04 March 2018

A tale of two East Sussex windmills

It didn’t take long for my friend Jill’s fascination with windmills to infect me, and these photogenic structures now captivate me with their intriguing stories and enchanting architecture. Here are two from my recent visit to East Sussex.

Stone Cross windmill
Built around 1875 and restored to full working order between 1995 and 2000, the Stone Cross windmill is, their signboard claims, ‘one of the finest tower mills ever built in England’. Its statistics are certainly impressive: a 38-foot-high (11.58 metre) five-level brick tower, which is 16 feet 6 inches (5.03 metres) in diameter at its base and 11 feet (3.35 metres) at the curb; and sweeps (the name for the mill’s revolving sails) spanning 64 feet (19.5 metres) and holding 174 shutters (the angles of which control the speed of the sweeps).

The mill still produces flour stone-ground in the traditional way, which sounds delightful and I’m sure would taste delicious but do remember that stone-ground means the flour may well contain tiny pieces of stone, which is one of the reasons why the teeth of people in the past got rapidly ground down. According to the windmill’s somewhat incomplete website, the building also contains a small museum and a cafe, though there are no details given of its opening times.

Windmill Hill windmill
We had driven past this windmill so many times on our way to places elsewhere but, as there are not a lot of spots to park, we’d never stopped ... until, one day in mid February, on the way back from Rye Harbour, Jill managed to squeeze us in to the back end of a bus stop for a few minutes. Unfortunately, the view from the roadside is marred by the power lines but we did sneak up a driveway for a slightly better view of the side of this mill.

There had been a previous windmill on this site – proving just how well this high point catches the breezes – but it was demolished prior to the construction, in around 1814, of the mill we see today. This is a post mill, one of the earliest types of windmill, which I now know means ‘the whole body of the mill that houses the machinery is mounted on a single vertical post, around which it can be turned to bring the sails into the wind’ (as opposed to the Stone Cross tower mill, where only the cap, not the whole body of the mill, is rotated).

Using one pair of French Burr stones and another of Derbyshire Peak stones, this mill also processed corn in to flour. Like the Stone Cross building, the Windmill Hill mill has undergone extensive restoration in recent years, through the work of a charitable trust and the tireless efforts of a multitude of volunteers. (You can read more on their website here.) I love that so many people are so passionate about preserving these remnants of Britain’s industrial and cultural heritage so that both the present and future generations can admire and enjoy them.

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