Exploring Pitstone Windmill
Approaching Pitstone post mill from the surrounding Chiltern countryside, gives you magical views which change with the seasons, making it worth a visit even when the mill is closed.
A little bit of history
Pitstone Windmill is an early post mill so, unlike similar mills in East Anglia, it was turned to face the wind on top of a huge wooden post using a tail pole instead of a fantail or shuttered sails.
The date of 1627 is the earliest of several dates found inscribed in the woodwork of Pitstone Windmill, although it is generally thought that the mill was built earlier. Remarkably the mill served its community for three centuries until a freak storm in 1902 caused extensive damage.
How does the mill work?
Although the mill is no longer in use today, its machinery, including the windshaft and the brakewheel is still intact. The windmill and its machinery were lovingly restored by the Pitstone Windmill Restoration Committee, a team of volunteers set up in 1963 to rescue this ancient landmark.
A trip to the mill will show you how gravity combined with two types of stone (coarse Peak Stones and French Burr) were used to mill wheat into both animal feed and flour.
The mill would have been powered by common sails, consisting of a simple framework covered with a sail cloth which could be reefed and furled by hand according to the strength of the wind. The mill is turned to face the wind by means of tail pole running on a single cartwheel.
The sails rotate the windshaft, a long spindle attached to a large gear wheel called the brake wheel. This motion sets off a series of gear wheels which are attached to the mill stones. Grain is fed to the mill stones via hoppers placed above. As the wheels grind the grain the meal falls from the stones through a chute to the floor below.
At this stage the meal can either be bagged and sold as wholemeal flour or, fed into the flour dresser to be separated into different grades of white flour and bran.
Make a day of it
Pitstone Windmill is part of the large Ashridge Estate, which consists of 5,000 acres of woodland, parkland and chalk downlands. At the centre of the estate are a visitor centre, shop and cafe (not National Trust). There are a number of events held at Ashridge Estate throughout the year, including guided walks. You can also set off alone to enjoy the beautiful surroundings. Why not take a walk from the windmill to Ivinghoe Beacon, across chalk grassland where you will find butterfles and wildflowers in summer, or to the Bridgewater Monument at the centre of the estate?