The discovery of a slightly shabby model of a windmill lurking in the Museum inspired some investigation and research. The model had no description with it or any indication of which mill it might be. However the fact it was in the Museum suggested that it was probably a Rutland mill. It is also unusual, in that it represents a post mill, but with a much taller base than would normally be found.
Very few post mills survive, the only one locally being at Kibworth Harcourt in Leicestershire. The oldest working one is at Outwood in Surrey, dating back to 1655. With a post mill the whole mill sits on a large post, hence the name, and is turned in to the direction of the wind. Subsequently the framework the mill sat upon was often protected by a roundhouse, which could also be used for storage.
Postmills were occasionally taken down from their post and moved to a different location. Seaton postmill was moved down the hill to be alongside the watermill. Thus one miller could look after them both and, hopefully, be able to mill all the time. The body of Seaton postmill survived as a barn until the 1980s when unfortunately, due to a breakdown in communication, it was disposed of when it might have been saved for posterity.
Post mills declined in popularity with the building of Tower mills. These look like what people usually think of as a
windmill, particularly those of us old enough to remember Windy Miller in Camberwick Green. In a tower mill only the cap and sails are rotated in to the wind. In Rutland you can find surviving tower mills at South Luffenham, Ketton, Morcott and Whissendine. Only the latter contains machinery, the first two being derelict and Morcott rebuilt as a private house in the 1970s.
The majority of windmills in the UK stopped working in the last quarter of the 19th Century, a combination of imported American wheat and flour, new steam powered roller mills and poor local wheat harvests caused a decline, culminating in a devastating storm in March 1895 in which many mills were wrecked. Those that struggled on were effectively finished off in 1916 when the wartime government introduced stringent rules on milling wheat which the traditional mills could not meet.
Nigel Moon – the miller at Whissendine Windmill – wrote a comprehensive book about the windmills, past and present, of Leicestershire and Rutland in the 1980s.
This indicated that there were in fact a number of mills located in and around Oakham. One was for sale in 1824 being positioned off the Ashwell Road, close to the Oakham Canal and described as being “a post mill five storeys in height”, unusually tall for a postmill. This mill seems to have been built in the early 1800s before tower mills became popular, with the canal potentially offering easier transportation of grain and flour.
The mill was owned by the Royce family, relatives of Henry, later Sir Henry, Royce. It was offered for sale again in 1866, being described as having ‘two floors in the roundhouse, four patent sails and a fantail, driving three sets of stones’. There are millers listed at the mill up until 1900, the last miller being Thomas Woods, which suggests it was in use to that point, but dismantled soon afterwards. It’s known that the millstones were broken up in 1925.
This sounded like a promising candidate as the subject of our model, and the discovery of a photograph seems to confirm this, but who built the model and when is still a mystery.