Major makeover planned for Norfolk's working windmill

Bread festival at (pictured) Bircham Windmill. PHOTO: IAN BURTCOPY:Annabelle DicksonFOR:EDP Ne

Bircham Windmill, which lies between Hunstanton, Fakenham and King's Lynn - Credit: Ian Burt

One of Norfolk’s last remaining working windmills is hoping to complete a “blood, sweat and tears project” of repairs. 

Bircham Windmill, which lies between Hunstanton, Fakenham and King’s Lynn, last had its cap restored and replaced in 1979.

The windmill’s owners, Elly and Stevie Chalmers, have now applied for permission to West Norfolk Borough Council to remove the cap and sails and carry out any necessary repairs and repainting.

In a letter to the authority, the couple wrote: “It [the cap] has been well cared for and repaired regularly, however the time has come for it to be replaced again.

“This involves removing the sails, stocks and cap, putting on a temporary tarpaulin cover over the tower while the work is undertaken, fully repairing the sails, stock and cap and replacing all to once again restore Bircham Windmill to how it looks today.

“We hope you will support this project, it is at huge expense to ourselves physically and financially.

“It really is a blood, sweat and tears project to repair this mill to ensure it continues to be the amazing landmark enjoyed by locals, visitors and all who pass by now and in the future.”

Steve and Elly Chalmers have put in a planning application to extend the workshops at Bircham Windmi

Bircham Windmill owners Elly and Stevie Chalmers. - Credit: Ian Burt

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Built in 1846, the windmill is run with income generated from entrance charges to visit and climb to the top as well as from a tearooms, bakery and campsite.

In a separate statement, the owners wrote that “holes in the cap are letting in water which is having a detrimental effect on the internal woodwork and machinery in the mill”.

They said the cap has not been considered to be in good enough repair to turn the sails for many years.

“If this proposal is not supported and the work isn’t undertaken the deterioration will simply continue over time and gradually the mill will have to be dismantled bit by bit for safety reasons,” they conclude. 

A decision on whether to grant permission - which is needed because the windmill is a grade II listed building - is expected by March 10. 

The history of Bircham Windmill 

The earliest record of a windmill at Great Bircham dates back to 1761.

That mill would likely have been a post mill, the earliest type of European windmill, where the whole body of the mill, housing the machinery, is mounted on a single vertical post.

That mill was demolished in 1846 and replaced with the building which stands today. 

The structure was part of the Houghton Estate of the Marquess of Cholmondeley, and in 1939 was sold to the Queen, becoming part of the Sandringham Estate.

Bircham Windmill Exlpore West Norfolk Photo: Tim Baldwin

Bircham Windmill Exlpore West Norfolk Photo: Tim Baldwin - Credit: Archant

It worked until the 1920s when the sails were removed and the tower abandoned.

The mill was purchased from the Queen by Roger Wagg in May 1976, and restoration began in 1977.

 A new cap was fitted in 1979, with sails added in 1981, allowing the mill to be brought back to full working order.