Quainton Windmill Society - Preserving our magnificent past for future generations to enjoy.


Quainton Windmill is a brick-built tower mill that was completed in 1832. It is a tower type corn grinding windmill that was built by James Anstiss, who was both a Miller and a Farmer. It has been restored to full working order by the Quainton Windmill Society, over a period approaching 50 years. Its historical relevance has earned it a Grade II* listing. The windmill reflects positively in its design and machinery, for the specific function it was intended to fulfil, and in how it was adapted to meet changes in technology and in the economy. The original mill machinery and fittings are intact and in working order. It is an excellent example of a tall six-storey windmill and is the third tallest windmill in England. It was altered to be operated by an auxiliary steam engine which was placed within the structure of the mill.

In 2011 the windmill was deemed as unsafe and the previously restored sails, the cap, the head frame, and wind shaft assembly were all removed. After considerable costs, reengineering works and effort, the replacement head frame and refurbished sails were once again reunited with the tower in 2017.

However moving right back to the start, work commenced on the construction of the mill in 1830, but it was temporarily suspended during the winter when the owner - Mr James Anstiss, suddenly went to North America. A thatched roof was built in his absence to protect the half-completed tower and upon his return, the building work recommenced. The clay for the bricks to build the tower was dug from a pit, about 100 metres away from the windmill and was fired in a nearby kiln. The tower is thought to have been built without external scaffolding, with the brickwork laid from within the structure in a similar manner to that often used with tall chimneys.

The mill machinery was installed during the following twelve months by William Cooper, millwright of Aylesbury and the mill was completed in 1832. The original four double-sided shuttered patent sails were equipped with one-hundred and sixty-eight wooden framed shutters or shades, which were covered with canvas attached with copper nails and painted with white lead. As originally built, the fantail only had four blades. The fantail is currently configured with eight blades. The machinery for three pairs of stones was installed, but it is believed that only two pairs of stones were ever in operation. In 1891, a supplementary 20 horse power vertical steam engine had been installed, on a bed-stone, within the ground floor room. This change necessitated the raising of the first floor to accommodate it. It is unclear what type or where the boiler was placed, but it is believed that it may have been located outside the north door. Coal to heat the boiler was carted ten miles from the railway station at Winslow.

It is unclear when the mill ceased working. The 1891 census records both James and his son Thomas Anstiss as ‘retired millers’ and the mill stood derelict once the fantail blew off in a gale, which was in 1899. It is likely that the mill’s demise was a slow one. This was consequent in part to changes in farming practice following the land enclosures and a gradual shift to livestock rearing in the locality. This coupled together with the growth of large-scale steam mills at the ports, further decreased the viability of Quainton Windmill.

Once milling activities had ceased, one pair of stones was sold in 1914 and the steam engine and boiler were sold for scrap, during the same year, to Messers Prentice of Tring. Thereafter, the mill progressively fell into dereliction. This process that eventually came to a halt in 1974, with the formation of the Quainton Windmill Society.

The society spent the next eighteen years restoring the mill to the point where a new set of replacement sails were installed by October 1992. The sails were allowed to turn by wind power during January 1993 and grain was finally milled for the first time in one-hundred years in February 1997. Nevertheless, further problems were encountered in the year when one of the sail hemlaths (the outer wooden strip that ties the sail bars together) rotted and a number of the shades (sail shutters) were blown out. By 2000, the sails had been removed once more and a number of problems associated with the fantail and the casting that held the luffing gear, for rotating the sails into the wind, had been discovered. A second set of sails were hoisted into position in October 2004 and milling of flour recommenced in May 2007.

MATERIALS: Fair-faced red bricks with vitreous headers. Cast-iron windows set in simple timber frames. Bolted wrought iron cap with a Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene (ABS) plastic panel skirt. Timber head frame, sail whips and fantail frame. Galvanised steel sail driving and following edges. Galvanised steel framed shades (sail shutters) covered with glass fibre sheets, fixed with stainless steel pop-rivets, and fibreglass fantail rotor vanes.

PLAN: The mill is circular in plan, narrowing from an internal diameter of 7.08m at the base to 3.88m at the curb beneath the cap. The mill was configured with six floors. The ground floor was the storeroom, with secondary drive steam engine bed. The first floor operated as the storeroom and workshop. The second floor was the meal floor with: grading, bagging and despatch of flour. The third floor was known as the Spout Floor. The great spur wheel powering machinery and millstones from beneath (underdrift), with controlling and tentering gear. There was also access to external timber reefing stage. The fourth floor or the stone grinding floor is where the millstones were located. The fifth floor or the bin floor is where the grain bins were located. The sixth floor or dust floor provides necessary access to machinery under the cap.

This six-storey brick-built tower is 23.01 metres (75’ 6”) tall, to the top of the cap. An Ordnance Survey benchmark at 357ft 6ins is cut into the brickwork on the eastern side of the mill. The tower has timber stable-type doors, with cast-iron fanlights, to the north and south at ground floor. The cast-iron windows, above the ground floor, were all renewed during the 1970s with frames to matched the appearance of the originals, although they are slightly under-sized and are set in timber frames with segmental brick arches above. Each storey, with the exception of the sixth floor (Dust Floor) is lit by at least one window.

A timber door for lowering sacks of flour is situated on the east side of the second floor or the meal floor and was probably operated by slinging a block and tackle to the underside of the reefing stage (the gallery) overhead. The slatted timber reefing stage is supported on timber beams that are cemented into the wall. The original was also supported by struts. The reefing stage was protected by a single round section wrought-iron hand rail, made of segmental cranked lengths, linked together by end hooks carried on timber posts. The reefing stage is accessed by timber doors from the north and south sides of the third floor (Spout Floor).

The tower has a white painted hemi-spherical bolted steel cap with a white painted its ABS plastic skirt. It rests on a timber head frame that projects to the rear, supporting an eight-vaned fantail on a braced timber fan-stage, with brackets for a striking chain wheel beneath. The mill has four double-sided shuttered patent sails, mounted on an iron Lincolnshire Cross. Each sail is 9.14 metres (30’) long, weighing 914kg and has seven bays equipped with twenty-one shades on either side of a central timber sail whip. All of the shades can be opened or closed simultaneously by the striking rules, which is a system of rods connected to a linkage at the centre of the cross called the spider. This is operated by the striking rod that passes through the centre of the windshaft.

INTERIOR: All rooms are circular in plan, with whitewashed walls that reduce in diameter as the tower rises. All bar the sixth floor (the dust floor) are illuminated by cast-iron windows. The Dust Floor is currently illuminated by diffused light that passes through the ABS plastic skirt. Each of the six timber floors are carried on a pair of heavy timber beams.

The ground floor was used as a store and is entered by a timber stable door beneath an original cast-iron fan light in the southern aspect of the tower. A similar door is positioned directly opposite in the northern aspect of the tower. The floor is of glazed bricks that were made 1978 and laid on the original dirt floor. The stone bed for a vertical steam engine is situated in front of the north door. The sack hoist control rope hangs down on the eastern side of the door and rises to the sixth floor (the dust floor) to operate a clutch that engages the sack hoist drum and rope that passes through the double trap doors in every floor, up to the fifth floor (the bin floor). A modern timber stairway, in lieu of the original ladder, rises to the first floor over the north door.

The original function of the first floor room (currently used as a workshop) is unknown but it is believed to have been a storeroom. The window over the stairs has been reduced in size and a two-light timber casement window has been inserted. A timber pulley and bracket is attached to the underside of the second floor (the meal floor) above the window. This was for the control linkage from the third floor (the spout floor) to the steam engine below. A timber ladder rises to the second floor (the meal floor) against the southern side of the room.

The second floor (the meal floor) was used for grading the flour and for storing flour sacks ready for despatch. A door on the eastern side was used for lowering sacks of flour to carts waiting below. A belt driven iron lay shaft for powering the wire machine, for dressing or grading the flour, is suspended from the ceiling and is connected by a belt to a further lay shaft that is meshed to the great spur wheel above the third floor (the spout floor). The wire machine is contained within a timber cabinet suspended from the ceiling and the graded flour is collected in sacks hung below the machine. A timber ladder rises to the third floor against the west wall.

The third floor is also is the room where most of the machinery was controlled from. Overhead, a timber ‘T’-frame beam supports the great spur wheel driven by the vertical drive shaft. A secondary drive wheel is attached to the base of the great spur wheel and can be meshed to drive a lay shaft for operating the wire machine on the floor below. The pair of millstones, on the fourth floor the stone floor above, can be driven off the great spur wheel by meshing the cast-iron stone nut. Originally, two further stone nuts were used to drive an additional two pairs of millstones however these have been removed. Tentering gear for two pairs of stones are still attached to the underside of the ‘T’-frame. The butterfly handle and the tentering gear for engaging and setting the gap of the remaining pair of stones, and a further tentering gear for the lay shaft and a governor for controlling the riding up of the millstone at speed are also attached to the ‘T’-frame. The great spur wheel and the secondary drive wheel have timber teeth, to avoid the risk of metal on metal causing a spark that could ignite any flour dust suspended in the air. The crook string that adjusts the front of the shoe, to control the rate at which grain is fed into the millstones, is looped over a wrought-iron twist peg that is attached to the wall. A timber hopper fed by a flour chute or spout from the millstones above, is situated against the wall on the north-eastern side of the room. This hopper is in turn used to feed the wire machine on the floor below. Doors on the northern and southern sides of the room allow access out onto the timber reefing stage, from where the striking chain can be used to adjust the striking gear that operates the angle of the shades on the sails. The brake rope also hangs down onto the reefing stage. The rope is used to operate a steel band around the brake-wheel in the cap, that prevents the sails from turning. A timber ladder rises from the third floor the spout floor to the fourth floor, being the stone floor, above the south door.

The fourth floor is currently occupied by a single pair of millstones housed in a timber case or tun, which has a timber horse or frame sitting on top of the case supporting a hopper and shoe that feeds the grain from the grain bins on the floor above. There is space for a further two pairs of millstones. A wrought iron stone crane (installed in 2006) is adjacent to the case and is used to raise and turn over the millstones. A timber ladder rises to the fifth floor (Bin Floor) against the eastern side of the room.

The bin floor (fifth floor) has a pair of timber grain bins with lifting lids against the northern side of the room. A further single grain bin was once situated against the southern side but is no longer exists. The sack hoist trap door on this floor is raised up to waist level in order that the sacks of grain could be emptied into the bins with ease. Eight recesses with depressed segmental brick arches are situated in the walls. Each contains the end of a holding down bolt with a tensioning nut that is used to hold down the timber curb and circular S.G. (graphite-rich cast iron) iron track sectors on top of the tower.

The dust floor (sixth floor) and the interior of the cap are accessed by a wooden ladder from the bin floor through a hatch in the timber floor. There are no windows illuminating the interior of the cap but diffuse light does pass through the ABS plastic skirt. The dust floor differs from the other floors as a large proportion of its area is hinged, to allow access to the cap and the machinery contained within it. A timber sack hoist mechanism situated on the northern side of the floor comprising of a rope drum on a frame, linked to a clutch wheel by a leather belt tensioned by the sack hoist control rope, is driven by a pair of meshed cog wheels off the vertical drive shaft.

The cap and the machinery within it are mounted on a timber ‘head frame’, all of which is held down by gravity and revolves on twenty four cast-iron tapered rollers, within an iron track, mounted on the timber curb. The wind-shaft that rotates with the sails, passes through the bolted steel cap in the neck bearing. The wind-shaft passes through the large canted cast-iron brake wheel that has pear wood teeth that mesh with a smaller horizontal wallower wheel, which in turn transfers the rotation of the sails to the vertical drive shaft that passes down the centre of the mill to the great spur wheel. The shaft of the luffing gear, which is driven by the fantail, enters the cap on the opposite side from the wind-shaft. It has a worm at one end that meshes with a pinion onto a cast-iron rack that is attached to the inside face of the timber curb. As the pinion is rotated, it meshes with the toothed rack and moves the head frame, thus keeping the sails facing into the wind.

In 2011, Quainton Windmill was registered as  Grade II* listed building but within a few weeks, a comprehensive survey was carried out and confirmed that the ‘Head Frame’ was badly weather damaged and dangerous. This meant that the sales, the six ton cast iron brake wheel, the wind shaft, and the four ton wooden head frame, had to be dismantled  and removed from the of the windmill.

At this time, another group of dedicated volunteers joined the windmill society and started working with local millwrights, a local foundry, and some specialist engineering companies. Many of the original cast iron components were again reused and almost all of these are still functioning, as per their original design. In compliance with Historical England, several engineering changes were made to improve reliability, reduce maintenance requirements, and to increase longevity, whilst still maintaining the same aesthetic appearance.

A new oak head frame, new cap dome panels, new bearings, new S.G. cast iron tracks, new shutters, and sail furniture, were all successfully installed. After just eight years, the society’s volunteers, being mainly funded by the owner, being Mr Colin Dancer, managed to fully repair and renovate Quainton Windmill.




Copyright 2020 Quainton Windmill Society