When John asked me if I wanted to see my first windmill, I thought windmills grind flour, flour makes bread, bread attracts mice, mice are fun to chase, Shadow likes windmills. So I agreed wholeheartedly, not just for the opportunity to chase a mouse, but also because this particular windmill is part of a community project which is helping to keep a little bit of history alive. Estimated to have been built in around 1750, the High Salvington Windmill worked for nearly 150 years before it ceased full-time milling in 1897 possibly due to industrialisation and the invention of steam mills which rendered old-fashioned hand-cranked flour milling uneconomic. The mill underwent a couple of transformations and a period of neglect before the High Salvington Mill Trust was formed in around 1976 to tend to this unique timber structure which had been ravaged by the death watch beetle and the forces of nature.
The mill stands on a small grassy hillock alongside a quaint outdoor tearoom that serves reasonably priced refreshments and is staffed by a group of friendly local volunteers with an in depth knowledge of the mill and its past. They were thrilled to see an inquisitive black cat amongst the visitors and the cheeky chappy who took us on the tour told me that I would have made an ideal miller’s cat, probably due to my pluckiness and obvious athleticism! Employing a cat was a common method of mouse control no doubt essential in a place that stores and grinds wheat grain. My imagination started to wander as I pictured myself staunchly patrolling the entrance to the mill and stealing cheese from any mouse bold enough to attempt entry.
Suddenly I was whisked into the air as John scooped me up and we joined the group climbing up the stairs to the buck (the main body of the mill). The buck was built to contain 2 pairs of giant stones for grinding and weighs around 30 tons. The tour guide gave us a demonstration of how the whole buck can be spun around on its 21ft 6in central post so that the sails face the right way into the wind. The outside of the buck is even aerodynamically designed with a special shape that enables the best use of the airstream, impressive for 18th century physics. The tour ended outside the front of the mill with a talk about the enormous sails which are 58 feet in diameter and capture the current of air required to power the complex system of shafts, wheels, hoists and brakes that work the grain into flour. While John busied himself taking pictures, I headed purposefully towards the benches and explored the back of the tea-hut, checking every inch for mice. I didn’t find a single one and can only presume that they didn’t dare risk a confrontation with me! Either that or they were probably hiding behind the fallen log giggling squeakily as I prowled around like a panther, a legend in my own mind!!