Upminster Windmill sails now in place as completion ‘tantalisingly’ close

Final adjustments are still to be done. Picture: Andrew Conway

Final adjustments are still to be done. Picture: Andrew Conway - Credit: Andrew Conway

The sails are now in position and Upminster Windmill is on track for a spring 2021 opening.

Second stock about to be fitted. Picture: Andrew Conway

Second stock about to be fitted. Picture: Andrew Conway - Credit: Andrew Conway

Yesterday, (November 30), the Friends of Upminster Windmill trust announced that the sails for the windmill are installed, which are recently back in the UK after being restored in the Netherlands.

Restoration of the 19th century windmill in St Mary’s Lane began in 2016. A few setbacks later, one being finding the building in a much worst state than estimated and another being a pandemic, the team behind the project say they are “tantalisingly” close to finishing, and hope to open to the public next year.

Second stock in position. Picture: Andrew Conway

Second stock in position. Picture: Andrew Conway - Credit: Andrew Conway

The brains behind the project, Dutch millwright Willem Dijkstra - “a rockstar in the windmill world” - was called on board after the Friends of Upminster Windmill trust couldn’t find anyone in the UK right for the job.

The millwright is renowned in his trade for his work on the landmark Montefiore windmill in Jerusalem, which also dates to the 19th century and was designed by Suffolk millwrights.

Fitting the cap. Picture: Andrew Conway

Fitting the cap. Picture: Andrew Conway - Credit: Andrew Conway

For trustee Andrew Conway and the team, getting Willem on the project was a “no brainer.”

Since then, the team have been shipping different parts off to the Netherlands to be restored by the millwright in his huge workshop in Sloten, in the north of the country.

Internal machinery, the stone floor and the meal floor. Picture: Andrew Conway

Internal machinery, the stone floor and the meal floor. Picture: Andrew Conway - Credit: Andrew Conway

Most Read

Now, the newly-restored sails have made their way back to the windmill and were installed yesterday after the team found a day with adequate day to assemble them.

The team faced unexpected delays due to the pandemic and say that the sails “were never meant to be fitted in December,” weather conditions

Fitting the cap. Picture: Andrew Conway

Fitting the cap. Picture: Andrew Conway - Credit: Andrew Conway

Built in 1801 by farmer James Noakes and used to grind wheat into flour, the windmill and its surrounding land was bought by the council in the late 1950s and is now managed in partnership with the Friends of Upminster Windmill trust, which is made up entirely of volunteers.

Though there have been several attempts to restore it over the last few decades, it wasn’t until the council and volunteer group were successful in securing funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and Veolia Thames Trust in 2014 that plans for the project started to take hold.

The windmill's completion is "tantalisingly" close. Picture: Andrew Conway

The windmill's completion is "tantalisingly" close. Picture: Andrew Conway - Credit: Andrew Conway

Andrew explained that since the inception of restoration, the windmill has proved a bigger challenge that they had bargained for.

He said: “When we started to peel back the layers and saw what poor condition it was in, we realised just how close we were to not having a windmill at all. The structure was never designed to stand for 200 years, so it’s a miracle that it’s still here really.

The windmill being painted in late 1940s. Picture: Kathy Rosoman

The windmill being painted in late 1940s. Picture: Kathy Rosoman - Credit: Kathy Rosoman

“The restoration was meant to be two years and we hit all kinds of problems but we’ve learnt a lot more about the windmill.

“We have even been still discovering things this year, such as the work Hector Stone did. He was employed by the council post-war and he planned to restore it to a working mill. He left all the changes in situ, and until recently we thought they were original to the mill.”

An interior shot. Picture: Andrew Conway

An interior shot. Picture: Andrew Conway - Credit: Andrew Conway

Andrew added: “It’s probably one of the biggest restorations of a smock mill there has ever been in the country.

“We’ve had to walk a delicate line between restoration, preservation and conservation. Of course, we wanted to protect as much of the original fabric of the building as possible, but we had to take a pragmatic approach and replace the parts that were beyond repair.”

Rockstar of the windmill world, Willem Dijkstra at work. Picture: Andrew Conway

Rockstar of the windmill world, Willem Dijkstra at work. Picture: Andrew Conway - Credit: Andrew Conway

He explained that the parts hadn’t been used for decades and were decaying, finding that the smock tower had twisted slightly, the internal frame was in a poor condition and appeared to be destablising even more when they took the weatherboarding off.

But now, he said, the interior looks “spanking” and the end is in sight.

The cap (where the sails attach to). Andrew says: "It's called a boat cap because of its shape, a bit like an upturned...

The cap (where the sails attach to). Andrew says: "It's called a boat cap because of its shape, a bit like an upturned boat keel. You can see where the sails fit at the front, slotting into the black iron protrusion and the sails are laid out over to the right." Picture: Andrew Conway - Credit: Andrew Conway

“It’s only going to get done once – in our lifetime at least – and we’re hoping it’s going to stand for another 200 years, so it was important to do it properly,” he said.

Andrew explained that when the windmill first reopens, it will be for educational purposes only but he hopes in the future to start the mill grinding its own flour again once more.

Willem Dijkstra's huge workshop in Sloten, the Netherlands. Picture: Andrew Conway

Willem Dijkstra's huge workshop in Sloten, the Netherlands. Picture: Andrew Conway - Credit: Andrew Conway

The fantail. Picture: Andrew Conway

The fantail. Picture: Andrew Conway - Credit: Andrew Conway

The sails. Picture: Andrew Conway

The sails. Picture: Andrew Conway - Credit: Andrew Conway