The Kibworth Harcourt Windmill, situated on the Langton Road, is an early 18th century postmill. It is a Grade 2* listed building and is also a Scheduled Ancient Monument. The mill is the last survivor of 211 postmills that were once used in Leicestershire.
The main feature of a post mill is that the whole body of the mill which houses the machinery is mounted on a single vertical post, around which it can be turned to bring the sails into the wind.
The post (trestle) that the mill turns on
The central trestle is from an earlier mill on another site and is dated from the 14th century.
View of first floor showing the tressle
There are a number of carvings inside the mill, the earliest is on the tressle.
Carvings on the trestle, "DANIEL HUTCHINSON MILLER 1711”
Another carving, 'T SMITH MILLER OCTOR 1837”
The mill had two cloth (common) sails) and two spring sails (a spring sail has a number of shutters controlled by a bar and a spring which adjusts to the force of the wind). The miller turned the mill into the wind by hand using the rotation beam.
Rotation beam used by the miller to turn the mill
The mill has two pairs of millstones, one of French Burr, the other of Derbyshire Peak Stone. One was used for animal feed and the other for flour. The top stone of the pair is called the runner stone, the lower stone is called the bed stone.
Flour Stones, the finer stones are for flour grinding
The stones are turned by a large wheel which runs the stone nut (a small gear). Once through the grinding process the ground grain passes through a flour dresser which separated the flour from the other pieces of the grain. A 19th century addition to the mill was iron governors which regulate the coarseness of the flour.
It was a working mill until 1912 but from then its condition began to decline. By the 1930s the mill was in very poor condition and the owners, Merton College, had the mill inspected by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB). The inspection concluded that repairs would cost £100.00.
In 1936 Merton College transferred ownership of the mill to the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) who carried remedial work on the mill in 1936 and again in 1970.
On 8th August 2017 during an inspection of the mill one of the sails collapsed and fell to the ground. This caused the opposite sail to swing violently and it was badly damaged when it hit the ground.
For safety reasons the remaining sails were removed.
Postmill with sails removed
The Mills Section of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) has decided that a major overhaul of the mill is required and when completed will return the mill to a working condition. The overhaul will involve repair of the trestle and work to the roundhouse. Four new sails will be made, two common and two spring and a new tailpole and ladder. It is anticipated that the work will commence 2020.
Addition (October 2023)
The project has been completed and the article below is an extract from the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) website.
Text courtesy of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB).
Kibworth Harcourt Mill Project
In 2020-21, we undertook major repairs to Kibworth Harcourt Post Mill, removing it from the Heritage at Risk Register and making it operational for the first time since the 1930s.
Kibworth Harcourt Post Mill
This Grade II* listed windmill is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, with the majority of the mill dating from 1711 or earlier. It was a working flour mill until 1912 when its condition began to decline.
Merton College Oxford gave it to the SPAB in 1936 and in 2021, thanks to a generous bequest, we were able to start a year-long repair project to bring it back into working order.
Kibworth Harcourt Post Mill once again looks like its former self, with a white body and sails, black sheeted roofs, a roundhouse and a curved tail pole. The interior is covered with burn-marks and witch-marks designed to ward off evil spirits, and graffiti left by millers and visitors from the past 300 years – a fascinating insight into its long history.
Our mill is the only surviving post mill in Leicestershire. There were once dozens of post mills in Leicestershire alone – now, there are only 50 post mills left in the whole country.
A post mill is the earliest type of traditional windmill found in the UK. The weight of the mill rests on a single post so the mill can be turned to face the wind. This post is supported by a trestle which sits on brick piers, and at Kibworth, that trestle is enclosed in a brick roundhouse.
The repair project
Repairing a historic windmill is no easy task! Here’s how we did it...
We contracted Millwrights Dorothea Restorations to undertake most of the repair work. They lifted up the 15-tonne buck (body of the mill) on a temporary steel support frame so they could repair the severely decayed original oak trestle (substructure of the mill) beneath it.
They scarfed new oak sections onto the sound timber to re-establish the original joint, then re-installed the softwood side plates.
The original interior weatherboarding was in good condition, so we kept it, and fitted new white-painted exterior weatherboarding to match the original wide boards. We repaired the brickwork on the roundhouse using locally sourced lime mortar, just as the original builders would have done.
We kept all the original graffiti, comprising initials, dates, names, sketches and witches’ marks, which so eloquently tell the story of the people who worked here over the years.
We fitted new exterior steps and a tailpole, repaired the internal machinery, and added a cutting-edge VM Zinc roof on the buck and roundhouse to protect it all for years to come.
The previous sails had been removed in the 1970s as they were beyond repair. So, we fitted new common and spring sails, made at a workshop in Bristol. These are now fully operational and can be seen in action at our Open Days (wind-permitting, of course!).
The bequest that funded these repairs also funded a Millwright Fellowship. We can’t maintain our mills without skilled millwrights, but millwrighting is sadly on the Heritage Crafts Red List of Endangered Crafts.
We were therefore delighted to have carpenter Toby Slater as our first Millwright Fellow in 2021. Toby worked with Dorothea Restorations on the repairs, helping construct new sails and crafting the new external oak steps.
Interested in applying? Find out more about the Millwright Fellowship.
It takes an awful lot of talented and dedicated people to make a repair project like this happen. Our thanks go to:
- Millwrights Dorothea Restorations who undertook most of the repair work
- 2004 SPAB Scholar Naomi Hatton, the engineer in charge of the project
- Former SPAB Technical Advisor Luke Bonwick who assisted and provided drawings for Dorothea Restorations
- 2021 SPAB Millwright Fellow Toby Slater who worked on the repairs, helping construct new sails and crafting the new external oak steps
- Terra Measurement who did a full engineering report, 3D survey and fly through
- Cambridgeshire Windmills Consultancy who prepared the schedule of work
- Buildings archaeologist James Wright of Triskele Heritage who investigated the graffiti
- Local historian David Holmes who provided valuable information
- Mills Section Committee Chair Mildred Cookson who was a technical advisor on the project
- All our volunteers who have donated their time to looking after the mill and opening it to visitors
To find out more
Visit the SPAB YouTube channel to watch a fly through of the mill, find out all about Kibworth’s historic graffiti and see how the oak staircase was made. You can also hear more on BBC Radio Leicester.
How to visit
Kibworth Harcourt Post Mill is on private ground so only open to the public on select open days in the year. Subscribe to our e-newsletter to hear when the next one is.
Want to help keep the sails turning at Kibworth Harcourt? Contribute to the Mill Repair Fund.