Danzey Green windmill
PUBLISHED: 15:57 24 May 2010 | UPDATED: 17:15 20 February 2013
For centuries Danzey Green windmill's sails turned to grind wheat for flour. Then in 1874 a sail blew off in a storm and was never repaired.
When it comes to historical wind power, Warwickshire has a richer surviving heritage than most counties. There are no less than 13 windmill sites and nearly all of them have windmills standing on them in a decent state of repair.
Top of the pile is Chesterton Mill, near Harbury, which was built in 1632 to a design attributed to Inigo Jones with a mill stone system rarely found in England and it attracts a steady stream of visitors. One or two other mills are being restored, a couple are still in a working state and six of them are now private houses without sails, one of which is in the village of Harbury itself.
Another remarkable thing about these local survivors of a technology which first came to England in around 1180, is that several have the most unusual names. These include Tainters Hill Mill at Kenilworth, Tuttle Hill Mill at Nuneaton and the gloriously named Bouncing Bess Mill at Rowington Green. Who the heck was she?
Although Warwickshire has such an abundance of these old machines, however, its most complete and workable windmill is no longer in the county. It used to be but, in an ironic twist of fate which saved it from destruction, it left the area 40 years ago.
The mill in question used to stand at Hill Farm in the hamlet of Danzey Green, near Tanworth, right in the middle of the area to which Shakespeare was referring when he wrote about the Forest of Arden. It worked until 1874 when a sail was blown off in a storm and, with cheaper imports of grain by then flooding into England from the New World following the repeal of the Corn Laws, it was considered not worth repairing and was simply left to rot.
It was rescued nearly a century later by Michael Thomas, a man who had given up a safe job at the Bank of England to embark upon the riskier business of launching Britains first museum of buildings at Bromsgrove, in neighbouring Worcestershire. He decided that the village of threatened historic houses he was starting from scratch at Avoncroft, needed a windmill and that the one at Danzey Green fitted the bill perfectly.
The mill was carefully taken apart and moved 11 miles to the west in 1969, but it was another eight years before restoration at its new home was completed. Since then, it has become one of Avoncrofts most popular attractions and is regularly sailed and maintained by a small group of volunteers which includes a retired member of the Merchant Marines and two retired teachers.
It is a very simple machine to operate, but a huge responsibility and once you start it moving, you better be careful that you know what you are doing, said Andy Cameron who has been a member of the team since 2002 when he retired from his job as an expert in aerospace and flight critical software.
You have to have two volunteers working together to sail it and although we let members of the public in when it is working, they have to be carefully supervised. It always attracts a lot of attention and we have a collection of postcards of windmills which enthusiasts have sent us from all over the world.
The mill in its present form dates from about 1830 when it was used to provide a service to the whole community in the Danzey Green area, but its core is thought to be older and may date from around 1730, although there are no records to confirm this. The upper wooden structure, which weighs 11 tons, sits on a low brick base tower.
The building is known as a post mill meaning that the upper part can be turned on its brick tower with the help of a tail pole so that the sails face into the prevailing wind. When the sails rotate, they turn a nine-foot diameter brake wheel which drives a smaller wheel on a vertical beam called a wallower. As this beam rotates, it turns the upper of the two mill stones and that slides over the lower stationary stone. The grain is then fed by a system of chutes and hoppers into a hole in the upper stone and is crushed into flour between the two stones.
The mill also has an ingenious pulley system for lifting bags of grain from the ground to the top of the building through a series of trap doors which automatically spring back into place afterwards on leather hinges so that no one can accidentally fall through them. The technology is simple and incredibly clever but, in the end, it was simply not fast enough.
They once ran an experiment when a 25 miles-an-hour wind was blowing, which is a very strong wind for milling, and in 36 minutes the mill produced three hundredweight of flour, said Andy Cameron.
At that rate, you could produce two tons in an eight-hour day, but the chances of getting a constant 25 miles-an-hour wind for that long are very slim. By contrast, a modern large roller mill can produce 30 tons of flour every hour. That illustrates why this mill fell into disuse in 1874. It could no longer compete because the grain pouring into England from America and Canada was milled at the port of entry by steam-powered roller mills.
There is little danger of it falling into disuse again, although it has fallen foul of modern legislation since being at Avoncroft. It used to produce stone-milled flour for sale at the museum, but this had to stop when modern hygiene laws made it prohibitively expensive. However, there is a long term aim to try and start the practice again and museum staff and volunteers are looking at ways of how this could become possible.
It means that the Danzey Green windmill has a brighter future than at any time in its existence and that, therefore, there will be a small corner of Worcestershire which is for ever Warwickshire.
See the Danzey Green windmill for yourself at the Avoncroft Museum, Stoke Heath Works Hanbury Road, Stoke Heath, Bromsgrove, Worcestershire B60 4LT. Tel: 01527 831 363; www.avoncroft.org.uk