Hough Mill Restoration
The amazing transformation of Hough Mill from derelict shell to visitor attraction.
Wendy Freer’s film The Recapping of Hough Mill, Swannington in 2009.
Structural Restoration 1999
Mill Purchase 1994
Swannington Heritage Trust bought Hough Mill on 23rd August 1994. The process of learning about windmills began. Significant research was undertaken with support from the Midland Mills Group and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Building’s (SPAB) Mills Group.
Long time Leicestershire mill enthusiast Nigel Moon was very helpful, he had visited the mill as a boy. In the 1990s Nigel worked Downfield Mill, Soaham, Cambridgeshire, in 1995 Nigel bought Whissendine Windmill, Rutland which he has worked for many years.
Planning the restoration 1995-1998
The Management Committee and its Mill Sub Committee set about planning the restoration and fundraising. Mill consultant John Boucher measured and reviewed the mill and on the 24th October 1995 sent the Trust a letter outlining an approach to restoring the mill.
Nigel Moon told the Trust about a set of milling equipment removed from the disused Chippenham Smock Mill, which was only a few miles from Soaham near the Cambridgeshire / Sussex border. John Boucher inspected the equipment, confirmed it was suitable and advised that the price was fair. The equipment was acquired for the Trust and refurbished. Read more about Mill Equipment Origins – Chippenham Smock Mill
Planning permission and listed building consent were both obtained. Fundraising continued but for fairly small amounts until a Heritage Lottery Fund for £71,000 was obtained in 1998. HLF funded the restoration of the mill structure – brickwork repairs, doors, floors, windows, fixed cap etc.; but excluded the equipment as it was not original. It was the smaller fund raising sources that financed the additional £10,000 not covered by the HLF.
Access Track From St George’s Hill
To facilitate access to the mill for both the restoration and visitors a new track from St George’s Hill was made by Cuckoo Gap in 1998 or 1999. The area is now virtually unrecognisable as Aub’s Wood (named after Cuckoo Gap workman Aubrey Curtis who lived on St George’s Hill) has since been planted. The Califat car park on the left of the track provides a location point.
Detailed Drawings Of Mill
Mill consultant John Boucher produced a series of drawings illustrating the work to be carried out. The drawings comprised:
- Overall drawings of the mill.
- Technical milling drawings showing the layout of the equipment.
- Building drawings showing staircases, doors and windows.
Trust volunteer Bill Hale (retired quantity surveyor) and others used their expertise to develop the multi page restoration work specification that enabled contractors to tender for the project.
Coalville builder Keith Brooks was the successful tenderer. Although his business was based in Coalville, Keith lived at Manor Farm, Swannington before moving to a new property near the corner of Main Street and Church Lane. John Boucher produced the drawings.
Swannington joiner Rod Eynon Burdock (then at the former abattoir behind the former Primitive Methodist chapel) made the wooden tun, shoe and grain hopper.
In addition to the work by Keith Brooks Contractors, Trust volunteers contributed hundreds of hours to prepare the mill for the opening in March 2000. Tasks included:
- Mill exhibits – finding mill related exhibits so that visitors did not walk around empty floors.
- Mill interpretation – designing and installing interpretation boards on each floor.
- Cleaning – renovations always generate huge amounts of dust.
- Opening event – on site parking was limited so a minibus shuttle from the village hall was arranged, refreshments were laid on, the opening was publicised.
Fantail And Turning Cap 2009-2011
A restoration grant of more than £60,000 from Grantscape enabled the cap to be removed in 2009 and put back in place with the fantail and windshaft. The fantail sails only turn when the wind changes direction. As the fantail sails turn a series of gears turn the drive pinion that moves along the ring gear to turn the cap so that the main sails face the wind.
Cotswold Millwrights made the cap frame at their Worcestershire yard, it was then disassembled, transported to Swannington and reassembled. In July 2009 a crane lifted the fixed cap off the mill and deposited it on the cap frame. Cotswold Millwrights continued working on the cap.
After inspection it was decided to replace the horizontal timbers on the cap to ensure the longevity of the work. Trust volunteers painted the cap with preservative. When not being worked on a protective covering was placed over the cap.
A temporary cap was fitted on top of the mill to protect it from the weather.
Ironwork Cast In Huddersfield
H Downs Ltd of Huddersfield cast the metalwork for the project. This included the ring gear for the top of the brickwork, the pole end and the spider (the centre of the fantail to which the fantail sails are attached).
Cotswold Millrights shaped the square timber into a circular windshaft, as well as the recess for the pole end. Most of the pole end is hidden by the windshaft, so only the end (to which the sails were attached in 2019) is visible.
The cap and fantail were lifted onto the top of the mill in November 2009.
Completion By Volunteers
For various reasons there were long delays, in the end Cotswold Millwrights were unable to complete the job and the contract was terminated in August 2010. There was then a delay while approval for the new completion arrangements was obtained from Grantscape who were funding the project.
With the support of mill consultant John Boucher, who provided invaluable advice, Trust volunteers recommenced work in October 2010. An experienced carpenter completed the weather sealing of the windshaft neck and fantail fly shears, floor boarded the cap, corrected the fitting of the skirt and added wire netting to keep birds out.
Volunteers worked on the various bearings, truck rollers, pillar castings, lightning conductor, design and installation of a viewing platform, manufacture of a hand windlass to manually turn the cap, installation of the fantail drive gear and the manufacture of a ladder to the fantail platform. After six months of hard work the project was completed in March 2011, just in time for the season’s opening. The fantail was carefully monitored for several months to confirm that it turned the full 360 degrees – it would have been a much shorter period but the wind declined to oblige by blowing from the full range of directions!
Trust volunteers spent a year making the brakewheel in the Neaverson Centre workshop. In October 2012 they dismantled the brakewheel in the workshop, hauled the pieces weighing a total of 1.75 tonnes, into the cap and reassembled the brakewheel around the windshaft. Read more about Reinventing the Wheel
The Trust spent £4,000 on the seasoned oak for the wheel, the Helen Jean Cope Trust gave £2,000 towards the cost of casting the cast iron teeth.
It took two days for the team to dismantle the brakewheel in the workshop and rebuild it in the mill cap. Read more about Installing the Brakewheel
During 2013-2014 the Mill Maintenance volunteers spent a year of Friday mornings making the wallower in the workshop. Although only half the size of the brakewheel, it was more complex and the wooden teeth had to be made out of hornbeam. It was installed in the cap in November 2014.
A grant of £2,000 from Museum Development East Midlands helped finance the cost of the seasoned oak, fittings and band saw. Read more about Building the Wallower
Sack Hoist 2017
The Mill Team designed and built the sack hoist during 2017. As well as designing something that would work if the mill had operational sails, the team was faced with several challenges:
- The sack hoist is on the dust floor in the cap. The cap turns as the wind changes direction, so the sack hoist had to be carefully positioned so that it would not be hit by anything as the cap turned.
- It would be a shame if visitors could not see the sack hoist which is on the far side from the viewing platform. A strategically placed mirror solved the issue.
- In an operational sack hoist the trap doors burst open as sacks progress through the mill. To illustrate this a sack was placed bursting through one set of doors. Safety rails deterred adventurous visitors from checking out the view through the doors and descending somewhat quicker than they might wish.
- When the mill was operational the sack hoist was controlled by a rope. The miller was not faced with curious visitors who might succumb to the temptation of seeing what would happen if they pulled the rope. Again the safety barriers resolved the issue.
When the miller pulls the rope the sack hoist disc is raised to meet the wallower which acts as a friction drive to turn the disc and thus raise the sacks of grain. Read more about The Sack Hoist
The Sails Are Here 2019
It was a tense week with a close eye kept on the windspeed which at one stage threatened to stop the proceedings. Sails dangling from a crane in high winds is not a good idea. Thanks to excellent work by millwrights, crane driver, cherry picker operator and everyone helped (including the tea makers!) the sails are on.
The week before the sails arrived a tree had to be felled to ensure that the two enormous vehicles could reach the mill without obstruction. The stocks and sails looked impressive laid out on the ground.
On Tuesday 10th September the two stocks and four springs were fitted.
The first stock was fitted into the pole end, which is the external end of the windshaft. Wedges hold it in position.
The second stock was added. The cherry-picker lifted the millwrights 12 metres above ground so that they could fit the springs to the stocks.
On Wednesday 11th September the four sails were added.
The first sail was attached to the stock. The crane then turned the sail 180 degrees so that the second sail could be fitted.
On Thursday 12th and Friday 13th September the millwrights secured the sails.
Additional struts were added to the stocks to ensure that the sails were held securely. Fitting the sails inevitably caused some damage to the paintwork on the stocks and sails, damaged areas were repainted.
These annotated photographs more fully explain the process for fitting the stocks and sails.
Many thanks to Bill Pemberton, Peter Firth and Clive Jones for the wonderful photographs.
Maintaining The Mill
Mills don’t maintain themselves, doors and shutters need painting, windows need cleaning, floors need sweeping. In addition the moving parts need to be greased and sometimes replaced. Some jobs take a long time:
- Read more about Fantail Drive Mechanism
- Read more about Replacing The Fantail Sails
- Read more about Reconfiguring The Mill
Within The Grounds
Various improvements have taken place including:
- Hedge between Mill grounds and Gorse Field – planted winter 1999-2000 with aid of a grant from the Leicestershire North West Countryside Project.
- Daffodils alongside the hedge – planted winter 1999-2000 as part of Sue Garner’s brighten up Swannington for the millennium project that planted bulbs in many places around the village.
- Jerry Leakins toilet block – built 2002 to house a generator to light the mill and a composting toilet, apart from the brickwork all the work was carried out by volunteers. Later in 2002 mains electricity was installed in the building and the mill. Flush toilet using rainwater harvesting added 2006. Mains water provided from a supply running the 400 metres from St George’s Hill in 2001.
- Neaverson Centre – built 2006-7 with a legacy from Peter Neaverson, the industrial archaeologist who wrote the report on the 1990s excavation of the Alabama (pumping) engine house complex in the Califat coal mine.