Marsh Mill windmill is the finest, most complete and well preserved example of its kind in north west England. It’s located at Thornton, not far from the seaside town of Cleveleys.
Heritage on your Doorstep – you can see inside Grade II* Listed Marsh Mill windmill on open days and weekends.
See the machinery of yesteryear, which once ground corn into flour to make it digestible. Try grinding some yourself on the hand quern and see how flour is produced. On special days you might also see the sails turning.
The Friends of Marsh Mill open the mill at weekends throughout the summer season. Take a guided tour and climb to the top to see the impressive original machinery. It’s a definite “WOW” factor.
For anyone not wishing to make the ascent there’s lots of information on the ground floor.
About Marsh Mill Windmill
One of the largest mills in Europe, Marsh Mill is 22.8m (70ft) tall. It’s also one of the tallest on the Fylde.
Until 1922 Marsh Mill was a working windmill. It’s a ‘gristmill’ – one which grinds grain to flour. It produced wheat flour for bread, crushed barley for animal feed, rye flour and oatmeal.
Until the advent of the steam engine, wind and watermills provided the only source of power for many different processes. They were used to make flour, paper and cloth. Mills provided the energy for hammering metal and extracting oils. You can explore other mills elsewhere that produced, or still produce these products. Some are restored to working order, some derelict, some still work commercially.
Carry on reading this page to find out much more about the mill and how it works.
Explore Marsh Mill
You’ll find Marsh Mill windmill at Fleetwood Road North, Thornton Cleveleys, FY5 4JZ.
Around it is Marsh Mill Village. It’s a pretty courtyard complex including shops and cafes, a pub and a fine dining restaurant. Throughout the year there are events running in the square, and there’s plenty of nearby free parking.
The Friends of Marsh Mill
The Friends of Marsh Mill are a dedicated team of volunteers who oversee the well-being of the Mill and open it at weekends. They’re always looking for volunteers to help out. The Friends formed in January 2013 to give an independent voice to discussions about its conservation and preservation. They also hold events to raise the mill’s profile.
The importance of the mill to the community during its operational years cannot be underestimated. It helped to feed our families during and after the Industrial Revolution, for which we should be very grateful.
The Mill is open at weekends from Easter to November. Guided tours are available on Saturdays and Sundays until the mill closes for the winter. You’ll catch the sails turning on certain special days including National Mills weekend. On your visit you can be assured of a warm welcome.
- The North West Mills Group is a non-profit making society which promotes interest in wind and water mills. Marsh Mill is open for National Mills Weekend in May.
- Marsh Mill windmill opens in September as part of the Heritage Open Days programme. That’s the weekend when entry is free with tours to the top.
- Marsh Mill celebrates its birthday with a weekend of Family Fun in October.
Find out when Marsh Mill windmill is open, and what else is happening in the area, in the Events Calendar here
Other Local Windmills
There are two other well preserved mills here on the Fylde Coast that you can look around. There’s Little Marton Windmill, which isn’t far from the M55 motorway in Blackpool. Also Lytham Windmill, that’s the one which stands tall and proud on Lytham Green next to the coast.
History of Marsh Mill
Marsh Mill windmill was built in 1794 by Ralph Slater. He was a Fylde Millwright and also built Pilling and Clifton Mills. It was commissioned by Bold Hesketh, uncle of Peter Hesketh (later Peter Hesketh-Fleetwood) who would go on to play a prominent role in the expansion of Fleetwood.
Tragedy struck in May 1930, when a Miss Alice Baldwin and a Mrs Mary Jane Bailey visited the windmill with an interest in purchasing it. However, when both women stepped onto the fantail platform, the platform collapsed and the women fell to their deaths.
In 1957 it was sold to Thornton Cleveleys, later Wyre Council.
Marsh Mill Windmill becomes an attraction
Following local Government reorganisation in 1974, the then new Wyre Borough Council considered the full restoration of the mill into its present condition. Being a very flat area the mill stood head and shoulders above all other buildings in the vicinity, as indeed it does today, so has proved to be a popular visitor attraction.
To this end a craft village was built around the mill, with little shops and a village style pub and a few homes. So once again new sails, Reefing stage and Fan-tail assembly were purchased assembled and lifted into place, the internal machinery, was checked over and renovated in a number of places.
At 11.30 on 11 January 1990 the sails turned for the first time in 67 years – albeit via an electric motor installed within the structure. However the situation could not be maintained and once again the Mill gradually fell into disrepair.
On the ‘At Risk’ Register
The deteriorating Mill was placed on the English Heritage ‘At Risk’ register. Fortunately, following considerable local public pressure, from individuals, businesses and groups, Wyre Council made funds available and in 2013, an external restoration programme was put into action.
This culminated in another set of new sails being purchased and fitted with the Cubitt’s shuttering system and completely new Fan-tail assembly, renovations of the internal machinery to replace rotted beams and other parts, this also included the checking and re-wiring of the electric motor which powers the sails, plus the checking of safety barriers throughout.
It also included the external renovation work such as replacement of the rotting Reefing Stage, a general tidying up of the exterior and painting of the whole structure white with a black cap. The sails are now a bright red and show up for miles across the countryside proving to be a welcome advertisement and addition to the local history of the Fylde. The full restoration programme was completed in 2016.
222 Years Old – and Not Out!
This account of the history of Marsh Mill Windmill is with many thanks to reader and regular contributor Barrie C Woods. He has a fascination for all things mechanical.
Norfolk and Lincolnshire are counties well known for their vast flat terrain and numerous Windmills, but not so the Fylde. But the Fylde is a similar expanse of land on the other side of the country to those flat Eastern counties. Roughly from the M6 westwards and bounded by Preston in the south and Lancaster in the north. It’s much smaller than its eastern counterparts, but otherwise a relatively similar flat and windswept landscape.
What’s in a name
The very low-lying area of dense black peat marsh was suitably drained (again much like the fens) starting in the late 18th Century, by the Lord of the Manor; Bold Fleetwood Hesketh. It was after his fifth son, Peter, that the local town of Fleetwood is named.
Incidentally nearby Blackpool also owes its name to a nearby marsh – black – pool! Apart from the latter named town, the Fylde area maintained it’s rural aspect throughout its long history. With the marsh drained, numerous arable farms produced various cereals. Livestock also grazed much of the area, all benefitting from the highly fertile soil.
The advent of the windmill
Realising that the prevailing winds were fairly constant off the Irish Sea, local entrepreneurs soon realised that a machine called a Windmill would be ideal here. Not only would it save a tremendous amount of hard manual labour, but would increase production of flour and of course in turn make them a profit!
In fact it became known as ‘Windmill Land’. Over a period of years, some 50 mills were erected across the region and today around a dozen still exist, albeit in various conditions. Some are merely wrecks, others reasonably complete but derelict. Some are converted into homes and some have been cosmetically restored. But only one has actually retained its original machinery – Marsh Mill at Thornton Cleveleys.
Marsh Mill Windmill – the only complete example
A stone lintel across the entrance door to the building proclaims 1794 as the build date.
Curious engravings on the Stone door jamb to the Reefing Stage. What did they mean?
Construction is of local brick with a wooden ‘inverted boat-style’ rotating cap. It is a large mill, over 70ft high with five floors, attached to which is the Drying Kiln. This structure had been razed to the ground years ago but fortunately the original footprint of its foundations still remained so a replica kiln is now in place and open to the public to inspect.
How to increase the power of a windmill
Marsh Mill is one of the largest in the country. It has four sails, these were originally ‘Common’ sails fitted with sail-cloth sheeting. It was manually draped across the sails when required to increase power, then partially or fully folded if the wind became too strong. Access to do this was via the Reefing stage, a footway part way up the structure encircling it. A later method was to roll the sheets across the sails. This showed some improvements to the control system, but both methods requiring the sails to be temporarily stopped whilst adjustments were being made.
An 1807 patent in use today
This method of control eventually changed into the ‘Cubitt’ Patent system invented by Sir William Cubitt in 1807. The sails were fitted with hinged shutters, automatically controlled through the hollow Windshaft. This is the main shaft on which the sails are mounted and rotate. Cubitt’s patent sails were added to Marsh Mill in 1896 and can still be seen today.
To ensure the sails gained the most out of any wind direction the cap was manually rotated, until the invention of the Fan-tail. This automatically adjusted them into the correct direction. The sails are adjusted manually by chain from the reefing stage, which opened and closed the shutters through the hollow Windshaft via a complex system of rodding from a Striking Rod. This in turn allowed adjustment while the Mill continued working.
Grinding meal until 1922
Marsh Mill operated until 1922, its last years purely for animal feed. By then a more efficient method of grinding finer flour, which the public were beginning to demand, had been achieved. There is an irony in that today there is an increasing demand for stone-ground wholemeal flour, just like the flour made at Marsh Mill.
The Mill operated on the usual system. After drying in the peat-fired kiln, the corn grain was fed into the mill itself and lifted up to the grain floor via the Sack Hoist. It was then discharged into chutes to be ground on one of the four sets of Millstones.
The 5ft diameter stones, larger than the later accepted size of 4ft, were either French Burr from the Paris Basin. It was renowned by Millers for its really hard almost quartz-like properties. Or Millstone Grit was used, found in Lancashire, Yorkshire and Cheshire.
The latter would usually consist of just one single piece of stone shaped circular and banded with metal hoops, the French Burr more often came in pieces. They were cut and shaped, cemented together and again held with metal hoops. The local stone dresser would then cut grooves in the stones radiating at an angle from the centre to the edge. The Bed-stone (the fixed bottom stone) had its grooves cut in a similar fashion to the upper rotating Runner-stone.
How millstones worked
Grindstone by the entrance to the Mill. See the intricate cutting necessary bring the Gritstone into a circular shape, which is then bound with metal loops. This example is a Bedstone which is fixed. Above it would be the rotating Runner stone.
The grain was fed into the centre of the stone via a vibrating gadget called a Shoe. The grooves in the stones created a scissor-type action which forced the grain to be gradually cut and driven out towards the stone edges. There a leather sweeper attached to the perimeter of the runner stones and the wooden tuns collected the meal to fall into more chutes. Passing through a sifting system which separates the meal, the flour was finally being guided into sacks for dispatch.
The job of the Stone Dresser
Ideally the stones would rotate around 125rpm. With constant use they needed re-dressing about every four weeks.
The Stone Dressers were often contractors or itinerants going from Mill to Mill. If requiring the Dresser’s services the Miller would send a message by setting the sails so one was just in advance of the vertical (No mobile phones in those days!).
How the gears worked
The sails turned with the Fan-tail (the red blades in the photo above) directing them via the rotating cap. A 10 feet diameter Brake Wheel (below) mounted on the Windshaft and fitted with 80 square cast iron teeth (originally wood) converted the wind motion.
The Wallower is next, a smaller horizontally aligned gear wheel with 64 teeth, which passed the motion vertically through a 2ft diameter central wooden post to the Great Spur wheel. This engaged with the Stone Nuts, which are gear-wheels from which rotating shafts descend to each Grind Stone set.
View of the horizontal Wallower which is driven off the Great Spur wheel from the rotating Sails. It transfers power to the vertical shafts which in turn drive the Grindstones. In this view it is the Sack hoist drive that is prominent. Note also the later metal teeth on the Wallower and wooden teeth on the smaller gear wheel.
The hollow steel Windshaft leads out to the sails, within it the striking rod mechanism for altering the shutters, teeth of the Wallower in the left foreground.
These Stone Nuts or Quants vary in size to operate at different speeds, again to vary the end product. See from the photos that the sails are set at a 10% angle to the vertical. This is to ensure they clear the lower part of the structure and it also transfers some of the weight of the sails across the building to improve weight distribution.
Controlling the speed of the sails
A huge wooden brake shoe partially encircles the Brake Wheel to control the speed of the sails. A crude clutch-type operation, not dissimilar to a traction engine, would engage or disengage the Stone Nuts according to how many stone sets were required to operate at any one time. The Sack Hoist was also operated from this same power source.
The Sack hoist (above) is driven off the main shaft through a system of cogs and bevel gears, sacks are hauled up through trap-doors in each floor by chain.
Graded grains make finer flour
The grade of flour was varied by the gap between the stones, it was finely adjusted to avoid the stones touching each other.
Each stone was equipped with a Tentering device with which the skilled Miller could minutely raise or lower each runner stone. The gap between them would be between a 1/16th and 1/4 of an inch, depending on the grade of meal required.
The speed and height of the gap between the stones could also be controlled by an automatic Tentering device via a governor. Again it’s a similar design to that often seen on steam engines. Different grades of flour meal could be directed through a variety of sieves depending on the requirements at the time. Both manual and automatic versions can be seen at Marsh Mill.
From the shaft beneath one set of stones another pulley drives the Boulter which is an inclined sieve whereby the flour meal drops through a fine mesh and the bran is deposited into yet another chute for re-use or cattle feed.
Lost Years at Marsh Mill
After 1922 the Mill lay idle for 6 years, it then re-opened as a tea-room. This meant removing some of the internal supports which in turn caused sagging of the upper floors and eventually jammed the machinery.
In the 1930s a couple of ladies viewed the mill as prospective buyers. On carrying out an initial inspection they had the misfortune to step out on to a platform at the rear of the Mill near the Fan-tail. By then it had rotted and could not sustain their weight and so they unfortunately plunged to the ground. Both ladies died from the incident.
Later in its life the Mill became a furniture upholsterers, and even later the home of a Denture manufacture!
Thornton Cleveleys Urban District Council
Decay was setting in through lack of use when in 1957 Thornton Cleveleys Urban District Council saved the day. It purchased the complex for £1,200. A further £750 was immediately spent renovating the structure with the intent to open it to the public.
A slight setback occurred in 1962 when two of the sails were blown off in December gales. Some months later a third sail crashed to the ground, the final one then being removed for safety reasons. In 1965 following public demand the Council undertook restoration work. They added new sails, repairs to the Reefing stage and a new skeletal Fan-tail assembly.
Retaining the internal workings
The fortunate part of the Mill’s history is that despite everything over the years, all the internal machinery was retained.
Shortly after, in 1972, a local man, Walter Heapy, founded the ‘Thornton Windmill Preservation Society’. Sadly he died before the work was completed, so he never saw his dream come to fruition.
The Drying Kiln building had been in use as a domestic home. It was declared unfit in 1977 and duly demolished. In a more enlightened period the Kiln house was then rebuilt as mentioned above on its original foundations.
Disaster struck again in 1983 when one of the replacement sails blew off and the rest were removed for safety. By now the ground floor of the mill was being used for various arts and craft fairs. The Drying Kiln is used as a gallery.
Anything to Add?
Barrie C Woods was shown around Marsh Mill with the very knowledgeable volunteer Sharon Butler. He’s most grateful to her for his guided tour.
Have you got anything to add about Marsh Mill Windmill? Please email jane@theRabbitPatch.co.uk
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