In May of 2018, I visit the Holgate Windmill Open Day and I was taken back about how this derelict windmill has been restored to its former glory, a jewel overlooking the historic city of York.
Of course, York is best known for York Minster, its largely intact city walls and Clifford’s Tower. However, this month we are going to turn our attention to another monument of York’s historic focus. Holgate Windmill is an award winning, fully restored, 18th century working windmill. Do not be mislead, this is not some creaky old windmill that a group of volunteers have resurrected. This windmill deceives you into believing it was only built yesterday because of the immense love, enthusiasm and hard-work that has obviously been put into restoring it. At the same time, the historic feel of the windmill has been carefully preserved. When I visited this windmill I was somewhat taken back by the structure itself and also how willing the volunteers were to enlighten you with information about the windmill, its history and also about the area it is situated. On every floor there was a friendly and zealous volunteer to guide you. Admittedly, before entering the windmill, I knew very little about how they worked. When I exit the structure, I could have been mistaken for a fully trained miller!
Visiting Holgate Windmill
Holgate Windmill Open Day
Holgate Windmill is not open every day as open days are scheduled throughout the year. It is literally inexpensive to enter at just a few pounds (please check their website for current admissions). You also have the opportunity to become a member and members benefit from free admission. For their next open day, please visit their website at www.holgatewindmill.org.
In this article however, I am not going to give you a virtual e-visit of the windmill, but rather give you some information about it and strongly encourage you to pay a visit. I say strongly because I was so impressed by my visit and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
How Windmill’s Work
Holgate Windmill Open Day
Looking from outside the windmill you will see five sails that contain shutters. Obviously, the sails capture the power of the wind to operate the machinery within the structure. What is not so obvious is that these sails have a protection even when they are not being used. If there are sudden gusts of wind, the shutters fly open protecting the sail. As the shutters have a weight, they gently spring back to their original position. You will notice the rods or spiders that adjust the shutters within the sails.
Gears inside the mill convey power from the rotary motion of the sails and you will notice the windshaft as well as a brake wheel fitted to the windshaft.
When there is no wind available to turn the sails, steam and electric motors were introduced, and Holgate Windmill has a 2011 replacement of the 1930’s electric motor.
The mechanism powered by the sails turn huge millstones and some of these can be observed at the foot of the windmill against the wall outside. These stones weighing a ton each crush the grains to produce flour. The millstones are around 4ft 6” in diameter made of either French burr stone or Derbyshire peak stone. Between the two stones, one is fixed whereas the other rotates. The meal moves to the edge of the stones and falls through into the meal floor below.
The grain is kept in bins ready for milling and originally would have been stirred regularly due to moisture. The current bins are not being used for storing grain.
Holgate Windmill’s History
Holgate Windmill Open Day
Behind every door in York there’s a story to tell and Holgate Windmill is no different. It began back in 1768 when a Selby-born man George Maud purchased land just outside the city. Two-years later, Holgate Windmill was built albeit 9ft shorter than what we see today. George Maud not only owned the mill but he was also its miller, occupying the mill house with his family.
The area around the windmill was very much different to what we observe today as it was largely open countryside. In fact, Holgate at this time was a simple hamlet consisting of The Fox Inn and other properties at the foot of the hill. Acomb Road and Poppleton Road that met here provided links to the mill from local farms producing the crops. To the right of the windmill you will notice a snicket to York Road which follows the original horse and cart track.
York was surrounded by windmill’s and two other windmills existed in the same area. These two windmill’s were gone by the time George Maud built his windmill we appreciate today.
By 1851, the windmill was sold to John Muscham who was a local man. However, the mill was run by a tenant John Thackray who was from Boston Spa. However, just four years later, the mill was sold again to Joseph Peart who already owned several mills in the area. In fact, he also developed property in St Paul’s Square.
Joseph Peart did the unimaginable for the era he lived. He was able to raise the windmill by 9ft as well as refurbish the mill. In addition, he may have also installed the steam engine that once existed there. Steam engines were installed to turn the huge millstones (weighing a ton each) when there was little wind available.
After Joseph Peart died, information is lacking as regards ownership of the mill. However, it is understood though not confirmed that the Gutch family owned it by this time. Moreover, Joseph Chapman continued to be the miller after Peart’s departure. Out of interest, it was his children to be the only children born at the mill since its construction. We might consider being a miller to be a safe occupation, however, Joseph Chapman’s son who followed his father’s footsteps after retirement, died young from breathing in flour dust. Since his death in 1901, Herbet Warters took his place until 1922 when the sails turned to Thomas Mollet. Until the 1930’s the mill ground corn through harnessing the power of the winds until electric motors became a source of power for production.
By 1933, production stopped and the mill was sold to the York Corporation by 1939. The mill gradually became neglected and even more so when the housing estates appeared beneath the mill throughout the area.
Holgate Windmill Preservation Society
Holgate Windmill Open Day
The Holgate Windmill Preservation Society was formed in 2001, breathing life into this fantastic windmill once again. The group of volunteers have not just created a museum for people to visit, but they have made it into a fully functional windmill once again. This of course, is what it deserves. This once derelict windmill is now the oldest surviving windmill in York as well as the oldest five-sailed windmill in the entire country.
What I was extremely impressed about was the high standards I discovered at the windmill. If you pardon the pun, there was no stone left unturned. It was almost like walking into a brand new windmill but without taking away its original features thus preserving its heritage.
Holgate Windmill is a Grade II listed structure and the reason why the society was formed was because of the then visible deterioration. The society raised the necessary £500,000 to bring this windmill back to life, literally turning the cogs to form a success story. The society has over 500 members and if you would like to become a member, please visit their website for details at www.holgatewindmill.org/about-us/membership.
tips for your visit…
- Please read the safety advice on entry. This is displayed next to the admission desk.
- The windmill, because of its nature, is not suitable for anyone with mobility issues. Having said that, you can still become a member and appreciate the restored windmill externally.
- Friday’s are milling days so you may get to see the windmill in action externally. However, check the website for open days to explore the internal windmill.
- Speak to the volunteers about the windmill to get the most out of your visit. Additionally, read the information literature on each floor. You will also find files featuring press cuttings etc. about the windmill and the area it resides.
- Do take care using the steps as they are quite steep. (See photo opposite).
- To walk to the windmill from the city, you can walk down a snicket footpath between the rear of York station and the National Railway Museum (with the station car park to the left of you), then over the footbridge and walking to the end of the street. Simply turn right, then turn right at the crossroads. Carefully cross over Poppleton Road and walk up the hill at Windmill Rise.
- Alternatively, you can use the Poppleton Park and Ride (59) service and alight at the foot of Windmill Rise.
- If you are in a car, parking on the street is limited so it is best to use the car park at Morrison’s supermarket in Acomb.
Enjoy your visit!
Written by Phill James
For further information about York, please see our dedicated website.