CHRISTMAS OFFER Subscribe to Essex Life today CLICK HERE

Taking a tour of Essex’s historic windmills

PUBLISHED: 16:56 02 October 2018 | UPDATED: 16:56 02 October 2018

Thaxted Mill

Thaxted Mill


Our county’s remaining windmills stand the test of time as a tribute to a bygone era. Mica Bale highlights some of the best examples in Essex

John Constable painted them, Max Bygraves sang about them and Don Quixote fought with them. Yes, windmills have certainly had a long and interesting history.

Indeed, if you were to travel back to 13th century Essex, windmills would be a delightful addition to an already stunning landscape, with almost 300 working mills energetically spinning in the heights above the county.

Windmills have been an important part of human existence since as early as the first century and the earliest known example of harnessing the mighty powers of the wind originates in Greece, where Heron of Alexandria, a prolific experimenter, used the wind to operate an organ.

Windmills have certainly been a part of Britain’s heritage for centuries, providing both practical benefit for the community and a charming structure standing proud for miles around. Although now a fading era, there are still some majestic windmills in the county standing the test of time and continuing to delight Essex residents.

One such windmill is Finchingfield Post Mill, incidentally the smallest remaining post mill in Essex, standing magnificently on a hill over the pretty settlement of Finchingfield, famously the most photographed village in the country.

Fryerning Post MillFryerning Post Mill

Built in 1756, this fine example of a post mill is characterised by the whole body of the mill housing the machinery mounted on a sole vertical post.

This is an example of the earliest type of European mill and is one of several models in the county. Amazingly, Finchingfield used to accommodate eight or nine different mills, although the post mill is the only one that still survives today.

The mill is unable to be a working mill due to its proximity to houses and nearby trees, although it has been restored and is open to visit on select dates throughout the year.

Another beautiful example of this heritage is Mountnessing Windmill and the current structure dates back to 1807, although there is evidence to suggest a mill was working on the site from 1477. The mill stretches four storeys and is the nearest mill in Essex to London.

What makes this windmill extra special is the fact that the mill is in full working order and still occasionally mills grain. Mountnessing Windmill also tells a tale of Essex family history. From 1807 to its eventual demise in 1933, the mill was in the capable hands of the Agnis family. Interestingly, the last member of the Agnis family to run the mill was a woman, Emily Agnis.

Finchingfield Post MillFinchingfield Post Mill

Stock Mill is a Grade II listed mill and was built in 1816, it was built at the very height of wheat farming when corn prices were also very high. Stock Mill is the only surviving mill in the area, one of three which were run by the local village baker.

Over the years, the mill has undergone many restorations and updates, testament to its success, with the most notable of these the addition of a steam engine added in 1902, and then later an internal combustion engine in the 1930s.

John Webb’s Mill is the only remaining mill in Thaxted and is an increasingly rare example of a tower mill. Also known as Lowe Mill, it was built for John Webb, a local landowner, to accommodate the ever-expanding demand for grain in London and was built with local Essex materials.

Even the windmill’s characteristic pretty red bricks were fired less than half a mile away at the nearby Chelmer Valley. Amusingly, the mill was consistently run by millers named either Lowe or Webb. Today, the mill is admired by 10,000 visitors every year, who come to view the artefacts and enjoy refreshments in the windmill or within the beautiful surrounding countryside.

Although a quintessential heritage trade, working in a mill was a dangerous occupation. There were all sorts of mechanical elements that required careful maintenance and work practice. Also mill workers were often elderly millers who had been taught by their father and their father before them.

Thaxted MillThaxted Mill

One windmill to fall foul of such dangers was the now demolished windmill at Toot Hill, where lightning once struck the mill and endangered the life of the miller. In the June of 1829, a ferocious thunderstorm struck Essex with reports of a, ‘hissing noise and sounds like artillery’ followed by the smell of sulphur.

The miller’s wife, who was in the nearby cottage at the time, heard her husband’s scream and rushed out to see the mill had been struck by lightning. Her husband’s hair was singed, his face was badly injured and his leg was practically detached leading to a later amputation.

The mill sustained damage too, breaking off two of its sails, ripping the roof off, demolishing the interiors and creating a huge hole in the side of the mill.

Fryerning Mill, a Grade II listed building dating back to 1759, was one mill that seemed to endure an never-ending run of accidents. The mill was built by Robert Baker, a millwright from Chelmsford a few yards from the original site.

In the summer of 1777, a farmer was struck and sadly later died after he was hit by one of the windmill’s sails. Then in 1852, after the sails were all replaced, a worker was again struck by a passing sail and badly fractured his thigh.

Mountnessing WindmillMountnessing Windmill

In perhaps the most ironic of all the incidents, and looking like a scene straight out of a Laurel and Hardy film, the owner of the mill once managed to somehow end up on one of the spinning sails and was taken for a ride that lasted 11 or so revolutions before he was rescued!

Windmills have always played a huge part in the county’s history and although there is but a remnant left of a bygone era, those special few windmills that have stood the test of time are wonderfully majestic reminders of an important Essex heritage that should never be forgotten.


Follow Essex Life on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram


Welcome , please leave your message below.

Optional - JPG files only
Optional - MP3 files only
Optional - 3GP, AVI, MOV, MPG or WMV files

Please log in to leave a comment and share your views with other Essex Life visitors.

We enable people to post comments with the aim of encouraging open debate.

Only people who register and sign up to our terms and conditions can post comments. These terms and conditions explain our house rules and legal guidelines.

Comments are not edited by Essex Life staff prior to publication but may be automatically filtered.

If you have a complaint about a comment please contact us by clicking on the Report This Comment button next to the comment.

Not a member yet?

Register to create your own unique Essex Life account for free.

Signing up is free, quick and easy and offers you the chance to add comments, personalise the site with local information picked just for you, and more.

Sign up now

More from Out & About

Tue, 12:23

Laurie Page of the Public Rights of Way Team at Essex County Council shares with us this beautiful six-mile walk around Bradwell’s stunning coastal delights

Read more
Wednesday, October 10, 2018

We’ve put together 15 questions that will push your knowledge of Essex to the limit - let us know how you’ve done on social media!

Read more
Friday, October 5, 2018

With one of the warmest and driest summers on record, this year has been a difficult one for gardeners. Susie Bulman from The Beth Chatto Gardens at Elmstead Market shares some top tips for plant survival, even in these conditions

Read more
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Our county’s remaining windmills stand the test of time as a tribute to a bygone era. Mica Bale highlights some of the best examples in Essex

Read more
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Whether you’re looking for a memorable day trip or an impromptu weekend getaway, Essex is a perfect patchwork of all the little things we love about Britain. Proudly showcasing the charm of the county, we pick 13 towns you must visit when planning a trip to Essex

Read more
Tuesday, September 25, 2018

This walk from the town of Bures on the Essex and Suffolk border leads you through the Essex countryside to the little villages of Alphamstone and Lamarsh | Words and photos: Laurie Page Public Rights of Way Team at Essex County Council

Read more
Tuesday, September 25, 2018

A popular Southend escape game venue has launched a new room inspired by the town’s seafaring past

Read more
Thursday, September 20, 2018

The history and heritage of our county’s historic homes is not only contained within their walls but it also stretches out into the land surrounding it. We’ve found 11 great walks that allow you to experience that history first hand

Read more
Tuesday, September 4, 2018

If you have never been to a ploughing match, this month is a great time to put that right as the The Ongar Ploughing Match marks its 100th event. Ralph Metson explains more

Read more
Tuesday, September 4, 2018

New research by TotallyMoney suggests Essex is one of the best counties for London commuter hotspots. Based on average house price, length of commute by train and the cost of an annual train ticket these are the best commuter towns in Essex

Read more

Newsletter Sign Up

Sign up to the following newsletters:

Sign up to receive our regular email newsletter

Our Privacy Policy

Follow us on Twitter

Like us on Facebook

Topics of Interest

Food and Drink Directory

Local Business Directory

Search For a Car In Your Area

Property Search