New sail is fitted to working corn windmill

A working corn windmill described by a millwright as the only one of its type in the UK has had a new sail fitted as part of a maintenance project.

Wicken Village Windmill, in Cambridgeshire, was a "complete ruin" when a group of volunteers took it on 31 years ago.

They gradually restored it to working order and now grind grain to make flour which they sell to help fund ongoing maintenance work.

A new sail is fitted to the windmill (Joe Giddens/PA)
A new sail is fitted to the windmill (Joe Giddens/PA)

Millwright Dave Pearce described the 12-sided smock, or wooden tower, windmill as the "only surviving, workable one of its type in the UK".

The retired engineer, aged 69, was among those who formed the Wicken Windmill Partnership and began to restore the mill.

"We took on the mill in 1987 when it was a complete ruin and gradually repaired it," he said.

The mill was built in 1813 and the business closed in 1933, though it was still worked occasionally by engine until 1942.

Shutters are painted before being fitted to the new sail (Joe Giddens/PA)
Shutters are painted before being fitted to the new sail (Joe Giddens/PA)

Explaining why he wanted to help restore the mill, Mr Pearce said: "I think initially it was seeing the last surviving working mills in the landscape.

"I thought they're going to disappear, they don't have a commercial reason for existing any more, what a pity.

"It was a slippery slope from that point.

"It's a good job my wife is interested in mills too."

Clamps are adjusted after the new sail is fixed into place (Joe Giddens/PA)
Clamps are adjusted after the new sail is fixed into place (Joe Giddens/PA)

The mill operates for around eight days per month, making seven tonnes of flour per year, or around 5,000 bags, Mr Pearce said.

He added that all proceeds are ploughed back into maintenance, including the latest work to replace a 22-year-old sail that had "come to the end of its life".

The replacement sail was built on site and lifted into place using a system of winches and pulleys.

Wicken Village windmill
Miller Dave Pearce looks out from the windmill (Joe Giddens/PA)

Mr Pearce said he hoped it will be around 20 years before another sail needs to be replaced.

The list of jobs has been a long one, and he expects to have to "replace the odd gear cog" in coming years.

Before the mill could start making flour, he said he also had to screw shut the original cat flap from 1813 to comply with modern food hygiene regulations.

Dan Carrick (left) and millwright Bill Griffiths inspect the clamps and supporting beams (Joe Giddens/PA)
Dan Carrick (left) and millwright Bill Griffiths inspect the clamps and supporting beams (Joe Giddens/PA)

"It wouldn't have occurred to the original miller that this was a problem," he said.

The mill, in the heart of the village near the pub and village green, will open to the public this weekend for National Mills Weekend.

It also opens to the public on the first full weekend of each month.

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