GONE WITH THE WIND

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CHAPTER XIII.


LACEY GREEN SMOCK MILL


“Loosley Row, situated on the Chiltern Hills, in the southern part of this parish, is on the side of a lofty eminence, on the summit of which is a windmill, whence is an extensive and beautiful panoramic view, including/ Windsor castle and the Surrey Hills on the south . . . .”

The History and Antiquities of the County of Buckingham, George Lipscomb (1847)

 

Fig. 13.1: Lacey Green (Loosley Row) smock mill.


Smock mills were most prevalent in the south-east, particularly in Kent, where ‘Union Mill’ at Cranbrook has the distinction of being the tallest in the U.K.  Although there were other examples of smock mills in Herts and Bucks, only three are recorded in this area; those at Hawridge and Wingrave are long gone, but an example survives at Lacey Green near Princes Risborough, which has the distinction of being the oldest of its type in the country. [21]

Originally referred to as Loosley Row windmill, the adjacent hamlet of that name was later absorbed into the expanding village of Lacey Green.   The mill is an exceptionally early example of its type, being contemporary with the post mills at Pitstone and Brill:


“This is an octagonal mill with a brick basement and a timber body . . . . Even before the actual date of Looseley Row Mill (or Lacey Green Mill as it is now called) was authenticated, the mill was recognised from its primitive equipment to be of an exceptionally early date, and there can be no doubt that the massive compass arm brake wheel and other gear are part of the original machinery with which she was equipped in 1650.  The very existence of smock mills at so early a date was not previously established, but the deeds leave no room for doubt in the matter; and they provide us incidentally with the knowledge that the mill was removed from Chesham, by order of the Duke of Buckingham in the year 1821 . . . . The numbered timbers on the tower indicate that it was dismantled for removal and reassembled. ”

Unpublished manuscript by Stanley Freece (1939), the Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies.


Fig. 31.2: millwright’s graffiti?


A somewhat odd feature that immediately strikes visitors, is that entry to the mill is through a basement — in fig. 13.1, the doorway is on the right of the mill beneath the white sign.  The mills brickwork foundation stands about 2½ feet above the ground, but the floor within is sunk, the basement being entered down a small flight of steps.  Another interesting feature is the carvings in the windmill woodwork, presumably made by millwrights who at some time in the distant past worked on the mill.  Curiously, that depicted in fig. 13.2 is an open trestle post mill rather than a smock mill.



Fig. 13.3: Lacey Green mill looking up into the cap.  On the left is the brake wheel, at the top the windshaft, and above to the right, the wallower.  The machinery at Lacey Green is wooden, unlike the later mill at Quainton, iron being restricted to a reinforcing role.  The mill predated the invention of the fantail, [22] cap originally being turned to wind by hand using an endless chain.  The existing fantail is a later addition.


The mechanism has indications of being rather greater antiquity than is usual in a smock mill.  Both the brake wheel and the great spur wheel are of a type that must have been becoming obsolete in the seventeenth century.  The brake wheel is large, 9 feet 8 inches in diameter, and this, the great spur wheel and the wallower are entirely of wood, the spokes of oak, the rims of elm, the cogs and teeth of beech.  Both wind shaft and the main shaft are of wood, the former being 20 inches in diameter at the brake wheel and the latter — an octagonal shaft — being 14 inches across the flats.”

English Windmills, Vol. 2, by Donald Smith (1932).

 

Fig. 13.4: top left is a stone nut driven by the great spur wheel (right).  The chute
in the foreground delivers grain to the hopper beneath, from where it is trickled
 into the eye of the millstones for grinding.  See figs 3.8 & 3.9.

Fig. 13.5: another view of the mills overdriven (from above) stones.
 Top left is the great spur wheel engaging with a wooden stone nut. 
The metal shaft drives the runner stone.

 


Fig. 13.6:  looking up into the cap at two of the centring wheels.  Fairly closely spaced roller wheels carry the cap upon the iron curb, whilst two large eight-spoked centring wheels are attached to the tail-part of the cap-frame; two others are at the ends of the sprattle beam and two in between on projecting spars.

 

Fig. 13.7: the basement of the mill (the meal floor) showing
the millers desk and the meal bin.

Fig. 13.8: the upright (or main) shaft above which is the great spur wheel.
The upright shaft revolves in a thrust bearing
fixed to the sprattle beam (the large beam immediately above).

 

Fig. 13.9: in glory days — two patent and two simple sails.

Fig. 13.10: Lacey Green mill, pre-1932.

In 1895, the mill was badly damaged in a thunderstorm and, at a time when windmilling was in decline, it’s no small wonder that it survived such a setback:


“THUNDERSTORM. — The storm of the 30th ult. was very severe here, and did considerable damage to the windmill belonging to Mr. Geo. Cheshire.  The lightning struck the mill, taking off several boards from the upper part and tearing up the leaden plates which cover the angle joints of the boarding all down one side.  One of the sails was destroyed; the chief timber, 10 inches by 10, was split from end to end, about eight feet of it being splintered to atoms, and scattered far and wide all round the mill, some of the pieces being picked up over a quarter of a mile away.  The supporting beam, seven inches square, was also split throughout its entire length.  The copsing iron around the end of the sail ⅝ inch by 1¼, was cut in half and hurled over a hundred yards away.  The woodwork was blackened, and had it not been for the heavy rain the mill would no doubt have been set on fire. The accident is all the more unfortunate seeing that on March 24th all four sails were blown down and destroyed by a gale, and Mr. Cheshire had just had a new set made; in fact, two only were in position, having been put up a few days before the storm.”

The Bucks Herald, 8th August 1895.

The Cheshire family were the last millers, the windmill last being used for milling in 1914-15.  Following WWI., it was for a time used as a week-end cottage, but by 1932 it was in a parlous state and in danger of collapse:


“The weather-boarding has been covered with a patent roofing material.  The timbers in the tower are so eaten with woodworm and attacked by rot that the mill is in imminent danger of collapse.  The cap was originally turned by hand by use of an endless chain, but a fantail was added later.  This came down with the weight of snow on Boxing day ‘some winters ago.’ It had two common sails and two patent sails and a fantail.  The two common sails have fallen off, as has the fantail also.  The mill is now leaning badly.”

English Windmills, Vol. 2, by Donald Smith (1932).


The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings organised the repair and strengthening of the structure, which took place in 1934-5.  This work included fitting extra corner posts  bolted to the old timbers and set in concrete foundation blocks, refurbishment of the cap, and painting the exterior of the mill.  But without a constant programme of upkeep, a wooden structure of this age inevitably decays, and by the 1960 the mill was again in a very sorry condition:

Fig. 13.11: an artists impression of the mill in 1967.


“Now used as a store for straw bales its condition is rapidly deteriorating.  The tower has an increasingly pronounced lean, which suggests that it may be unable to withstand too strong a wind from any unfavourable quarter.  Any rodents attracted by the straw could be an additional hazard to its structural integrity.”

Bucks Life, March 1967.


A survey carried out by Christopher Wallis during 1967-68, established that restoring the mill was feasible.  In 1971, the mill was leased by the Chiltern Society for a period of 25 years, and a team of volunteers began restoration, which continued over the following 12 years.  On 23rd April 1983, the mill was opened at a ceremony conducted by the Actor Bernard Miles.  Since then, the mill has been placed in sail occasionally and flour has been ground.


Fig. 13.12: Lacey Green windmill today, simple sails on all sweeps.

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CHAPTER XIV.
 


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