was never known in this neighbourhood before. The lightning struck one of the top sails of Abraham's windmill and cut it to pieces; some of the pieces were thrown fifty yards and others were strewn all over the buildings. It is believed that the mill must have been struck more than once, as the lightning went right through the top of the wind boards and then down the sack chain and fused the links together." On January 5th 1900, the windshaft snapped at the neck and the sails fell off hitting the ground with a tremendous crash. The windshaft got replaced by one taken from a post mill near Maldon and four new sails were fitted. Local residents donated money to John Abraham to help with the cost of repairs.

John Arkell Abraham passed away in 1912 and two nephews, Alfred and Clement, took over. Alfred was the miller and Clement ran the business. During the First World War, government restrictions meant the mill could not work at full capacity and it became less profitable.

A fierce gale on Friday morning of March 25th in 1927 caught the fan broadside, smashing it to bits and scattering it in all directions. A large piece flew over houses and landed on the porch-way of 24 Highview Gardens. This was disastrous and the mill closed soon afterwards. The mill was put up for auction in 1934 and was purchased by Mr W H Simmons for £3,400.

Essex County Council purchased Upminster mill in 1937 intending to demolish it for development. Howls of protest forced the Council to change its mind. The mill was badly neglected during the Second World War. Hector Stone, a retired millwright from Suffolk, almost got the mill operating again before he passed away in 1952 at the grand old age of eighty-six. Upminster is generally considered to be one of the finest remaining smock mills in England.

The Upminster Windmill Preservation Trust gained a 35 year lease on 22nd June 2004. The stock and sails sustained damage during extremely fierce winds on 18th January 2007. The Grade II listed building opened up to visitors, but closed again in September 2015 for restoration work by volunteers. 

To find out more about Upminster Mill visit: http://www.upminsterwindmill.org/

Photo © Brian Ecott 15th October 2016

Brian Ecott reported after visiting Upminster Windmill on 15th October 2016:

"The sails are away being renovated, the weather boarding needs to be removed from the tower as only one of the uprights is in good condition. They have a lottery grant which is to be used to restore the mill by about 2019 although a visitor centre should be open by April next year. A group of archaeologists and volunteers have excavated the site of a steam mill and several allied buildings from under a lawn. A rod connected to the windmill was used on calm days. This dates from the turn of the early 1910's. From the size of the steam engine foundation and its bolt holes, it is thought to have supported a Boulton & Watt steam engine which is rare and there is one in the Science Museum.

There is a pond and well, stables, horses and carts to collect coal from Upminster station, a pig pen and yard where pigs were fed unwanted grain, and then sold. The site will be infilled until they can afford a roofing structure to preserve the dig."