CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Hertfordshire Life today CLICK HERE

Tilting at windmills

PUBLISHED: 12:20 30 September 2014 | UPDATED: 12:20 30 September 2014

Cromer Windmill

Cromer Windmill

Archant

Windmills were once a commmon site in the Hertfordshire countryside, testimony to the village production of grain and bread. Today, only one working survivor remains. Liz Hamilton, Campaign to Protect Rural England Hertfordshire chairman, looks at the deep history of milling in the county

Cromer Windmill, circa1960Cromer Windmill, circa1960

Early farmers arriving in Britain around 6,500 years ago almost certainly brought wheat and barley seeds with them. In Hertfordshire, permanent settlements from this period were established in the main river valleys and on light soils on chalk hills. The farmers needed to grind the grains they cultivated to make them palatable. So began the history of milling in the county.

A quern, or grinding stone, perhaps 5,500 years old and made from puddingstone was found in 2005 during excavations for the new A10 road near Puckeridge. This, and fragments of what are thought to be later Roman beehive or rotary puddingstone quern stones, also found near Puckeridge, are on display at Hertford Museum. 
 Bread made from wheat or other grains was a staple food by the Roman period, and it was at this time that watermills were established in England. By 1086 and the Domesday Book, mill numbers had exploded in the county, with 132 mills recorded in the survey. Some of these may have been driven by oxen or horses, but most were watermills powered by the county’s fast-flowing chalk streams.
.
Changing technology.
Technology to harness wind for grinding arrived in England in the 12th century, and must have been especially welcomed in areas of Hertfordshire distant from water courses. Eight of the 10 windmills built in the county in the 13th century were located on the higher plateau lands in the north-east. Mills at Sandon and Cromer were the earliest to be documented, in 1222. Thirty windmills were recorded in the county by 1400. The earliest type of English windmill was the post mill, where the whole body of the mill, with the sails, rotated around a central wooden post, moved by a long ‘tail pole’ projecting from the back of the mill. This allowed the sails to face the wind.

Milling remained an essential village industry until the 19th century. Output from traditional mills, which included flour and other products such as animal feed, peaked between 1750 and 1850 alongside growth in agricultural production. Many mills were rebuilt and innovations introduced in this period. Wooden-built smock mills and brick tower mills became more common in the 18th and especially 19th centuries. In these, only the topmost cap carrying the sails moved, which made the mills more stable, and they could be taller. Another innovation was the fantail mechanism, which automatically headed the sails into the wind, while ‘patent’ sails consisting of controllable shutters replaced cloth sails. In 1862, there were 46 working windmills in the county including two at Great Hormead, a post mill and smock mill, that stood side-by-side.

By 1870, steam had begun to take over the industry while volumes of grain imports grew. These factors meant milling moved to larger and more efficient processing plants, often close to ports. By 1875, the county’s working windmills were reduced to 35 and by 1905 there were just nine. Today, while some tower mills have been converted to homes, little or nothing remains of the rest, apart from Cromer Mill.

Restoration in progress on Cromer Windmill in 1967Restoration in progress on Cromer Windmill in 1967

.

Cromer Mill.

The mill at Cromer, a hamlet north-east of Stevenage, has been rebuilt or restored a number of times. In 1374, it was described as ‘in ruins’, possibly as the local population had declined following the Black Death. The mill was recorded again in 1576, but may have succumbed to a great storm in February 1661 which destroyed more than 400 windmills in England. Cromer Mill’s current oak main post was cut from a tree which grew from 1568 until 1679, revealed by analysis of its growth rings, and carries the building date of 1681.

The mill may have been reconstructed around this main post several times, not least sometime around 1860 when the mill is known to have blown over: high winds were a particular problem for post mills. After this, the mill was improved again with the addition of iron parts, patent sails and a fantail.

The pair of windmills at Great HormeadThe pair of windmills at Great Hormead

Around 1910, flour milling at Cromer Mill ceased, although animal feed was still produced. Petrol engines replaced the sails in the 1920s. Within another decade, the mill was abandoned. By the 1960s, the potential loss of the county’s last surviving post mill led to its acquisition by the Hertfordshire Building Preservation Trust. In the years since, several phases of work have been needed to restore the mill to full working order, achieved in 1998. Now more repairs are needed, with work due to be carried out later this year, for which an appeal has been launched.

0 comments

Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files
Comments

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Hertfordshire visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Hertfordshire staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Hertfordshire account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from Out & About

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

We quiz author Kevin Exley about his new book that takes the reader on the trail of fascinating stories, new and old, around Berkhamsted

Read more
October 2018
Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Don’t miss the November issue of Hertfordshire Life - out now!

Read more
Monday, October 29, 2018

Hertfordshire is a county with a vast, fascinating and sometimes dark and bloody history that has reportedly lead to more than a few angry ghosts sticking around to wreak havoc and take revenge on the living. We have gathered 10 of the most haunted places in the county

Read more
Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Make the most out of autumn with these eight walking routes that take in a variety of Hertfordshire’s terrains and - most importantly – have a cosy pub along the way

Read more
Tuesday, October 16, 2018

We've selected a variety of spooky activities in the county that are sure to delight the kids

Read more
Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Christmas isn’t complete without a trip to a festive fair. From German-style food stalls to vintage fetes, Hertfordshire’s Christmas markets have it all

Read more
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust’s Charlotte Hussey explores the fascinating world of bats and new projects in the county to help conserve these remarkable creatures

Read more
October 2018
Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The People’s Trust for Endangered Species is asking the public to look out for mammals on Hertfordshire’s roads as part of a citizen science project

Read more
September 2018
Tuesday, September 11, 2018

From stately homes to skateparks, we have selected some of the best ideas for things to do in Hertfordshire

Read more
Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The diverse parkland of Pishiobury Park in Sawbridgeworth is undergoing a five-year plan to promote its heritage and enhance its habitats. It makes for a royal day out

Read more
September 2018

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy



Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Local Business Directory

Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search