Some More Windmill Information, By Mick Twyman.
Featured in the February 2010 handbook.
We finished the article in the last magazine with the burning down of the Town Windmill, in 1902. To complete that story, here are some further relevant facts.
It seems that most previous writers have completely failed with ascertaining the truth regarding this mill, preferring instead to merely state that it was known to be working in 1889. But, as we have shown the reader already, it was still going strong until the night of the disastrous 1902 fire. So, let us see what else we have learned about the history of the almost total gap in our previous knowledge.
It is recorded that there had been a windmill on that site since 1719, but the one which burnt down so fiercely in 1902 was a replacement of the eighteen fifties, so she was still quite a young lady as far as windmills go.
When built she, windmills are always described in the feminine gender, was provided with an engine house to supply motive power when the wind failed to blow, but whether that engine was gas or steam we have not been able to ascertain. When she was built the owner, Mr. Banks, a prominent local figure in the milling business who had once owned the mill at Westbrook, specified that only the best, top quality materials were to be used in the construction, and it is recorded that the cost of the project was in excess of one thousand pounds, which was a substantial sum of money in those days. The mill had been insured for one thousand pounds and its contents for a further two hundred and fifty, and although the insurers, The Atlas Fire Office paid out in full the cause of the blaze was never established. Mr. Edwin Quickenden, the owner, stated that his youngest son, Charles, had inspected the mill and its outbuildings at 9pm, but had found nothing out of order and everything as it should be, yet an hour later his eldest son, Walter, had been informed of the blaze, and he sent young Charles running off to the Police Station in order to raise the alarm whilst he extricated the horses from their stable, immediately adjacent to the blazing building.
The mill was never rebuilt, and the mature reader might well recall the fact that for many years Mr. Quickenden had a bakery on the old mill site, and he had a bakers shop in Charlotte Square too. After many years of differing uses following the closure of the Quickenden bakery, the site was cleared a few years ago and a small development of houses now occupies the site, which is named in honour of the old mill which once stood on it.
The beautifully restored Drapers Mill stands to the north side of the old St. Peters Footpath, opposite to the Infant School, and that dates from the same period as the Town Mill did and was also built with an engine in a house for when the wind did not blow, in this case that was a steam engine.
That once had a partner on the site, a second and slightly smaller Smock mill which was known as Little Drapers, and she was purchased from her owner at Barham in 1869, dismantled and then transported here to be rebuilt on a site a little to the east of the mill which still remains today. The base of the Little Drapers Mill survived for many years after the actual mill was demolished, and its brick walls roofed over with tin sheets made a decent garage.
The restored mill of today looks fine, but that was now always the case. In 1916 the sweeps were deemed to be unsafe for further use, and it has to be assumed that it was run on power of the steam engine, but that is conjecture. However, in 1927 the sweeps and fantail were removed and the mill was powered by a 20 horde power engine.
The years and lack of maintenance saw the old mill in a terrible condition by the early 1960’s and there were calls for its demolition. However, Mr. Towes, the headmaster of Drapers Mills School, was the driving force behind the formation of a trust to save the old lady. The way was hard with many fundraising events held, but the outcome was eventually successful and this unique piece of town’s history is still there for all to see and admire in the landscape, and for use as a practical educational facility to show people how things used to be.