Quainton Windmill

The planned itinerary around the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Beauty (AONB) included four windmills and a water mill; Brill Windmill, Pitstone Windmill, Lacey Green Windmill, Quainton Windmill and Ford End Watermill – all in the county of Buckinghamshire, England. Due to limited time and also being unable to locate those windmills in Brill and Lacey Green, I could visit only Quainton and Pitstone mills. Ford End watermill was found closed.

Upper Street with the road leading down to Waddesdon Manor
Upper Street with the road leading down to Waddesdon Manor

In this post, the featured windmill is Quainton Windmill, the tallest building in Buckinghamshire at 65 feet.

Entrance view from private yard approach
Entrance view from private yard approach

Quainton Windmill made my day as I was able to take a self-guided tour within the mill itself. I visited Quainton en route Waddesdon Manor, situated at the top of the village green. Access to the windmill is through the private yard of a property.

The 6-storey tower mill was built in 1832, which ceased working by wind in 1890, milled under steam until c.1914. Mill is now in working order.

First Floor
This floor is now used as the workshop for the restoration, and for occasional exhibitions along with the ground floor. On the wall is an original flail used to beat ears of wheat to separate the grain from the chaff: this would normally be done in a barn. Also displayed is an original yoke that was placed across a person’s shoulders to carry heavy weights from each end. A pair of old shears is also on show.

Second Floor
This floor is for storing sacks of flour ready for dispatch or collection. Sacks would be lowered out of the doorway onto a wagon below using a block and tackle slung from beams under the reefing stage. The graded flour is collected in sacks hung below the machine, and bran is discharged into a sack at the bottom end.

The ends of the reefing stage beams can be seen just below the floor above. The original scales and weights used for weighing sacks of flour are situated on this floor.

Part of the sail in rest
Part of the sail at rest

Third Floor
The butterfly handle is for the tentering gear, which sets the gap between the millstones when milling. The lay shaft meshing with the great spur wheel operates a belt drive to work the wire machine on the floor below.

Door leading to the balcony
Door leading to the balcony
View of the Quainton village from third floor balcony
View of the Quainton village from second floor balcony

Note the teeth of pear wood on the great spur wheel. This is to avoid metal-to-metal contact: to achieve quiet running of the gear wheels, to reduce any risk of sparks that would be a significant fire risk in the mill, and to prevent wear or breakage of the gear wheels that would be very expensive to replace. When a wooden tooth is worn out it is a simple matter to shape and fit a new one. Fruit wood, if available, is normally used for the wooden teeth, but beech wood is also satisfactory.

Window on one of the floors
Window on one of the floors

Shutters are fitted down each side of each sail and are adjusted by the chain: to catch the wind to turn the sails, or to spill the wind and thus to slow or stop them. Once the shutters have been adjusted a heavy weight is hung on the chain. If the wind increases significantly, the pressure on the shutters overcomes the weight on the chain and the shutters will open to limit the speed of the sails; when the wind eases, the weight on the chain will bring the shutters back to their previous setting. In the former case this is a safety feature that gives the miller time to re-adjust the setting of the shutters to suit the higher wind speed.

Also on the stage is the brake rope that operates a steel band around the brakewheel on the sixth floor to prevent the sails turning when they are not in use.

Fourth Floor (Stone Floor)
There were originally three pairs of stones on this floor. A pair of stones comprises a stationary bed stone with a rotating runner stone over it. One pair was sold in 1914.

Grinding stones awaiting restoration
Grinding stones awaiting restoration

The iron hoops around the second pair have rusted away and the stones are in pieces on the ground floor awaiting restoration.

The third pair of French Burr stones is intact and has been fitted with stone furniture. This comprises a circular stone case or tun, and a horse, which is the frame sitting on the case and supporting the hopper and shoe that feed grain from the bins on the floor above into the eye of the runner stone. The shoe is adjusted up or down by the crook string at its front to feed grain into the stones at the desired rate. The rotating damsel keeps the shoe vibrating to ensure that grain continues to run and does not pile up. (It is called a “damsel” because it is always chattering!). The shoe is tensioned against the damsel by the miller’s willow, a wooden spring. To avoid the damsel damaging the side of the shoe, a rubbing block is fitted. The ideal speed of the top runner stone is 120 revolutions per minute (rpm). The weight of the stone is 15cwt (762kg); its diameter is 4ft (1.2m).

A bell alarm is available to warn the miller that the hopper needs to be topped up with grain. When the grain level in the hopper falls, a strap is released allowing an arm to contact with the damsel and sound the bell.

Flour from the top floor is collected here
Flour from the top floor is collected here

Fifth Floor
Storage bins are located on the North side of this floor for grain to be fed down shutes or spouts to the pair of stones immediately below. Under the window is a trapdoor at the same height as the top of the bins. Sacks of grain are hoisted through this trapdoor and the grain is emptied into the bins. The trap door is at high level to make handling the sacks easier.

The cap above, and the machinery contained within it, including the head frame, are held in place by gravity. The whole revolves on 16 cast iron tapered rollers running on an iron track mounted on top of the brickwork at the top of the mill. The recesses in the brickwork on this floor are for the holding down bolts that ensure that the track and supporting wooden curb are held in position.

Trap doors prevent grain sack from falling back
Trap doors prevent grain sack from falling back

The clutch drum is driven by the sails and rotates whenever the sails are turning. When the sack hoist control rope is pulled, a beam on the floor above is raised, tensioning a belt between the clutch drum and a spindle to which the sack hoist chain is attached. The belt then turns the chain spindle, and the chain raises sacks of grain from the ground floor. When the control is released, the beam drops, the belt runs free, and the chain spindle no longer being driven is free to run the other way. The chain falls back under its own weight through the trapdoors to the ground floor to raise more sacks.

Sixth Floor
For safety reasons the sixth floor above is not accessible when the sails are turning. Since the windmill was not working, I could go up to the sixth floor. I met gentle, soft-spoken Simon at the top floor doing some serious maintenance and painting work. The rotating sails turn the large vertical wheel, the brakewheel, that engages with the smaller horizontal gear wheel, the wallower, on top of the upright shaft. The upright shaft goes down the centre of the mill to turn the great spur wheel on the spout floor.

This in turn drives the millstones on the stone floor above it. (Note the use of wooden teeth in the brakewheel).

Other machinery on the sixth floor is the luffing gear that turns the mill cap and sails using the fantail assembly to keep the sails facing into wind, and the sack hoist mechanism that uses the rotating sails to raise sacks of grain from ground level to the bin floor.

Simon, whom I met at the Sixth floor
Simon, whom I met at the topmost floor

(Detailed description of Quainton Windmill source: http://myweb.tiscali.co.uk/lewes/index.htm)

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