Another Look at Barwick Windmill Back to the Main Historical Society page
Back to the Barwicker Contents page

Another Look at Barwick Windmill

from The Barwicker No.56

Photograph of the windmill in about 1885

Photographs of the windmill at the end of the 19th century

The first look at the mill in 'The Barwicker' No.1 of March 1986.

Editor's Note
We thank Rev. Laurence Turner of Kippax (formerly of Morley) for his article on 'Windmills', following his talk to the Historical Society in December 1998. He has made a lifetime study of the windmills of the West Riding - a fascinating topic - and we all benefit from his expertise.

To speak of windmills in these days usually invites a rather quizzical glance. One picture of windmills might be to do with children's toys, the whirling sails of brightly coloured plastic set on sticks in a bucket. Serried ranks of alien two- or three-bladed steel towers on high moorland may be another. The days have long since passed when windmills were chiefly seen as necessary to assist in the production of that most basic foodstuff, flour for bread.

Out in the countryside forlorn towers sometimes remain to mark a long-lost scene of activity. They are often converted into homes for those who are prepared to live with circular walls which lean inwards at an unhelpful angle. Just occasionally we can see a windmill which has been preserved or even brought back to use. Then it becomes a spectacular feature in the landscape again, serving also as a reminder of hundreds that once turned their sails in gentle breezes or stronger gusts throughout the British Isles and far beyond as well. In the years of the nineteenth century at least two hundred have been at work in the area of Yorkshire's West Riding alone.

In its day Barwick Mill was one of the finest. It stood near Carrfield House along the Leeds Road west of the village. We should have to pass a terrace of three houses on the left, now demolished, and then more houses, now made into one property, before reaching the tower at the end of the mill yard. Its remnants were pulled down in 1951, but stones still lie buried there as part of the circular foundations.

The brick tower was about fifty feet in height, of six storeys, with an elaborate cornice at the top of the brickwork. Above this a most elegant ogee-shaped wood-framed cap covered the tower. Its form is typical of Yorkshire mills, in contrast with the more curving onion-shaped outline as on some Lincolnshire examples. So that the four sails could automatically face the wind at all times a fan had been installed, itself rotated by the wind.

Windmills were not uncommon in the vicinity, and some towers fortunately still remain. Seacroft to the west is incorporated into a hotel, and the towers of Carlton and Kippax in a more southerly direction still survive. Bramham to the north hides a water tower in its structure and Aberford next to the Great North Road is being converted into a house.

The landscape of low rolling hills in this area only allows a few water mills, chiefly along the Cock Beck through Aberford. The windmills were built because more milling capacity was needed in places where there was no convenient source of water power.

We must now put Barwick mill into the setting of its working years. It is not known when it was built. It was shown first on Joshua Thorp's map of Leeds and surrounding districts, surveyed in 1819-21 and published in 1822. However, not only was Thomas Stoner listed as the corn-miller in Baines's Directory of 1822, but he was described as a miller and also, more specifically, as a creditor of Thomas Varley of Barwick, when his name was listed among others in the London Gazette of 1815.

The date of the building, assuming it was in the region of 1810-1815, was the time of the height of windmill building activity in the country. Tower mills were constructed in the British Isles in the later medieval period but they gradually became more common, and evolved during the eighteenth century as rather heavyweight cumbersome machines. Experiments, not least by the great engineer, John Smeaton of Austhorpe and Whitkirk, were conducted to find ways of improving their output of energy. A number of patents were recorded and developed to automate the procedure of increasing or decreasing the amount of cloth on the sails by creating a variety of designs using shutters. Mechanisms to turn the sails into the wind were improved too.

The towers themselves in the early part of the nineteenth century became more graceful in outline, and it looks as though by this time there was the beginning of an awareness of design to make a beautiful machine, attractive to the eye and good for obtaining further commissions to build.

Steam power was first used for milling in London with the Albion Mills in Southwark of 1784. In the West Riding, steam at a windmilling site was first to be found at Selby from 1806. In the rural areas of the Riding steam power seems first to be in use at Kippax in 1827, where the tower was built but probably never used with windpower. By the middle of the century the use of steam power in addition to wind had become commonplace, and Barwick falls into this category. In 1851, when the first edition of the six-inch Ordnance Survey map was published, the property was described as both "Wind Mill" and "Steam Mill".

The last quarter of the nineteenth century saw the introduction of roller milling largely replacing the use of traditional horizontal millstones. Imports of wheat from Austria, Hungary and the United States encouraged the creation of huge dockside mills, notably at Hull and Liverpool. These changes conspired to render the small country mill increasingly obsolescent. With reduced agricultural prosperity the situation became hopeless for the small-time miller. With the slower, more laborious methods of production of flour, as well as the great burden of the maintenance of a structure so susceptible to damage by the weather - including the wind upon which the miller was dependant - the windmill was inevitably doomed.

It is not surprising to see decline in Barwick too. In the directory of 1901 the miller George Burland was noted as using steam power only. Presumably wind power was no longer in use by this time. When the mill was up for sale two years afterwards, the catalogue included the following details:

A FREEHOLD ESTATE, situate on the north side of the highway from Leeds to Barwick-in-Elmet, from which it is approached by a short accommodation road bounded on the north and east by property of Mr Bryer, and on the south by the property of Miss Porter, and comprising a Corn Grinding Mill six stories (sic) in height (formerly a windmill), with engine- house adjoining, together with the cottage occupied by the miller, a two-stall stable and loose box with granary over, pig cotes, and minor outbuildings. The machinery comprises a 14 h.p. vertical engine, a boiler 14ft. by 3ft. 6 in., shafting, hoist, four pairs of stones (two French and two grey), corn crusher, etc. The mill does a good trade, and the sale offers an excellent opportunity to anyone desiring to continue the business carried on by the late Mrs Burland.

The sails had gone by 1912 and only gas and oil were later used for a few more years. A serious fire in the mill in 1931 or 1932 helped to hasten the complete end of the mill's working life.

Though perhaps just over twenty windmills in the West Riding were still turning their sails at the end of the twentieth century, more than half of these had succumbed by the outbreak of the First World War. The last of the Riding's mills at work by wind, at Sykehouse near Doncaster, though only milling provender for cattle feed, eventually stopped for good in 1935. Since then, with the growth of the preservation movement, the situation has changed rather dramatically, but sadly this was all too late for Barwick Mill.

Nowadays, for the grand sight of a windmill in full working order in Yorkshire, we have to go to the East Riding, to find one at Skidby between Hull and Beverley. Another relic of the past is an oil engine from Sykehouse, saved and restored for the milling museum at Worsbrough Mill near Barnsley. And as for the rest . . . .? There are just a few physical remnants now almost faded away, precious photographs which should never be destroyed. . . . and , it must certainly be added, a very fine subject for study!

Further information on this mill is to be found in 'The Barwicker' No.1 of March 1986. I am glad to acknowledge Mr H E Simmond's collection of mill material in the Science Museum, South Kensington, London.


Back to the top
Back to the Main Historical Society page
Back to the Barwicker Contents page