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Quainton News Archive - Quainton News No. 26 - Winter 1975
Quainton Windmill - Part 1 - Max Davies - Quainton Windmill Society
In about 1828 James Anstiss, farmer, had the idea of building a windmill on his land just above the top of Quainton village green. The Anstiss family had been part of the village for generations and James was already an important man in the district, ranking close after the lord of the manor and the other gentry. This can be seen from his substantial allotment of land in the enclosure award in 1840 some twelve years later. He was evidently an educated and well trusted man, because he was commissioned to draw up the official survey of the village fields before enclosure. It is sad that his maps have disappeared without trace. James Anstiss had become prosperous by being careful with his money and he was not inclined to site his mill anywhere but on land he owned already. Moreover, he decided to design it himself. Even though the site was screened by Quainton Hill from north and east, it was open to the south west, the prevailing direction and he thought a good high tower would look after other points of the compass. A brick tower, James considered, could be built of bricks made on the spot from clay dug within a hundred yards of the site of the mill. That 75 foot tower is the notable landmark we know today and vestiges of the clay pits and the kiln can still be seen.
Coal for the auxiliary engine had to be carted 10 miles from the nearest railhead at Winslow and the cost of this no doubt contributed to the decline of the mill. It is certain that there was no mechanical breakdown. The wood and cast iron machinery is of good, sturdy early 19th century workmanship. It was, as windmills go, well automated. Two of the four sails were "patent" sails, equipped with a system of levers and linkage by which they could be adjusted from inside the mill to accord with the strength of the wind. A "fantail", which is a small set of vanes at right angles to the main sails, automatically rotated the "cap" at the mill top to bring the sails to the wind, and the usual system of governors guarded the mill against "running away" in unexpected gusts.
The mechanical principle of a windmill is simple and has not changed very much for perhaps, 400 years. The sails are mounted in a cast metal socket, called the cannister, at the forward end of a massive windshaft which is about 10 inches in diameter, and tilted slightly back from the horizontal. This carries the huge "brakewheel", a toothed wheel, five or six feet in diameter, which also carries a brake band for control. The brake wheel meshes with a horizontally mounted gear wheel, the "wallower", which drives a vertical shaft carrying the motive power throughout the working floors of the mill. An auxiliary drive from the windshaft operated a sack hoist for lifting the grain from ground level through trap doors in the floors to the feeding level.
The windshaft and brakewheel are mounted in the "cap" of the mill the whole of which rotates on a massive cast iron toothed track fixed to the circumference of the tower.
Then as now delays were apt to occur. We do not know exactly why, but there was a long delay when the mill had reached about 60 feet. It was thatched over against the weather for a whole winter (we even know who thatched it, one Richard Marlow) but it cannot have been the weather that caused the delay as the whole tower was built from the inside, like a factory chimney and no outside scaffolding was used at all.
In 1834 the tower was finished at last, and the machinery was installed. William Cooper, millwright, of Aylesbury did this work and by great good fortune his account books are in the County Record Office at Aylesbury. The manufacture of all the mill machinery and its installation cost £643-17s-4d. Goodness knows what it would cost today; at least £10,000 in all probability. Fortunately the original machinery is still in fair condition and is being brought into working order by the Quainton Windmill Society.
Before the sails could turn there had to be the usual celebration, and truly 'high jinks' is what they were! One John Duberry, described as "an old inhabitant who had worked on the building" climbed to the top of the topmost sail to drink to the success to the venture and he was lucky to get away with it. It was discovered later that the brake wasn't on at the time and a breath of wind from the right quarter could have given John Duberry the shock of his life!
Unfortunately for James Anstiss, it appears likely that if his gamble on the wind direction did not pay off. Soon after the mill was commissioned, perhaps even while it was being built, an auxiliary steam engine was installed at ground floor level to drive the mill when the wind failed. The boiler was outside the mill but there is no trace now of either engine or boiler. There is a tradition that "it took sixteen horses to bring it to the mill", though whether this referred to the engine, the boiler or the massive stone on which the engine was bedded is not known.
We have few records of the working life of the mill, only that it operated "for many years". We do not even know when it ceased grinding corn for the last time. From contemporary photographs it is likely it was about the turn of the century.
(to be continued)
Text © Quainton Railway Society / Photographs © Quainton Railway Society or referenced photographer
Page Updated: 04 November 2017