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Thelnetham Windmill celebrates its 200th birthday

PUBLISHED: 13:19 03 September 2019

Thelnetham Mill

Thelnetham Mill

Archant

Thelnetham Windmill celebrates its 200th birthday this summer, turning another page in its proud history | Words: Nicki Dixon

The sails at Thelnetham Windmill first gently turned in 1819, the year the future Queen Victoria was born.

Standing proudly on the edge of Thelnetham Fen, it was hugely successful as a working mill. But then came years of neglect.

Today, it owes its existence to a dedicated band of volunteers and, more recently, the security of being in the care of Suffolk Building Preservation Trust, which also owns Pakenham Watermill and Little Hall in Lavenham. Chairman Piers Hart is full of praise for the people who rescued the mill.

"A working windmill is not the sort of project most would take on, and with no would-be millers in the wings, the owners approached the Suffolk Building Preservation Trust. The trust agreed to take on responsibility for the mill, on condition that sufficient volunteers could be found to man it and, in 2012, some 60 people gathered at a recruiting event in Thelnetham Village Hall, of whom half signed up to help."

Now, about a dozen regular volunteers maintain and run the mill, thus ensuring its continued preservation, and in 2013 the mill was formally handed over to Suffolk Building Preservation Trust.

Thelnetham MillThelnetham Mill

Built in the summer of 1819 by William Button, by Christmas Day of the same year the cloth sails turned for the first time. Its profitable trade ended in 1916, the result of government flour restrictions and its sad demise set in.

By the mid-1920s it was derelict, staying that way until 1979 when it was bought by a group of enthusiasts who set about restoring it. By the late 1980s it was fully restored to its former glory. The fact that its sails are still turning today is testament to the hard work and dedication of volunteers who continue to donate their time and effort.

One of them is Chris Mills, who has been dedicated to Thelnetham Windmill since that recruitment event in 2012.

"The windmill is an iconic structure in the countryside and indicates a previous way of living, important to a way of life without engines and electricity to provide a basic food. The way in which a mill operates is based on simple engineering principles, perfected over hundreds of years, and you have to marvel at the way they were both constructed and improved."

While the team is passionate about the mill, they don't shy away from the fact that more able bodies will be needed to secure the future of the historic building.

Thelnetham MillThelnetham Mill

"Having a few more volunteers who are prepared to act as guides or serve teas on open days would be helpful," says Chris. "Someone who makes a good volunteer is enthusiastic with a love of heritage and the mill, with good DIY skills, a good team worker."

Thelnetham is a tower mill built of red brick. The walls are 2ft (0.6m) thick at ground floor level and tarred to keep out rain water. Inside, the walls are plastered and limewashed.

At its base the mill is 20ft (6.1m) wide and at the top measures 12ft (3.7m) wide. The mill cap, built on an oak frame, adds another 11ft (3.3m) to the mill's overall height.

Thelnetham windmill's sails have a span of 64ft (19.5m) and each one is 9ft 6 ins (2.9m) wide. Each sail has two rows of 24 pivoting shutters which can be opened and closed to suit the strength of the wind and the power required. The eight-blade fantail rotates the cap so that the sails always face the wind.

Two French stone mill wheels on the first floor do the main milling job, and are able to produce 200kg of flour an hour. Flour produced on the stone floor passes down to the ground floor, or spout floor, where it is bagged for sale.

Reborading the capReborading the cap

Sacks from the ground floor are hoisted through successive pairs of trapdoors on each floor that have leather hinges to make sure the doors snap shut after each sack has passed through them.

Visitors to Thelnetham can buy flour ground at the mill and enjoy a taste of the past right here in

the present.

See the mill for yourself

Open days at Thelnetham Mill scheduled for 2019 include Sunday September 15 and Sunday October 13, from 11am to 4pm.

Admission is £4 for adults, £2 for children over five and free for under-fives.

Private group visits are also available by arrangement.

For full details go to thelnethamwindmill.org.uk

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