Wheatley Windmill

  • Post Mill was for sale in 1846
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Wheatley Windmill - its history and today

Windmill There has been a mill here since 1671 when it was described as being 'in a ruinous condition.' By 1702 it must have been repaired because a miller called William Jackson was paying a parish rate of 2 shillings for it. In 1760 that mill, or its successor, was ‘damaged by wind and fire.’ The present mill is probably the one advertised in Jackson's Oxford Journal of 1764 as ‘a newly built windmill to be let or sold; enquiries to Webb, millwright at Cuddesdon or Davis, schoolmaster at Wheatley’.

The windshaft of the present mill has been salvaged and recycled from a post mill, which stood about 500 yards nearer Wheatley on the site of the present day Post Mill House. The post mill and the tower mill appear on Bryant's map published in 1824 but the post mill, which had been for sale and perhaps had changed hands in 1846, burnt down in 1875.

The cast iron canister box of our mill was made in 1784 at the Eagle Foundry, Oxford, forerunner of the present day Lucy's Iron Works, which was until very recently in Walton Well Road but has now moved to Thame. In 1806 John Sheldon bought the mill from John Parish for £525 but he sold it the next year, when the advertisement described its capacity as eight loads of wheat. For 50 years the mill passed rapidly from one owner to another. Then in 1857 George Cripps of Aston Rowant bought the mill and the adjoining cottage. The two buildings have been in his family ever since then, with the exception of a few years when one member defaulted on a mortgage. The current owner is Len Cripps, who has left the mill in trust for his grandchildren.

The mill was last used regularly during Len's parents' lifetime, in 1914. At that time it had two sails left out of the original four and could grind grain; there was also an ochre mill, which was used to grind the raw ochre extracted from the pits on Shotover. The power for the ochre mill came from the windmill central shaft, transmitted by a belt. The grinding mechanism stood just outside the mill, so that the ochre dust would not contaminate the flour. The ochre was yellow and was famous well beyond the Oxfordshire region but in Oxfordshire it was the traditional colour for farm waggons.

Between the two world wars the mill was reasonably complete but not in good repair. Len Cripps still has a copy of a report on its condition, written in 1932 by Rex Wailes of The Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings. Wailes was the man who set up the wind and watermill section within the society. His report began by saying ‘The mill has been allowed to get into a very bad state of repair and it would be unwise to attempt any restoration of the fan or sails owing to the rotten state of the cap generally’, and concluded with a number of recommendations. It indicated that in 1932, while all the specialised machinery was in working order if not in prime condition, the structure of the mill imperilled the machinery because it was not waterproof. No work was done on the mill though as it was extremely unlikely that Len Cripps' father Ezra had £100 to spend on the mill. In any case, he had given up milling, in favour of a job at the brickworks in Littleworth. So for a few more years the mill stood, shabby and leaking but not in a desperate state.

Matters took a disastrous turn in October 1939 when lightning struck the mill fan. The force of the electrical charge split the tower from parapet to foundations. The noise of this startled Len's parents so much that they both fell out of their bed in the cottage. Unfortunately the windmill was not insured, so Len's parents had no means of repairing it. Nevertheless they both knew it was worth keeping, even if it was a ruin. On her deathbed Len’s mother made him promise not to part with the mill. Funds and by then technical knowledge for repair still eluded him. The structure became gradually more ramshackle with every passing winter. By 1963 nearly all the cap had collapsed and blown away. Ruins of the brake wheel protruded above parapet level at the top of the tower, while the one remaining sail spar hung forlornly down towards the ground. The building was generally regarded as too dangerous to enter. The split in the tower masonry had caused joists to move off the wall plates, so that much of the machinery was hanging over a void.

In 1977 the Windmill Restoration Society was formed. The building was examined, a great many of the old. mechanical parts were discovered and work was begun on the task of restoring the stonework. Link to YouTube showing Wheatley Windmill Restoration, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yaazkHz9u54&t=213s.

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