Friends practice turning the cap and operating the sails

A report by Nicholas Weedon

On Wednesday 11 May, a group of Friends under the instruction of an experienced millwright ventured into the very top of the mill to learn how to operate the mechanisms for turning the cap into the wind and setting the sails for turning. This is for both year-round maintenance and for letting the sails rotate if the wind is right on future open days in the summer months. Access into the cap is by ladder from the top floor onto a platform inside where the back of the cap overhangs the side of the building. For those who don’t like heights, you can see the ground five stories below through some thin gaps around the floor. Turning the cap involves some effort, requiring two of us to turn a hand crank – the cap and sails must weigh well over a ton – but it revolves quite smoothly. The winding of the crank turns gears connected to a steel ring around the top of building, causing the cap to turn slowly but surely. It is difficult to see outside from the winding position, but the weather vane on top of the building extends down through the roof, with a pointer inside showing which direction the sails need to face.

Pushing the sails to get them in position for operating

Pushing the sails to get them in position for operating (photo by Nicholas Weedon)

After letting off the brake, the action moves outside to ground level, where the sails must be pulled around by hand so that one of the patent sails (with the shutters) is pointing downwards at lowest point. This was easier said than done, because we don’t yet have anything long enough to reach the sails when they are resting at 45 degrees. On this occasion we used a line to lasso the sail, but we will probably sort out something more reliable before we demonstrate it on open days. Having pulled a sail to the lowest point, a hand-held metal rod is slotted against a mechanism on the sail, and turning the rod closes the shutters, forming a continuous flat surface. The sails are then pushed with the pole to turn half a revolution so that the opposite patent sail can be set in the same way. On our training day, the wind was too light to turn the sails, so this is something we are still eagerly waiting to see for the first time.

Winding the shutters

Winding the shutters (photo by Nicholas Weedon)

Shutters closed, forming a continuous surface on the patent sails

Shutters closed, forming a continuous surface on the patent sails (photo by Nicholas Weedon)

Having had the benefit of supervised hands-on experience in the cap, some further safety procedures will be set up, so we can operate it ourselves and offer training for any other Friends interested in looking after the mill and bringing it to life for visitors on open days.

The windmill ready for the wind in the sails

Ready for the wind in the sails (photo by Nicholas Weedon)

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