The earliest record of a windmill at Walton is 1342, [detailed in 'Building a Post Windmill in 1342' in Transactions of the Newcomen Society Volume XXXIV(1961-62) pages 151-154 by Ian Keil], but it is not clear whether it occupied the site of the present mill. The earliest certain record for a windmill on the site dates from the mid-seventeenth century. It would therefore have been possible for Monmouth, as legend has it, to have spent a night here after the Battle of Sedgemoor in 1689, though not in the present structure.
The mill or mills on the site prior to c1730 would probably have been of the 'post mill' type, where the whole structure revolves to bring the sails round into the wind, rather than of the stone 'tower mill' type, where only the thatched/wooden roof revolves and of which the present structure is an example.
Records describe the rebuilding of a stone tower mill in 1741, its purchase in 1792 by the Marquis of Bath, and further repairs between 1793 and 1797. The stone inscribed 'IT 1792' now over the sitting room mantelpiece probably refers to the acquisition of the mill by the Marquis.
The windmill continued in use until c1900, when it was abandoned and fell into decay.
In 1926 the Rev G M Evans, rector of Westonzoyland, who converted it into a holiday house, bought it and its present appearance dates from that time.
When Evans bought the mill it was half-derelict. He put in concrete floors, roof and staircase, and raised the height of the tower by a parapet. He inserted windows in the 3' 0" thick walls and built on a sun porch with a balcony above. Evans employed the architect who had carried out the repairs to Westonzoyland church roof, and to this we owe the ecclesiastical quality of the interior woodwork with its chamfered corners and curious fish shaped latches on the doors.
A windmill, like a sailing ship in full rig, is a subject beloved by artists the world over. Even a derelict mill, in spite of its broken down sails and storm-eaten stonework, is never a blot on the countryside.
At the moment there is a renewal of interest in the restoration of old windmills in various parts of the country, including our own county of Somerset. There is a Windmill Section in the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, and they have done much good work in preservation of these picturesque old mills.
The National Trust has recently restored an interesting example at High Ham, which dates from 1823. It was last in active use in 1910 and was left to the Trust two years ago by the late Prof. Bellot, vice-chancellor of London University. It is thought to be the only surviving stone and thatched windmill in the country.
New sails have been fitted and the Trust hopes to make it fully operational as soon as there are sufficient funds. Another restored Somerset mill can be seen at Allerton. Nr. Wedmore.
Nearer home, on Street Hill, we have our own Walton Windmill, which alas, has no sails although it is still a familiar landmark on the Polden Ridge. The Rev. G. M. Evans, then Vicar of Westonzoyland, who purchased it from the Marquis of Bath, converted Walton Windmill into a dwelling house in 1926. The preservation of the splendid late mediaeval roof of Westonzoyland Church, threatened by death watch beetle was, also due to Mr Evans' timely intervention.
Walton Windmill, together with the surrounding acre of land, is now a fenced-in "island" on Ivythorn Hill, the rest of which is National Trust land.
The last miller to grind corn at Walton Windmill was Charles Philips who rented it and ran a baker's shop near Walton Church. He was the grandfather of Jack Cavell and Len Bird, of Clarks Building Department. Before Charles Philips' time a certain Mr Crane was the miller. He lived in the Mill House opposite (now Miss Fisher's firm) and baked his bread there.
The mill remained derelict for many years, the sails gradually falling apart, until the Rev. G. M. Evans made his conversion into a splendid weekend residence nearly fifty years ago.
On one of the small landings in the stone spiral staircase hangs a faded picture of Walton Windmill, complete with sails. The late Miss C. L. Butt, formerly of Elmhurst House, Street, gave this picture to the owner in 1951.
The round table in the dining room is made from some of the original timber, which came from the machinery of the mill.
Walton Windmill has always had its own water supply. A spring situated some fifty yards from the mill provided the miller with water, although nowadays the mill is on the main water supply.
Apart from magnificent views and splendid isolation, Walton Windmill can also boast of historical associations. It is said that Monmouth hid in the mill while on the run after the Battle of Sedgemoor, but this is most likely to be just another of the "Monmouth Legends" which abound in this part of Somerset.
Monmouth landed at Lyme Regis in an attempt to arouse the citizens of the West Country against his uncle. James II. His plan to surprise the King's troops on Sedgemoor all but succeeded on that July night in 1685, but when Monmouth saw that luck was against him he fled from the field.
It is said that he halted briefly at the Greinton Gate farm of Thomas Bryant, an ancestor of the Clarks of Street, and then pushed on a fugitive. According to the legend he sheltered in Walton Windmill for a day; but it could not have been the present structure which was not built until nearly a hundred years later. A stone dated 1792 from the original building now forms part of a fireplace in one of the rooms in the windmill. It is doubtful if an earlier mill stood on this site.
Even if Walton Windmill no longer has sails, there are people alive today who can remember their parents and others taking corn to the mill to be ground into flour. Some walked for miles from surrounding villages, pushing bags of corn on hand-carts.
Windmills have been used in England since the time of Henry II. Edward III watched the Battle of Crecy from the top of a windmill, and during the Second World War the Germans destroyed the windmills of Holland to prevent troops using them as vantage points.
There are two types of windmill, the Smock mill and the Post mill. In the Smock or Bonnet Mill, merely the head of the tower holding the sail shaft revolves; in the case of the Post Mill the entire building moves round the central axis of an oak post.
This movement of either the head or the body of the mill is necessary so that the sails can always be in the right direction to catch the maximum amount of wind. Some mills are fitted with little windmills called fan-tails. These miniature sails turn the bonnet of the mill so that the main sails are facing the wind.
The foundation of the four sails is sixty-foot lengths of pitch-pine, one-foot square. These are crossed at the centre, and each of the four shafts thus formed is fitted with frames to hold the vanes. The whole sail structure weighs several tons. The wooden shutters or vanes open and close like venetian blinds, and are regulated accordingly to the strength of the wind.
The shaft holding the sails is coupled to the vertical shaft by means of cogs and trundles, the pinion, which meshes, with the main cog being known as the "wallower". The vertical shaft rotates the top millstone, which is called the "rind", while the lower stone remains static.
The grain, or "gristing", is thrown into a hopper, which allows it to trickle through an opening in the centre of the top flint-stone. After grinding, the grain now in meal form passes down into a storage bin.
Most of the mechanism of the windmill, including the cogs is made of wood. Wooden brake-blocks work on the rim of the main cog-wheel, and with constant friction these have been known to fire, sometimes burning the mill to the ground.
A pair of millstones weighs anything up to three tons. They have to be frequently "dressed" with a cold chisel to retain their grinding edge.
In "The Sleeper Awakes" H. G. Wells prophesied that windmills would be used in the year 2000 for making electricity. But, although windmills have been used to drive small domestic electric plants and as recent as 1950 the Fuel ministry announced that six hundred windmills were to be built on various high points throughout the country, to be used as winddriven Generators, this seems to be one Wellsian prophesy which did not reckon with the advent of automatic power.
Built as they are on high points in picturesque rural districts converted windmills make ideal "fun houses" or retreats. Living in the confined space or a little round house may have certain drawbacks, but as Shakespeare said: "I had rather live with cheese and garlic in a windmill than live with a railing wife".
|Last updated 03/03/2017||
Text and images © Mark Berry,
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