Brill windmill was in the news in 2009 with restoration work underway and this is a good opportunity to feature some of Buckinghamshire's windmills.
Originating in Persia in the 9th century, windmills first appeared in Britain in the late 12th century. Before this milling was carried out using watermills or by hand using stone querns. The earliest documentary reference to windmills in England is thought to be in 1191 and in Buckinghamshire the first mentions are in 1217 and 1218 to a windmill at Ivinghoe.
Post mills are the oldest form of windmill in England. The mill sits on a single large upright post and the whole body of the mill is moved to allow the sails to catch the wind. The mill is usually rotated by a 'tail pole' or 'tiller beam' attached to the mill. Pitstone and Brill windmills are good examples of post mills.
Smock mills have a fixed wooden body with a rotating cap to which the sails are attached. Lacey Green and Ibstone windmills are both smock mills. The mill at Lacey Green is thought to date from 1650 and is probably the oldest surviving smock mill in the country.
Tower mills are a development of smock mills and have a fixed brick or stone tower with a rotating cap. Quainton, Cholesbury and Wendover windmills are all examples of tower mills.
Dating windmills is a tricky business. Because they were often damaged by high winds, mills were sometimes moved or rebuilt and dates carved into the beams can be misleading as they may record repairs or rebuilding rather than the original building date. Dendrochronology (tree ring dating) can provide more reliable evidence and both Pitstone and Brill windmills have been recently dated. Pitstone mill was found to have built in the 1590s and is now thought to be the oldest surviving post mill in the country!
As they are fairly small buildings, post mills were usually built on top of hills or on a large mound to make the most of the available winds. Mill mounds are often the only surviving remains once a mill is demolished and several have been excavated in Buckinghamshire including mill sites at Whiteleaf Hill, Newton Longville, and Drayton Beauchamp. At Drayton Beauchamp archaeological work during construction of the Aston Clinton bypass revealed the cross-shaped trenches originally dug to hold the 'cross trees' or 'trestle' that secured the upright post of a post mill in the ground.
Several Buckinghamshire windmills are open to the public to visit. Use the links below to find out about opening hours and how to get to them:
Pitstone link to the National Trust website
Lacey Green link to the Chiltern Society website
Brill link to the Brill Windmill website
Quainton link to Quainton Mill webpage.
Many mills are open during National Mills Weekend in May. More information on mills is available on the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings website www.spab.org.uk/mills .