Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Derelict windmills

click photo to enlarge
A tall, well-maintained tower windmill, its white sails slowly turning against a deep blue sky is one of the finest sights that England, especially Eastern England, can offer. Whether the main structure is unadorned brick or coated in black bitumen, whether the cap be ogee-form or something plainer, and regardless of the presence or otherwise of ancilliary buildings, to approach one of these half-building/half machines is always a joy. And it is, perhaps, knowing what a restored, working windmill can be that makes the sight of a derelict example such a sad, forlorn prospect.

Anyone who keeps up with this blog on a regular basis, particularly if they are not based in England, may be under the impression that our countryside is dotted with beautifully maintained, working windmills. The unfortunate fact is that derelict mills where only the tower remains, or the stump of a tower, or a tower and a couple of sail shafts, far outnumber the complete examples. Some of these "lost" windmills have been converted into desirable, up-market houses, usually by making use of adjoining buildings, or with the addition of a newly built extension. But most simply languish in neglected corners of farmyards or out in the fields, slowly succumbing to age and the weather. It's not surprising that this should be so, the time of the windmill is long past, and the number of people willing to expend their money and energy on restoration is limited.

Today's photograph shows the derelict tower windmill at Shepeau Stow, Lincolnshire. The "keystoned" segmental arches over the doorway and windows suggest that it dates from the late 1700s or early 1800s. The small red brick building must have been associated with the mill, though it appears to be of a later date. The bricks look like they were once bituminised. At the very top of the tower is a row of dogtooth brickwork, so all that is missing from above this level is the cap, sails and fantail. Apparently the collapsed floors still have, buried beneath them, the original millstones and machinery. The records show that it lost its sails in the early 1920s and was engine-powered for a number of years - the two, very odd looking, external wheels were probably installed at this time to receive drive belts. In1935 it was reported to be capless, and today it is the wreck that my photograph shows.

I suppose that I should have photographed this windmill under a heavy, cloudy sky, and converted my image to black and white: that might be seen as better suiting the subject. But, photography is as much about representing and recording the world as we see it, as it is about imposing our feelings on a subject, and on the day I passed by the February light was bright, the afternoon sky a fine, strong blue, and all the colours deeply saturated.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 28mm
F No: 7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/500
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation: -0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On