Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Saxtead Green, Suffolk

A short break

Heading out of Framlingham the other evening, it occurred to me that I'd left the café too soon after my coffee and long glass of cooling water. So when I spotted, on the A1120, a lay-by with what looked like a public lavatory, I pulled swiftly in. The lay-by was on the ‘wrong’ side of the road, but there was no other traffic and I slid across with ease.

My camera bag was on the floor of the car so, rather than put it in the boot, I slung it on my shoulder and made for the small brick building, gratefully. On emerging, I caught sight of a distant flash of white through some trees and undergrowth. A few yards of bushwhacking brought me to a fence and a view of this wonderful structure, Saxtead Green post mill, gleaming in the sunshine. The mill is said to date back to 1796, although there has been a mill here since the 13th century. It was used commercially until 1947, and is now kept by English Heritage, its white weatherboarded walls, solid roundhouse, and mostly iron machinery maintained in good order.

Having photographed the mill, I made my way back through the undergrowth to the lay-by, to be confronted by a curious bystander who'd also pulled up nearby. ‘Whatever will he think I've been doing,’ I thought, ‘lurking amongst the undergrowth near the gents?’ He eyed me for a tense moment….and said, ‘Beautiful mill, isn't it? And that's the best view of it there is.’ Some people know.


Hels said...

What a shame that your mill was used commercially until 1947, and is now kept by English Heritage only so that people can admire the important historical architecture. I believe there is a growing movement (at least in the UK) towards restoring old mills and making them productive again. How welcome would that be! How many are left standing?

Bill Nicholls said...

There is something about a windmill that makes you stop and look at it

Philip Wilkinson said...

Hels: There are at least 30, probably nearer 40, traditional mills (water and wind-powered) producing flour in the UK. There's a group, the Traditional Cornmillers' Guild, that represents them, and they have a website that can lead you to many examples.

Stephen Barker said...

Hels, I think you will find that towards the end of their working lives a lot of windmills were used more for animal feed rather than flour for human consumption. They could not compete with the large mills built by the docks where the majority of the wheat consumed in Britain was imported. Before World War 1 Britain was importing two-thirds of the food it consumed, particularly high quality wheat from abroad. Another factor was that modern mills used metal and ceramic rollers that gave a finer flour free from particles of grit from millstones. It is surprising that so many mills in working order still exist to which must be added the mills that are not working but still survive in varying degrees of completeness.

I somehow doubt that modern wind turbines will generate the same nostalgia.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Yes. What Stephen says is true. A lot of the windmills and water mills that produce flour on a small scale today have actually been brought back into working order, having in the past been put out of work by the large modern mills. It's the new interest in industrial history, artisan food production, etc, that has brought these old mills back to working life.