MP wants to see sails keep on turning at historic windmill

Windmill restoration SUS-150611-073914001
Windmill restoration SUS-150611-073914001

An MP is urging people to get behind a project to restore and preserve one of the most important windmills in Sussex.

Appropriately situated at Windmill Hill, near Herstmonceux, the windmill is the largest post mill in the country and the tallest in Sussex.

Huw Merriman, who is MP for nearby Bexhill, joined volunteers of the Windmill Hill Trust to find out more about the historic local windmill which has been restored with the help of grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund and other local fundraising.

Huw was invited to visit the windmill by Chair of the Friends of the Windmill, Beatrice Frost, to hear about the latest stage of the restoration project to restore the windmill to full working order so it will soon grind corn into flour by wind power for the first time in 100 years.

Huw talked to many members of the volunteer team about their involvement in what is the largest and most ambitious mill restoration in the UK.

The Windmill Trust is also keen to encourage more schools to visit the windmill which provides an insight into local history and offers educational resources designed for the Key Stage 2 curriculum.

Huw said “I was really pleased to have a full tour of the windmill. The Trust has managed to preserve a really important and significant piece of local and national history by restoring the windmill at Windmill Hill. It’s a fascinating project and the views from the windmill are outstanding, I would really encourage local people and schools to visit.

I would like to take an active part in this local project which is why I have agreed to become a patron but I don’t intend to only be a name on a letterhead. I’ve asked the Trust to let me know how I can help in more practical ways, and whilst engineering and woodwork may not be my strengths, I’m sure I can roll my sleeves up and get stuck in with the rest of the committed volunteers.”

On behalf of the Trustees, Beatrice Frost said: “We are delighted that Huw was so enthused by his visit and are really looking forward to having his support for this exciting project.”

The Trust submitted a detailed proposal to the Heritage Lottery Fund in January 2001 and in December 2001 the Heritage Lottery Fund awarded a grant of £577,000 towards the total cost of £770,000 for the restoration of the Windmill at Windmill Hill. This remains the biggest-ever grant given by the Heritage Lottery Fund in the UK for the restoration of an individual windmill.

In October 2003 work was started. The roof was lifted off, then the windshaft with brake wheel, and remaining timbers and components of the mill body. These were all transported to the workshops of IJP Building Conservation Ltd of Henley-on-Thames in Oxfordshire – a distance of almost 160 km (about 100 miles).

Once repairs had been completed, a trial assembly was performed to ensure that all jointly fitted together. It was then dismantled, transported to Sussex and constructed on a temporary platform next to the mill.

In September 2004 straps were placed around the crown tree and the post bearing was greased. The mill frame was lifted by a crane and lowered gently into the scaffolding space until it settled onto the oak post.

Next followed two pairs of millstones, the windshaft and finally the roof.

The millwrights work on site to fit out the mill with its exterior weatherboarding. The body was covered with zinc sheeting to return the mill to the way it looked in 1894.

The enormous tail ladder with 34 treads was added together with a new tailpole. An automatic turning device, designed to rotate the mill according to the wind direction, was fitted to the bottom of the ladder, a modern addition to the otherwise authentically restored mill.

In February this year the sweeps were taken down and were transported to the millwrights workshops. Shutterswere made and put back in July. Restoration of the machinery is continuing along with the refurbishment of exterior steps to trestle floor.

A spokesperson for the Trust said: “This work is the final stage of the restoration of the windmill which was on the English Heritage ‘At Risk register and was rescued from dereliction in 1996. It has always been the ‘dream’ to restore the mill to complete working order and capable of producing flour for the first time in over 100 years.”

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