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Lytham Windmill A Short History

by Marilyn Adams

 

Windmills have played a part in the history of Lytham for many hundreds of

years. Ancient documents from the Priory of Lytham, which was founded in 1190

and stood on the site of the present Lytham Hall, refer to an ox—mill, water mill

and a "Windy Milne", and a fragment of the 17th century plan clearly shows a

post mill standing between Lytham Hall and St Cuthbert's Church.

 

Lytham in 1840

Lytham 1840s 

 

The present mill was built by the Squire of Lytham in 1805 on an area of ground

known as Lytham Marsh and was leased to Mr Richard Cookson for a rent of 7/ -

per year. Some of the machinery inside the mill however, was much older than

the mill itself and was no doubt brought in from other disused mills in the area.

The central shaft which was essentially the power house of the machine and

transmitted energy to the various working parts, bore a notice which read "this

shaft is of Baltik Oak and it has done its work for 150 years."

 

When first built Lytham Mill did not have the plinth which now surrounds the

base — evidence of this can be seen in the bricked up windows on the inside shell

of the basement. It is thought that the plinth was added ten years later. Once

curiously described as making the mill look like a candle in a saucer it was built

to protect both people and wandering animals from approaching too near the

sails. It also served as a platform from which the miller could adjust the sailcloths

and cap.

 

Lytham Mill was always very busy for it was a large mill and served a wide area.

The farmers would trundle their heavy sacks of grain by pony and cart along the

narrow track which led across the Marsh from Mythop Road, the wheat and oats

were left for milling and later collected in the form of flour, meal or bran.

By 1840, however, the mill began to be looked upon as an industrial nuisance by

the genteel occupants of the newly built Beach Houses. It was the source of the

most distressing noises — chains clanked and sails creaked and clattered, not to

mention the smoke from the drying-kiln which was built alongside.

 

The kiln played an important part in the milling process for grain had to be dry

before it was ground into flour, The building housed a furnace fired by peat or

wood, over which was laid a floor of 12" square tiles, each perforated with a

series of small holes. The grain was spread out on the floor and the warm air

percolating through the tiles soon rendered it dry enough for milling.

 

Section of the Grain Drying Kiln

Section Drying Kiln

 

In 1840 the now famous Bartlett engraving clearly shows the Windmill with the

kiln in situ. A later picture published in 1856 in the London Illustrated news

shows the mill, but the old kiln has disappeared. Due to public demand and the

ever present fire hazard it was re-built in Kiln Street (now East Cliffe) in 1849.

 

Throughout the nineteenth century Lytham steadily increased in popularity as a

holiday resort and the arrival of the railways meant more people could enjoy the

fresh salt air and healthy sea bathing! Visitors were no doubt intrigued by the

unusual setting of Lytham Mill, for by 1840 the sand hills and marshy ground had

been levelled and the grassy expanse known as the green extended far beyond the

mill. People held picnics and took donkey rides beneath the shadows of the

sweeping sails and the donkeys must have eyed the cart ponies as they trundled

past with their heavy loads and probably there was sympathy on both sides!

 

Lytham in 1856

Lytham 1856

 

 

But the mill kept on working and curious holiday makers loved to step inside and

investigate the mysterious interior, some even venturing to climb the precarious

steps which led to each floor with only a rope to serve as a handrail. And when

they had examined the old machinery and brushed the flour-dust from their

clothes, they would lest their weight on the great sack scales to see if the Lytham

air was doing them any good! Tokens of these visits were left in the form of

visiting cards, hundreds of which once lined the walls and shaft, many bearing

the names of celebrities of the time.

 

In its working days the mill had much longer sails than today, for they almost

reach the plinth which surrounds the mill. Sadly, this proved disastrous, for in

1909 a small boy, on a school outing from Manchester, playfully clung to one of

the sails as it swept past. He was carried aloft and losing his grip, he fell and was

killed instantly.

 

During the early part of this century there began a decline in the use of wind

power for milling, windmills being replaced by the large steam driven roller mills

which were built in the towns and cities and which could produce and distribute

flour on a much greater scale.

 

Public demand for stone-ground flour decreased as the fine white roller—milled

flour became readily available — despite the fact that, as one old miller put it "the

stones coax the flour out of the grain, but the rollers frighten it out!"

 

Gas engines were installed in many windmills, including Lytham, in an effort to

compete but they were not popular with the old millers. Mr William Swann, the

miller at Lytham for over 25 years, regarded the "new contrivance" as sacrilege

and only used it when absolutely necessary.

 

Lytham Mill Mr Swann   Lytham Mill Boy and Model

 

On January 1st 1919, a tragedy occurred — a sudden severe gale caused the sails of

Lytham Mill to run out of control despite the powerful brake. They whipped

round at an alarming rate causing the brake to emit sparks which quickly ignited

the whole building. Fanned by the strong wind the flames engulfed the interior

and destroyed the cap and sails and most of the machinery which was made of

wood. Burning pieces of timber from the sails were hurled 50 yards down the

green and over a hundred sacks of oats were destroyed in the fire. An article in

the Lytham Standard describing the terrible night tells how Mr Swann had

watched the conflagration, and it says — "the flames burnt into his heart". After the

disastrous event an eye witness describes the Windmill as a "pathetic sight to all

who behold her".

 

Lytham Windmill after the fire

Windmill after fire

 

ln 1921 the Windmill was given to the people of Lytham by the Squire of

Lytham, John T. Clifton. The shell was restored and given a new cap and a set of

dummy sails and over the years it was used variously as a cafe, as H.Q. for

Lytham Cruising Club, the Motorboat Club and the Sea Cadets and was once an

Electricity Board sub—station. However by 1963 dry-rot was found to be seriously

affecting the interior, and renovation work was carried out at the then staggering

figure of £540!

 

Improvements continued to be made during the following years and by 1975 the

mill was sufficiently restored to play host to a series of exhibitions much to the

delight of local people and visitors alike. Sadly though, by 1985 the mill was

again found to be suffering from age-old problem of rising damp in its ancient

timbers.

 

In 1987 Fylde Borough Council decided to undertake the major effort

required to combat the effects of damp. With the help of grants from the

European Development Fund and the Countryside Commission a major

programme was implemented and over the next two years extensive work was

carried out to the interior and exterior of the mill.

 

The results of this work are remarkable and evident to all who visit, for now, in

its retirement our much loved Sentinel of the Beach has been given a new lease of

life and along with its memories is set to face yet another era.

 

Lytham Windmill was re-opened on Monday 20th March 1989 by the then Mayor

of the Fylde Councillor John Tavernor.

 

1989 Brochure

 

 

 

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