Not essential travel I know, but this week London Shoes decided to take a short 10min bus ride from its Romford base to the neighbouring town of Upminster, for the purpose of witnessing a unique event, that you certainly don’t see happen everyday on a street of a London borough.
The town of Upminster is the last stop on the eastern end of the District Line tube (the ‘green’ one on a standard tube map) – and just off of Upminster’s busy St. Mary’s Lane, which connects the town of Hornchurch to Upminster – there stands a very visible local historic landmark:-
the ‘Upminster Windmill’!!
The Upminster Windmill is situated in Mill Field just off of St. Mary’s Lane-Upminster – and is said to be one of the finest remaining examples of a ‘Smock Mill’ in Britain.
A ‘smock’ mill gets its name because it’s shaped like the over-garments that farmers used to wear many moons ago.
A ‘smock’ mill is unique in its design because its 6 or 8 sided tower is built with a sloping horizontal boards – and it has a ‘cap’ on top that holds the mechanism which rotates it ‘sails’ into the wind.
The Upminster Windmill was originally built in 1803 – and consisted of 4 sails and 3 pairs of millstones.
Its dimensions and structural/design characteristics have not changed in 200+years – with its:- 27ft wide and 9ft high brick base – a 52ft high tower – a boat shaped ‘cap’ – a 6 bladed fantail & 4 sails.
In 1811 a steam engine was added to power the millstones, plus a 4th millstone, thus enabling a far greater output – and this increased production capacity made the actual the Upminster Windmill and its surrounding land, extremely valuable.
By 1849 a 5th millstone was added to the mill, and by 1856 it had 6 millstones working in its production.
St the height of its production periods, the Upminster Windmill site used to have 16 buildings surrounding it including 2 residential cottages.
However, in 1889 the Upminster Windmill took a nasty hit when it was struck by lightning, which slowed production down for a while.
In 1900 one of the windmill’s sails snapped and came crashing down, causing considerable damage to the windmill tower.
Throughout WW1 the activities of the mill changed – and it turned its hand to produce animal feeds.
In 1927 some extensive renovation work was undertaken on the windmill, and at that time its ‘fantail’ mechanism was completely overhauled.
But times change, and 1934 saw the Upminster Windmill finally end its commercial work – the machinery was all sold off – the surrounding buildings destroyed and the windmill tower was left to simply rot away.
Throughout the following years, there were various attempts by the Essex County Council and housing developers, to purchase the site – knock everything down, build new houses on the land.
However – with the commencement of WW2, the land surrounding the mill was turned over to make allotment plots, in an effort to provide essential veggies etc during wartime – and it continued to be used for this purpose during the food rationing period immediately following the end of the war.
The site was left abandoned and desolate – and in 1955 steps were taken to sell the site off to developers.
However – various local & national preservation groups opposed the demolition of the windmill.
Their protests were heard and considered by the authorities at the windmill was given Grade II Listed protection status.
By the early 1960’s the mill became the ownership of the Greater London Council (GLC) – and by 1967 ownership had passed on to the London Borough of Havering.
Throughout the 1970’s – 80’s & 90’s the Upminster Windmill was opened to the public – and was cared and looked after by volunteers – who carried out any essential maintenance works that may have been required – which kept the site ticking-over.
In 2000 a feasibility study was commissioned, to take a look at and consider all the renovation works required to keep the mill as a viable historic local landmark.
In 2003 the ‘Upminster Windmill Preservation Trust’ was formed, and were granted a 35 year lease, for the sole purpose of renovating and restoring the Upminster Windmill to all its former glory – so that it can continue be retained as an historic landmark for the public to visit.
One of the first things uncovered in the initial restoration works were beautiful Victorian ceramic tiles covering the walls of the old toilets and the small kitchen.
In 2007 high winds caused some extensive damage to the sails, and by 2008 two new sails had been fitted.
By 2010 following some changes to the construction of the Trusts looking after the windmill – there was a heightened interest in getting the windmill up to scratch and putting back on the historic places maps.
In 2014 the Upminster Windmill received considerable financial grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund plus other Trusts – to fund some thorough renovation work to restore the Upminster Windmill into a top-draw visitor and Educational Centre.
In 2015 the Upminster Windmill Preservation Trust commissioned a renowned firm of Dutch millwrights to manage all the necessary renovation and restoration works.
Since then, the Dutch millwrights have undertaken a massive amount of restoration work, which has included:- removal of the windmill’s ‘cap’ – removal of the weather boarding – covering the mill tower up in polythene to protect it from the elements – repairing all the beam structures inside the tower and repairing all the floor boarding inside the tower.
The renovation work on the windmill’s sails and motor mechanisms were all undertaken at ground level – with some of the tasks being completed by volunteers.
Locally, the long running activities involving the renovation of the Upminster Windmill, has received regular coverage.
On Monday 30th Nov this week, the restoration work moved on to another significant level – with the fitting of the windmill’s ‘cap’, ‘fantail’ and 4 ‘sails’ – and so I thought I’d take the opportunity to pop along to witness this unique activity (well – unique for a London Borough, anyway)
So – there I was, along with several locals – in the middle of Mill Field-Upminster, on a bitterly cold and wet Monday morning – watching what was actually an amazing bit of logistical construction work, where large cranes lifted the renovated ‘cap’ – ‘fantail’ & 4 sails from ground level – and lowered each one of them down carefully into place at the top of the Tower, where engineers at the top of the Tower, did their stuff to make sure all of the components were fitted correctly and securely – while a ‘drone’ filmed the occasion for posterity, and for coverage for a ‘live’ webcam.
This operation was the last ‘big shift’ in the windmill’s renovation activities – and it’s been a long hard slog and a real labour of love, to get all the renovation work completed – but it is expected that the historic, fully restored and functioning Upminster Windmill and its accompanying Education Centre, will re-open to the public in Spring 2021 – when I shall pop down there again to take some update-photos in what should be much better weather.
As I said at the beginning of this piece – it’s fair to say that a Windmill is not the sort of thing you expect to see in London – long may it remain in place for future generations to enjoy.
Hope you enjoy the dark and gloomy accompanying photos.
See below the entire gallery of photos taken to accompany this blog