Thursday, 14 November 2013

Windmills near Lympne, Kent

From Lympne head west along the B2067. This road has a low ridge to its north and the vast flat expanses of Romney Marsh to the south. In Roman times this was the very roughly the line of the coast. In later centuries, as the marshes began to form, the River Rother meandered across the flat lands. Just beyond the village of Hamstreet go straight across the A2070 and continue along the B2067 to Woodchurch. At Woodchurch turn right into the village, almost at once bearing left at a Y-junction. This lane passes the church, when you should see the windmill on top of the hill to the right.

Windmills were once a common feature of the English landscape. A form of windmill was developed in what is now Iran in around ad700, but this worked on a vertical shaft principle and was quite different from the more familiar form with a horizontal shaft and vertical sails. This form of windmill seems to have been developed in northwestern Europe in the 12th century. The earliest certain reference dates to 1191 when a windmill at Bury St Edmunds featured in a legal dispute. However, windmills were so widely spread across southern England and the Low Countries within a few years that it seems certain they had been invented at least as early as 1150.

These early windmills were of the post variety in which the whole structure is mounted on a stout wooden post and turned to face the wind. In around 1270, the tower windmill was developed. This had a round stone tower as its main structure. The sails were mounted on a wooden cap, which was alone turned to face the wind. This more robust structure meant that larger windmills with bigger sails could be built, in turn making the amount of power that could be capture much greater.

Throughout the medieval period, mills continued to be powered by water if a fast flowing stream was nearby, or by wind if not. A sudden ridge such as that by Lympne was ideal for a windmill. The flat marshes to the south provided no obstacle to the wind which swept in off the sea to power the windmills.

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