I love the book and must thank you for all that painstaking research you must have done!
Were you a guide at Keston for this last Open House weekend? I was there on the Sunday so we probably spoke. Not sure if I was wearing a hat or not but my friend Frank is about 6’4” and would have been wearing a trilby.
The decision to go on to Shirley after that was based on my not really wanting to go back into town. I had originally crossed it off my list due to it being open on other days in the year but it turned out a very good choice to view the tower mill after the post mill. And now I am to become a guide there next year! There is another newbie joining the fold who was also at Keston this year and I think his name is Peter.
If you have not yet joined the Friends of Shirley Windmill it would be great to have you on board. It is only £5 to join for life. Frank Paine is always looking for articles for the newsletter “The Fantail”, which I think he is only producing once a year now due to not enough material coming forward. I am going to write a few pieces for him including an article about the sayings or phrases that may (or may not be) related to milling. They also have a library of books that the friends can borrow. The books were once owned by John Jackson, who was the chairman and was very knowledgeable about windmills indeed but unfortunately died in 2011.
If you want to join you can call the Hon. Secretary Tony Skrzypczyk on 020 8406 4676, and here is a link to the web site:http://www.shirleywindmill.org.uk/
And if you are a Facebook user it would be great if you could like the FB page, which I am trying to help build up before next season.https://www.facebook.com/FriendsOfShirleyWindmill
I was very happy to discover what you have uncovered about the mill that was at Sydenham. I have already given up being astounded by the lack of any sort of chronological order related to the technological advances in the world of milling:Dover Castle is recorded as having a parallel-sided tower mill in 1295! Although it does seem that this was much before its time.
William Alwen built the post mill at Shirley in 1808 and not much is known about it at all but I’d like to think that it would at least have had a fantail of some kind.
Two years prior to that the Hessel Mill near Hull for grinding limestone for whitewash was built with five roller sails, air brakes and a fantail on an inclined frame so it stood above the level of the cap.
It did seem that the new ideas took their time to appear on corn mills.
But in 1812, just four years after the post mill at Shirley was built, the Southdown Mill at Great Yarmouth was built, at a cost of £10,000. It was 14m diameter at the base and 30.5m tall at the curb and with six pairs of stones it could mill 200 quarters (about 4.5 tons) of flour per week! But that same year in the Isle of Ely, the replacement of 230 wind pumps began, which when complete required only 19 steam engines.
When the post mill at Shirley burnt down, William’s grandson Richard Alwen built the present tower mill in 1854, which also happened to be the year that Joseph Rank was born, who in 1885 built Alexandre Mill, a steam mill at Hull that worked two shifts and had a capacity of 1.6 tons of flour per hour!!! In 1904 the Southdown mill at Great Yarmouth was sold for £100 and demolished.
So now we have steam mills being able to manage the harder imported grain from America and India, with such high outputs as to be able to compete on price and quality with the flour that was now being directly imported from the States. And the traditional windmills all closing down as did the mill at Shirley in 1890.
Then in 1892, Richard Hunt, a miller who retired to Much Hadham in Hertfordshire decided to build another windmill at the age of 78. His mill was only slightly smaller than the Southdown Mill and only the 7th mill to have eight sails. All the machinery was new, including 4 pairs of burr stones and the cost was £5000 (about £350,000 today). It would seem to anyone, I’m sure, to be foolhardy to attempt to compete with the large roller mills, but we will never know, because a gale blew off three of the sails in 1895 and it never worked again! This made it not only the last windmill to be built but sadly also the one with the shortest operating life.
I wonder whether William Alwen couldn’t afford a tower mill in 1808 or was wary of spending too much lest the mill failed to bring in enough business, or perhaps he had experience of the old post mills and preferred them. Or maybe, as a yeoman, the plan was mainly to be able to mill his own grain so he didn’t want to splash out on all the latest technology.
And even when Richard built the tower mill much of the machinery is thought to have come from a disused mill at Stratford in East London and parts of the structure also appear to include recycled materials with the discovery, during the 1927 resoration, of an oak beam with the date 1720 inscribed upon it.
Why didn’t Richard want to build a state of the art mill with all new equipment? Too expensive? Or perhaps he had foreseen the demise of milling by wind waiting just around the corner.
Conclusion: It’s all a delightful mess!
And once again, thank you for the wonderful book that includes the mill that was here in Sydenham and the mill I will be taking visitors around. And I hope that you become a friend of Shirley Windmill and perhaps even a guide too. We don't have enough at the moment.