David Nicholls – Personal Memories of Wilton Windmill’s Restoration

posted in: General News 0

My connection with Wilton Windmill goes back to 1974 when I was the manager in charge of the major restoration of Woodbridge tide mill in Suffolk during 1972-73. I became acquainted with Derek Ogden from Warwickshire who was millwright for the mechanics of this wonderful mill.

Derek was aware of my developing interest in the machinery but advised me that it was unlikely that he would complete his part of the repairs because he was planning to emigrate to the USA.

He told me he was also working on Wimbledon Common post mill and Wilton Windmill in his workshops at Great Alne in Warwickshire.

Derek and I had lengthy discussions during 1974 when he suggested that I might care to take over the work schedule he had in the UK – this despite my total lack of experience – and knowledge about millwrighting practice. In 1974 Derek convened a meeting with Wiltshire County Council who had engaged him as the Millwright to carry out the restoration work.

We met at the Windmill to discuss Derek Ogden’s proposal that I should take over the Millwright restoration work because he was going to the USA. We met the County architect Mr Bowden, Head of planning Mr McCormick, and the County solicitor Mr Gwyn Ab Ifor as well as representatives of the Windmill Mr David Lemon and Mr John Gilbert. This was a very difficult predicament for the County Council and Trustees, but Derek was determined to leave for the USA as soon as possible and it was agreed that this was the only satisfactory way forward.

The Mill brick structure was very weather beaten and Rendalls from Devizes were engaged to reinstate it by re-pointing and replacing the damaged brickwork. Derek Ogden had commenced work on Wilton Windmill in 1972 when he had dismantled the remains of the cap, curb, fantail stage and sails. The mill had been derelict since 1920. The components had been removed to his workshop at Great Alne where he constructed the new cap and refitted the original iron ribs as well as the fantail. The cast-iron break wheel and the wallower were in good condition and I arranged everything to be transported from Warwickshire back to Wilton. Work at Wilton commenced with my team of four millwrights rebuilding the cap frame, the cap and the fantail and its stage during the hot summer of 1975.

It is worth pointing out that my home was a delightful cottage opposite Harwich across the river Stour in deep countryside and our business was based on the edge of the East Coast at Hollesley near Woodbridge – hardly ideal for the location of Wilton Windmill. As well as a 3 ½ hour journey across country I was also away from my family for weeks on end. Despite the interesting challenge of the work I can honestly say that this was not the happiest time of my life especially when we were still shaking down to a compact team within my business. Working on Wilton Windmill in pleasant summer conditions was fine but when it came to working late into the evening, in the dark, in a blizzard, in freezing conditions, with limited facilities forging components I wondered what I had taken on. It transpired that Derek’s brief to me was somewhat lacking and he had left very little manoeuvrability on the costs which meant that my Company lost money on this restoration work.

One of the requirements of our project was to obtain a good pair of French Burr millstones, because the mill had been left with only one pair of granite stones not suitable for everyday milling. Via a circuitous route I was directed to a local Watermill near Chilton Foliat where there was a pair of French stones and later I was recommended to contact the Potter brothers at Ecchinswell Watermill who also had a spare pair of first-class French stones. I had no previous