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Aberdeen's Lost Windmills

The design of most Windmills is what is known as a Post-mill.

This means the whole superstructure of the mill rests on 1 main post.

This post arises from ground level through brick and a foundation chamber; the post then acts as a pivot for the timber built structure above with the sails.

Making the Modern World

Consequently, the upper section of the mill and sails could be turned towards the direction of the wind.

The mill machinery in the upper rotating section was reached by a internal steps.  As there is little history or records of Aberdeen's Windmills so we must look elsewhere for examples of their ilk.

In Holland they are in general use for meal-making, and low-lying meadows are drained by Windmills with arms of enormous length, which pump water from one ditch to a higher, step by step, till it can be discharged into a river. In Argentina maize meal is made for domestic use by pounding the grain in a hollow in the stump of a tree stuck in the ground, the worker using a big wooden pestle requiring both her hands to wield it effectively. But there are in that country many 1000's of windmills constantly at work pumping water from large and deep wells into ponds or reservoirs for watering cattle.

The millwright of former days was to a great extent the sole representative of mechanical art, and was looked upon as the authority in all the applications of wind and water, under whatever conditions they were to be used, as a motive power for the purposes of manufacture. He was the Engineer of the district in which he lived, a kind of jack-of-all-trades, who could with equal facility work at the lathe, the anvil or the carpenter’s bench … the millwright of the last century was an itinerant Engineer and Mechanic of high reputation. He could handle the axe, the hammer, and the plane with equal skill and precision; he could turn, bore, or forge with the ease and despatch of one brought up to these trades, and he could set out and cut in the furrows of a millstone with an accuracy equal or superior to that of the miller himself.  Generally, he was a fair estimator, knew something of geometry, levelling, and mensuration, and in some cases possessed a very competent knowledge of practical mathematics.  He could perform a variety of work now done by Civil Engineers.

The craft of milling by wind has always been dependent upon the skill and judgment of the millwright, for it was only he who could erect a structure not only of sufficient strength to withstand years of strong winds and rain on the high ground usually chosen for it, but of so fine a precision that it could turn or be turned to the wind without hesitation; and with sails or sweeps so finely constructed that they caught and rotated with every available breeze.

To harness the power of flowing water in order to generate a useful source of power was an equally challenging task. Building an efficient watermill required many similar skills to those of building a windmill, as well as a number of different ones.  The millwright was expert architect, carpenter, and also engineer; for not only did he construct the mill itself but all the machinery within, — every part of which played an essential part in the intricate milling process. Although minor, and in some cases major, technical or structural repairs were occasionally undertaken by the miller himself, these were usually the responsibility of the millwright who was required to return the mill to working order with all due speed, for on this the miller's livelihood was dependent.

As milling by wind- and water power gradually decreased towards the end of the 19th century and more dramatically so during the early part of the 20th, only a few more mills were built, few urgent repairs so essential for the continuity of the milling process were required, and the millwright's work became less, resulting in the inevitable dissolution of the various firms.

Brill Mill c1900

There may have once been as many as 10,000 windmills in Britain.
Post Mill is likely to have remained the most favoured design of windmill for many years following its introduction, probably shortly prior to 1180 AD. Although the last ‘commercial’ post mill was built in East Anglia in the 1880’s, by this date windmills of all types were disappearing rapidly. By 1950, there were fewer than 100 post mills left standing in the country. The total today is 45, and this number includes a handful of examples which have been completely dismantled and rebuilt. Although many post mills stand on ancient sites, fewer than ten can claim to have been constructed before the eighteenth century. Brill Windmill in Buckinghamshire is one of only 6 remaining post mills proven, by dendrochronological analysis, to contain 17th century timbers.

The others are: Pitstone Mill, Buckinghamshire; Madingley Mill, Cambridgeshire; Cromer Mill, Herts; Drinkstone Mill, Suffolk and Nutley Mill, Sussex.

Brill Windmill in Bucks C1900 and still standing


There is evidence of there having been 3 Windmills for making meal in or near Aberdeen. One is shown in Taylors Map (1746) of the town on the west side of the Denburn and the north side of the Windmill Brae

Windmill One
Its site was probably on Union Street near the head of Bridge Street  and it may have been the source of the name of the Brae. Little, if anything, is recorded regarding this mill except that in 1501 the Windmill was let to William Buchan. There is a hint of a Windmill on the crest of the hill beyond Castle Hill indicating a postmill structure with pivot lever and one fully sailed above the Denburn on John Slezers 1693 Engraving

1693 - John SLEZER - New Aberdene from the Block house

Windmill Two
In 1602 the Town Council ordered the erection of a Windmill for making meal at the Gallowgate Head. This was completed in 1605, and Gordon's plan (1661) shows the sails of a windmill on the north end of Seamount Place above the Back Butts to West North Street level with the Gallowgate Port. The Medieval Vennel  would have been level with and approached the position of the Windmill
on the now West North Street escarpment of Seamount.  A Vennel is a passageway between the gables of 2 buildings which can in effect be a minor street or lane.


Reference to Old Dovecau or 'catt' near the Windmill just below Langstane or Long Road - is this one and the same - a dovecot was often combined with a Windmill tower yet this would be called a Doocot in Doric.  The Old Windmill near the Port Hill or Seamount Place is also marked.  A Tower Windmill was erected in the Crown Street area in 1678 see Milnes Map 1789 which indicates this stood in the location of Windmill Lane leading towards Crown Terrace from half way up Windmill Brae from Bath Street .  It also shows a Dove Cot where perhaps an old windmill location was in the area of Union Terrace.

As with Tide Mills, the operating power of Windmills varies greatly in force and still more in direction; but nevertheless windmills can be worked profitably.

Tower Mills

The susceptibility of post mills to being blown over led to the emergence of a different type of mill called the Tower Windmill. Tower Windmills were much sturdier, as their name suggests, having towers that were built out of stone and later bricks. The cap on top of the windmill was still timber and could be turned by using a tailpole attached to the cap that extended to ground level. This allowed the sails to be moved into the wind easily. As the early windmills had no brakes the sails could only be stopped again by moving them out of the wind. 

By the end of the 13th century the masonry Tower Mill, on which only the cap is rotated rather than the whole body of the mill, had been introduced. The spread of tower mills came with a growing economy that called for larger and more stable sources of power though they were more expensive to build. In contrast to the post mill, only the cap of the tower mill needs to be turned into the wind, so the main structure can be made much taller, allowing the sails to be made longer, which enables them to provide useful work even in low winds. The cap can be turned into the wind either by winches or gearing inside the cap or from a winch on the tail pole outside the mill. A method of keeping the cap and sails into the wind automatically is by using a Fantail, a small windmill mounted at right angles to the sails, at the rear of the windmill. These are also fitted to tail poles of post mills and are common in Great Britain and English-speaking countries of the former British Empire, Denmark and Germany but rare in other places.

Aberdeen's 3rd Windmill - The Tower Mill - Windmill Lane, Windmill Brae.
n 1678 another mill was ordered to be erected. Its site is shown in Taylor's plan, 1773, as being 86 yards south of Windmill Brae, and it was on the east side of Windmill Lane. The site of the early or mid 17th-century Tower Mill, near Windmill Brae, on what was then known as Windmill Hill. An earlier mill appears on a plan of the city by James Gordon - Map of Aberdeen 1661. The mill had four sails and probably stood on an artificial mound. The Tower Windmill was erected circa 1678; the remains were still in existence until the mid 19th Century but are no longer to be seen. Traces of the Windmill were still to be seen around about the middle of last century. This then disused windmill is recorded on the 1867 Ordinance Survey and is at the southeast end of Windmill Lane east of Crown Street as disused but with a pathway approaching from the north.  It has been removed and its site lies in a now redeveloped part of the City Behind the old Palace of Varieties or Circus near Crown Terrace. Again the Knocket Doon syndrome with no structural records or sketches of scale or construction. How High was the mill, was built of dressed stone or rubble masonry what diameter did it have? Was the cap moved by gears, was a fantail fitted later?  Was it built upon an arch like many Tower Mills. By 1678 Aberdeen was an expanding City and despite the number of watermills alternative power was deemed necessary in the event of droughts.  If its remains lasted 200 years it was probably out of commission by the mid 19th century and its structural materials re-cycled, leaving only the Windmill Brae and Windmill Lane as epitaphs of it's presence.  It was probably very similar to 18th Century Invernettie Tower Mill In Peterhead - circular approx. 17' diameter at base,  pinned coursed granite rubble, tapered. Putlog holes approx. 2/3rds up.

File:Chesterton-1836.png File:Chesterton Windmill.jpg

This Windmill of the same era is one of Warwickshire's most famous landmarks, standing on a hilltop overlooking the village of Chesterton for nearly 350 years, near the Roman Fosse Way and about five miles (8 km) south-east of Warwick. It was built in 1632-1633, probably by Sir Edward Peyto, who was Lord of the Chesterton Manor House. At this time John Stone, a pupil of Inigo Jones, was in Chesterton, designing the new Manor House, and he probably helped with the Windmill as well. Sir Edward was a mathematician and astrologer and probably his own architect to the windmill, but although claims have been made that the tower was originally built as an observatory, the estate accounts now at Warwick Record Office show that it has always been a windmill, making it the earliest tower mill in England to retain any of its working parts.

It is built of hard local limestone, with sandstone detailing, on a shallow platform of 71ft 9in (21.87m) in diameter. The mill tower with a cap height of 36 feet (11 m), unique worldwide in structure and mechanics, is supported on six semicircular arches, on piers, the outer faces of which are arcs of circles radiating from a common centre. A sandstone string course surmounts the six arches and runs round the tower, below the windows. There are four windows in the tower, two small and two much larger with stone mullioned windows. A three-light window set in the roof on the opposite side to the sails, has a small plaque above it with the letters "E. P. 1632".

Beside the open ground floor within the arches there are two more floors to the mill, the first, lower, or stone floor 15-ft (4.6m) above ground level, housing millstones, great spur wheel, hurst frame, sack hoist rope passing through the floor trap, and the upper, second, or hoist floor with brake wheel, main gearing (wallover), sack hoist pulley, and parts of the winding winch. The windshaft and the main parts of the winding system including the wind direction indicator is installed within the cap. The space inside the arches, until 1930, used to have a wooden structure to store the grain, and an open timber staircase to reach the milling floors. This structure was removed to prevent vandalism. The cap of the mill is a shallow dome which used to be covered with lead sheet, but also because of vandalism is now covered with aluminium. Between the cap and the top of the wall is a system of rollers running in a track plate allowing the cap to be rotated easily. There is a wind direction indicator on the roof which is continued into the interior, and a small repeat indicator at its lower end, so that the miller could set the mill without leaving his work. The lattice-type-sails are 60 feet (18m) span counter clock-wise rotation (seen from outside the mill; most of all windmills worldwide rotate clockwise seen from inside the mill - from "under the wind") and with 450 sq ft (42 m2) of canvas. The arched tower covers a very small diameter of 22 ft 9 ins (6.93 m) and it has an unusual "in cap" winding gear for an English windmill, the cap being wound by a hand operated winch having spur and worm gears.

Milnes Map 1789

A Tower Mill is a type of Windmill which consists of a Brick or Stone Tower, on top of which sits a roof or cap which can be turned to bring the sails into the wind.  The rotary abilities gave it great convenience over the earlier Post Mills that allowed for a more efficient and stable source of power. Windmills in general had been known to civilization for centuries, the tower mill represented an improvement on the western-style windmills. The tower mill was an important source of power for Europe for nearly 600 years from 1300–1900, It represented a modification or a demonstration of improving and adapting technology that had been known by humans for ages. Although these types of mills were effective, some would argue that they were mainly built by more wealthy communities at first because of their complexity

The advantage of the Tower Mill over the earlier post mill that it is not necessary to turn the whole mill ("body", "buck") with all its machinery into the wind; this allows more space for the machinery as well as for storage. However, select tower mills found around Holland were constructed on a wooden frame so as to rotate the entire foundation of the mill along with the cap. These towers were often constructed out of wood rather than masonry as well. A movable head which could pivot to react to the changing wind patterns was the most important aspect of the tower mill. This ability gave the advantage of a larger and more stable frame that could deal with harsh weather. Also, only moving a cap was much easier than moving an entire structure.

In the earliest tower mills the cap was turned into the wind with a long tail-pole which stretched down to the ground at the back of the mill. Later an endless chain was used which drove the cap through gearing. In 1745 an English Engineering Blacksmith, Edmund Lee invented the Windmill Fantail a ring of five to eight vanes mounted behind the main sails at right angles to them. These were connected by gears to wheels running on a track around the cap of the mill. As the wind changed direction, it struck the sides of the fantail vanes, realigning them and thereby turning the main sails again squarely into the wind.

A Fantail is a small windmill mounted at right-angles to the sails, at the rear of the Windmill, and which turns the cap automatically to bring it into the wind. The fantail was patented in 1745 by Edmund Lee, a blacksmith working at Brockmill Forge near Wigan, England, and perfected on mills around Leeds and Hull towards the end of the 18th century. Fantails are found on all types of traditional windmills. They are more common in England, Denmark and Germany than in other parts of Europe, and are little-known on windmills elsewhere except where English millwrighting traditions were in evidence.  The rotating fantail turns the cap of windmill via a system of gearing to a toothed rack around the top of the mill tower, or to wheels running on the ground in the case of a Post Mill. It does so until the fantail sails are oriented parallel to the wind, as in this case the wind can no longer move them. When the fantail is oriented parallel to the wind, the main sails are in the optimal perpendicular orientation and therefore produce maximum power regardless of any slight or continuous windshift.

      Stock – the arm that protrudes from the top of windmill holding the frame of the sail in place, this is the main support of the sail and is usually made of wood.
Sail – the turning frame that catches the wind, attached and held by the stock. The traditional style found on most tower mills is a four-sail frame, however in the Mediterranean model there is usually an eight-sail frame. An example of this in St. Mary's Mill on the Isle of Sicily constructed in 1820.
Windshaft – A particularly important part of the sail frame, the windshaft is the cylindrical piece that translates the movement of the sail into the machinery within the windmill.
Cap – The top of the tower that holds the sail and stock, this piece is able to rotate on top of the tower.
Tower – Supports the cap, the main structure of the tower mill.
Floor – Base level of the tower inside, usually where grain or other products are stored.
Gallery – Deck surrounding the floor outside the tower to provide access around the tower mill if it is raised, not present in all tower mills. The gallery allowed access to the sails for making repairs because they could not be easily reached from the ground in larger mills.
Frame – Sail design that forms the outline of the sail, usually a meshed wood design that then is covered in cloth. The Mediterranean design is different in that there are several sails on the sail-frame and each supports a draped cloth and there is no wooden frame behind it.
Fantail – Orientation device that is attached to the cap, allowing it to rotate to keep the sails in the direction of the wind
Hemlath – Thick wooden sailbar on the side of the frame that keeps the narrower sailbars inside the sail.
Sailbar – Elongated piece of wood that forms a sail.
Sail cloth – Cloth attached to a sail that collects wind energy; a large sail cloth is used for weak winds and a small sail cloth for strong winds.



  1. The Cap - themovable top section of the mill. This allows the sails to be kept head into wind.

  2. Brick Tower - the main tower (structure) of the mill, built of brick and coated with tar for weatherproofing.

  3. Fan tail - fan blades which catch the wind if it comes from any angle other than the front, when it turns, driveshafts and gearing turn the cap. The whole mechanism is designed to keep the sails head into wind.

  4. Fly Spear - Main support of the fantail

  5. Fly Spurn - Secondary support for the fantail

  6. Handrail - you guessed it - a handrail to aid the miller maintain the fantail mechanism

  7. Striking Chain - A chain which carries the regulating weight for the Patent sail mechanism

  8. Striking Lever - A lever which carries the movement of the striking rod to the striking chain

  9. Regulating Weight - This weight is used to keep the shutters of the Patent sails shut against the power of the wind, the heavier the weight the more wind will be caught by the sails and therefore the more power will be passed into the mill and grinding stones.

  10. Striking Rod - Transmits the movement of the Spider through the centre of the Windshaft to the striking lever.

  11. Sail Whip - A piece of timber fitted to the front of the Stocks (main sail beams) to carry the sail bars and shutters.

  12. Shades - or Shutters, the flaps which when closed form the sail, as the wind gets stronger, they open to spill excess wind so as to control the power and speed of the mill. The force needed to open the shades is controlled through the striking gear (7,8,10,14,13)  by the Regulating weight (9)

  13. Striking Rule - A rod passing the length of the sail and connected to the Shades, it is connected to the Spider (14) and controlled by the striking gear.

  14. Spider - A complicated system of levers which connect the Striking Rules (13)(one per sail) to the Striking Rod (8) which passes through the Windshaft.

  15. Sail Cross - A large metal cross (on a four sailed mill) fitted to the front of the Windshaft (16), which carries the sail Stocks.

  16. Windshaft - The main shaft which carries the sails and transmits the power into the mill, it also carries the Brake Wheel (17).

  17. Brake Wheel - This is the main Gear Wheel on the windshaft, around it is a wooden/metal band which can be clamped down onto the outer rim to act as a brake.

  18. Cap Shear or Traverse Beam - The main supporting beams of the Cap (1)

  19. Rope Baulk - The main beam carrying the front end bearing of the windshaft.

  20. Headstock - Front support of the Cap (1).

  21. Tail Beam - Rear support of the Cap (1), carries the back bearing of the Windshaft (16).

  22. Fan Gears - The gears which transmits the movement of the Fantail (3) to the mechanism which turns the Cap (1).

  23. Curb - The track on which the Cap (1) turns.

  24. Upright Shaft - The main Drive shaft which runs vertically down the Mill.

  25. Crown Wheel - The Gear wheel at the top of the Upright shaft (24) which meshes with the Brake Wheel (17).

  26. Sack Hoist Drive - Driving mechanism for the Sack hoist.

  27. Sack Hoist Operating Lever - The lever which diss/engages the sack hoist drive mechanism.

  28. Dust Floor - The Grain is lifted (by the sack hoist) to this floor where it is poured into the Grain bins (35) on the floor below.

  29. Granary Floor - The floor containing the Grain bins (35).

  30. Millstone Floor - The floor housing the Grinding stones (44).

  31. Balcony / Grinding Floor - The floor where the Mill is controlled from, the miller has access to the Balcony (49) where he can adjust the Regulating Weight (9) and view the weather. The Ground meal is bagged on this floor as it falls from the Stones (44) above, the miller can inspect the meal and adjust the gap between the Stones and therefore the fineness of the meal using the Tentering gear (39, 46).

  32. 2nd Meal Floor - Used for storage and Auxiliary machines.

  33. 1st Meal Floor - Used for storage and Auxiliary machines.

  34. Ground Floor - Often used as an office and loading bay.

  35. Grain Bin - Storage bins for the grain.

  36. Dog Clutch - A crude clutch which is either engaged or not, used to disconnect the stones from the sails for maintenance.

  37. Spur Wheel - A large Gear wheel at the base of the Upright Shaft (24) which powers the Stones.

  38. Stone Nut - These are small Gear wheels which mesh with the Spur Wheel to power the stones. They can be disconnected if if the miller does not require that stone to be grinding..

  39. Bridge Tree - The support for the Runner Stone (The moving stone of the pair).

  40. Quant / Top Spindle - A  shaft (square, on overdriven stones) connecting the Runner stone to the Stone Nut.

  41. Hopper - As the Grain falls from the Grain Bin (35), it is held in the Hopper which then controls the flow of grain.

  42. Hopper Legs - Supports for the Hopper

  43. Shoe - A trough attached to the hopper which guides the grain into the Eye of the stones.

  44. Stone Case - A wooden box which surrounds the Grinding Stones to keep the dust contained.

  45. Toe-Pot - The bottom bearing of the Upright Shaft (24).

  46. Governor - Heavy Metal Balls fixed to arms which spin around as the mill turns, the faster the mill turns the further out these balls fly, this is connected by levers to the Tentering Gear which controls the gap between the Stones. This is an automatic device to prevent the stones overheating and allows more grain to enter the stones if the wind power is strong enough.

  47. Balcony Doors - Doors onto the Balcony.

  48. Meal Spout - Wooden tube to carry the Meal from the Stones to a point where bags can be fixed to collect it.

  49. Balcony - A balcony built around the mill just below the lowest point passed by the sails, originally this allowed the miller to reach the sails on high mills (as the early mills had cloth sails which have to be manually set and unset as he weather changed). Allows for easier maintenance of the Sails.

  50. Flour Dresser - A machine which cleans the flour to give a higher grade of flour.

  51. Mixing Machine - For mixing different meal, produced on different stones to get the required consistency / mix required by the baker.

  52. Support Post - Helps to support the floor above.

  53. Basement - An air gap under the floor to keep the mill dry.







Mill circa 1900This fine example of an English tower mill was built in 1819 for the brothers Thomas and Isaac Reckitt by the Hull millwrights Norman and Smithson, for the sum of £1,826 – 10s – 6d.  By the time the present owners, the Waterfield family, arrived on the scene in June 1987, the condition of the mill had deteriorated considerably, but the aim was to put Maud Foster Tower Mill back into working order and to use it. Extensive repairs were undertaken, including the re-laying of all the floors and the installation of new trapdoors, grain bins, millstone cases, balcony doors and windows where needed. Three new sails had to be made, extensive repairs were required to the cap frame and roof, a new fantail was fitted and all the machinery overhauled. The work was completed in July 1988 and it was fitting that Mr Basil Reckitt was able to come along on 22nd July to perform the official re-opening ceremony. In 1998, two new sails were fitted to replace the two oldest, dating from the 1970s.

Wheatley Tower MIll, Oxon - Exquisite little Octagonal Tower Mill beautifully restored to full working order with excellent record photographs and details of the full re-build - would that Aberdeen had retained some semblance of records of its working heritage in the many Meal Mills erected within and without the City Environs.


West Winch Twermill was a tarred red brick 5 storey mill with an iron stage on the 2nd floor. It was built c.1821 by Francis Plumpton who had bought the land and a house in 1818 from Thomas Begleyon the east side of the road to the north of the village. By 1861 a bake office was being run on the site.  The mill tower was 42 feet to the curb where the diameter was 14 feet. The ogee cap had a gallery and held a 6 bladed fantail. The cap was vertically boarded and thereby formed the petticoat, which drained into a gutter

Heckington Windmill

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Last modified: 01/09/2013