The Windmill

Happy Wednesday all. It’s time for Rambler5319 to take over again. Enjoy! 

 

Thought I’d start with a Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem called The Windmill. Hopefully it gets you in the mood for my trip to the windmill.

Behold! a giant am I!
  Aloft here in my tower,
  With my granite jaws I devour
The maize, and the wheat, and the rye,
  And grind them into flour. 

I look down over the farms;
  In the fields of grain I see
  The harvest that is to be,
And I fling to the air my arms,
  For I know it is all for me. 

I hear the sound of flails
  Far off, from the threshing-floors
  In barns, with their open doors,
And the wind, the wind in my sails,
  Louder and louder roars. 

I stand here in my place,
  With my foot on the rock below,
  And whichever way it may blow,
I meet it face to face,
  As a brave man meets his foe. 

And while we wrestle and strive,
  My master, the miller, stands
  And feeds me with his hands;
For he knows who makes him thrive,
  Who makes him lord of lands. 

On Sundays I take my rest;
  Church-going bells begin
  Their low, melodious din;
I cross my arms on my breast,
  And all is peace within.

Today’s trip is to the windmill just outside the village of Great Bircham (Norfolk) about 13 miles NE of King’s Lynn. I’ve only ever visited a few windmills and apart from just 1 which was working which I was only able to see the ground floor inside, all the rest had to be viewed from outside; they were either derelict, not working or had been converted into living accommodation. However the one at Bircham is fully working and you are allowed inside and up the steep stairs to each of the floors. It’s really interesting to see all the different levels: the Ground Floor, the Meal Floor, the Stone Floor, the Bin Floor, the Dust Floor, the Cap Floor & finally the Cap.

Here it is.

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This next one is a close up showing a rope coming down from the white cap on top to the verandah like walkway round the middle of the mill. This was built so that the miller could pull on it to apply the brake to the wind-driven sack hoist instead of having to go to the top to do it. (Hope you can see the light-coloured rope coming down from the wooden floor just left of centre at the top. The black line on the side of the mill is the shadow from it.)

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Then the stairs inside up to the first floor.

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Next is a pic of some of the workings on that floor. The gentleman in the cloth cap wasn’t very talkative and was still in the same position when I came down. He didn’t answer any questions.

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You might notice to the right of him and down slightly is a sack with a round shaped cloth and a dark lump on it near the sheet of paper.

Here’s a close up.

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I stroked him and he never made a sound.

As has become usual in anywhere the public can go there were the obligatory warning notices which the owners have to put up. Here are just a few:

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I carried on climbing up through the various floors until finally I got to the top – the cap. If you remember the first pic there was a white cap to the windmill with a wind driven wheel. Here’s my view from the fan deck at the top by that wheel.

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And a close up of the white wheel.
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This is right at the top.

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Reaching the top of the windmill is something of an achievement and I proudly took a sticker off the roll and here it is.

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I climbed down and wandered round the rest of the site starting with the bakery on the ground floor.

First thing to notice outside the mill was the date stone – 1846.

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The initials G.H. refer to George Humphrey who was the first owner of the mill as it now is. However it has a long history prior to him and the first mill on the site is believed to date from 1769. Robert Miller & his wife Temperance worked the mill until 1784 when Mr Miller died & Temperance took over. (Interesting name – Temperance; in my family ancestors I have someone called Prudence and another called Constance.) There then followed a number of owners leading up to 1845 when 19 year old GH took over just prior to its demolition & replacement by the current building; the original building was a post mill (in which the whole body of the mill revolves around a central post in order to move the sails into the wind) and the latter a tower mill (where the structure is fixed and the sails can be moved, via the cap on the top, independently to make the best use of the wind).

George Humphrey married a lady called Elizabeth and between 1851 & 1864 they had six children and Elizabeth was expecting their seventh. (Interestingly right around this time our poem writer, Longfellow, had become a major figure in America’s literary circle.) A census check for 1851 reveals GH as a miller & baker employing 3 men. His wife & 55 year old Mum were also living with him at the site. On Tuesday night (15.3.1864) GH and his wife Elizabeth were travelling back from King’s Lynn market on a horse and cart but it appears to have been very late. It was a journey of over 15 miles the way they went. The local newspaper at the time reports that the accident occurred around midnight. Apparently Mr Humphrey had had a bit too much to drink during the day and lost control of the cart at a crossroads in the village of Snettisham. It ran up a grass bank and turned over but as it did so it trapped Mrs Humphrey underneath. Mr Humphrey was either knocked out by the impact or just fell asleep perhaps due to having consumed too much alcohol. It resulted in him not being able to help his wife at all. When he did wake up and sound the alarm it was too late – she was dead along with the unborn child. (Looking at modern map it is not immediately obvious why he took this route. King’s Lynn to Great Bircham is almost like a straight line in a roughly NE direction – imagine it as the hypotenuse of a right-angled triangle but going via Snettisham is like going along the other two sides and is therefore noticeably further. Perhaps some of precursors of the modern roads were not there in the 1860s; perhaps there was another reason for going through Snettisham. One for Sherlock perhaps?)

The effect on the family was immediate & even more heartbreaking: the mill was sold just two months later and by November of the same year Humphrey was declared bankrupt!

The mill closed in 1937 but the bakery continued until 1961. The story from then on is one of those restoration “labours of love”. In 1975 the derelict mill was bought by Roger Wragg and his wife. After many years of painstaking work and attention to detail the mill was fully restored to a working condition. In 2000 Roger handed the running of the mill over to his daughter and her husband and the business today continues to improve and expand: kids can play in their own area (slides, swings, ladybird trail etc), you can hire a bike, rent accommodation for a break (short or week long) and the mill hosts a number of special events such as craft demos, sheep shearing, wool spinning and many others during the season.

Near where they do the cheese making was this info sheet of “Cheesey Jokes”. You might not be rolling in the aisles exactly but I liked them.

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Then it was into the gift shop followed by the café. A quick snack of some of the gorgeous food in there and it was time for home. Really enjoyed the day. If you’re ever in the area go and check it out. Great site to visit!

 

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Drink driving dangerous even in Victorian times.

    Reply

    • Posted by Rambler5319 on August 25, 2013 at 12:16

      Yep sure was.
      I was curious though that they never mentioned whether the horse survived as it probably ended up on it’s side in the harness.

      Reply

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