Why repairs to Billingford Mill won’t take the wind out of this popular Norfolk landmark’s sails

A large crane removing the cap from Billingford Mill. Picture:: IAN CARSTAIRS

A large crane removing the cap from Billingford Mill. Picture:: IAN CARSTAIRS - Credit: Archant

Its iconic sails have turned for more than 150 years, making it one of the most picturesque landmarks of the Norfolk landscape and a reminder of a bygone age.

Repair works at Billingford Mill. Picture:: IAN CARSTAIRS

Repair works at Billingford Mill. Picture:: IAN CARSTAIRS - Credit: Archant

But although vital renovation works as part of a £150,000 project mean Billingford Mill will not turn this year, its custodians have pledged the changes will not take the wind out of its sails during 2017.

The windmill near Diss has been carefully preserved for future generations by Julie and Herbert Websdell for over 20 years, who look after the Norfolk County Council-owned site on behalf of the Norfolk Windmills Trust.

In recent years it has still been able to operate as a fully-functioning mill, with Mr and Mrs Websdell providing demonstrations to visitors and young children.

However for some time the five-storey, red-brick building has increasingly needed repairs – not least to its ageing sails, which have become weathered by storms and strong gales.

A large crane removing the cap from Billingford Mill. Picture:: IAN CARSTAIRS

A large crane removing the cap from Billingford Mill. Picture:: IAN CARSTAIRS - Credit: Archant


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An important milestone in the site's long-running renovation plans was reached when a crane arrived to perform complex operation to take off the cap – or roof – of the windmill, along with the stocks which hold the sails in place.

However it had to be aborted because the ground was too soft for a crane to carry out the removal.

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But after 20 tonnes of crushed concrete was brought in as a foundation, the cap has now been lifted off the Grade II Listed building so it can go to a millwright's works for restoration.

New sails will be made and returned with the cap next year, meaning 2017 will be one of the few years in its history that Billingford Mill has not been able to turn.

Billingford Mill in 1979. Picture: ARCHANT LIBRARY

Billingford Mill in 1979. Picture: ARCHANT LIBRARY

The site has had several renovations in the past, including full restorations in the 1960s and 1990s.

But Mr Websdell is clear that even though the mill is not working: 'We're not closing. We will carry on the windmill tradition.'

Mr and Mrs Websdell organise openings and tours of the mill every year to help raise money for its upkeep, as well as keep the memory of the mill alive.

'It's living history,' Mr Websdell said.

Julie and Herbert Websdell, custodians at Billingford Mill. Picture: SONYA DUNCAN

Julie and Herbert Websdell, custodians at Billingford Mill. Picture: SONYA DUNCAN - Credit: Eastern Daily Press � 2013

'It was used for making flour and people relied on it. They couldn't go and buy flour from a shop.

'It will work and do the job it was intended to do – and we intend to keep it there.'

The pair often give visitors and young children demonstrations of how the mill works.

And with funding still needed to repair brickwork at the top of the tower, which turned out to have more damage than first thought, the tours will continue this year.

'The mill might be top-less, but we're still open as usual,' Mr Websdell said.

'It's a big part of our life. Some people have a car they look after – we look after a windmill.

'We work as volunteers. If we hadn't looked after it, I don't know if it would've kept going.'

Billingford Mill was built in 1860 by W Skinner for the princely sum of £1,300.

In the days before giant machines and major factories it was a large source of flour production in the area, helping to feed several generations.

It ceased to be used as a commercial mill in around 1960s and was the last of its kind to be operated as a wind-powered commercial mill in Norfolk.

The first mill opening will be on Monday, April 17 with an Easter egg hunt for under-15s and a treasure hunt adults aged over 18, with some good prizes promised.

The building will be open for tours between noon and 4pm, with the last tour at 3.30pm. The price is £3 for adults and £2 concessions, with children going free.

Private tours for groups, clubs and schools are also available by appointment.

For more information, call Mr and Mrs Websdell on 01379 853967.

Have you got a story about South Norfolk's heritage? Contact Andrew Papworth on andrew.papworth@archant.co.uk

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