Bircham Mill to turn once again
Annabelle Dickson Not even the lazy Norfolk wind could turn its sails as it sat in the doldrums waiting for a rotten wooden beam to be replaced.But one of the county's last working windmills will be able to harness its power once more as millwrights put the finishing touches to its towering structure.
Not even the lazy Norfolk wind could turn its sails as it sat in the doldrums waiting for a rotten wooden beam to be replaced.
But one of the county's last working windmills will be able to harness its power once more as millwrights put the finishing touches to its towering structure.
With a crane to help them, on Wednesday craftsmen replaced a great oak beam at Bircham Mill in west Norfolk - the missing piece it needs to function.
Millwright Tom Davies said: “We have been renewing the weather beam - the main oak beam across the front of the mill which supports the weight of the sails. Without it being replaced the mill wouldn't be able to turn.”
Elly Chalmers has run the mill with her husband Stevie, for 10 years. The pair took it over from her father, Roger Wagg, who bought it in the 1970s.
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Mrs Chalmers said she remembered her father getting the sails turning again when she was a teenager. “I love the sounds of the cogs turning”, she said.
And a generation on, it will be the first time her daughter Rachel, two, will see the sails move. Her brother Alec, six, said he was really excited as he could not remember them turning.
Mrs Chalmers said: “For three years we haven't turned the sails because the beam became too rotten. It all rots eventually because it is all made of wood.
“We've wanted it done for a long time, but mill wrights are sparse.
“It has reduced our visitor numbers: people ring up and ask if the sails will be turning and we have to tell them we can't turn them.”
Although her father had planned to grind flour and make bread, Mrs Chalmers said they had decided not to and the fresh bread made a Bircham Mill was baked from flour bought from Docking.
“It's not that easy to grind the flour and keep the mill like a museum”, said Mrs Chalmers. But while flour is not ground, visitors can climb inside the mill and see it working.
Mr Davies, from Lincolnshire, learned his trade from his father. “In his early days he would have done this with a block and tackle. They would have had to manually drag the beam up with rope and blocks.
“It would have taken several days longer to do and a lot more hard work.”
Mr Davies said it was important to maintain and keep mills running as they were part of the country's industrial heritage.
“At one time it was the windmills and watermills that fed the county. When you go back into the early 1800s most villages would have had one.
“Being a millwright is a dying trade. It is an old fashioned trade. You cannot go to college to learn it.”
Visitors should be able to see the sails turn again, wind permitting, from Wednesday when the mill reopens. It is open every day from March 31 until the end of September from 10am to 5pm.
For more information go to www.birchamwindmill.co.uk