The History of Horsey Windpump

Old black and white photo of Horsey Windpump

Horsey Windpump has had a dramatic history – it has survived floods, a lightning strike, a collapse, storms and gale force winds. Standing on the site of an older 'Black Mill', Horsey Windpump is one of the youngest windpumps on the Norfolk Broads.

Horsey Windpump is a distinctive structure with a fascinating past, which lies next to Horsey Mere. The main brick structure of the present windpump was built in 1912 by Dan England, the famous Ludham millwright, on the foundation of an older windpump which had been known as Horsey Black Mill, so called because its ancient fabric was tarred to keep out the weather.
The old mill suffered a number of accidents culminating in a March gale in 1895 when the whole of the top was blown off into the road after being ‘tail winded’. By early 1912 the damaged structure was in a precarious condition and work started to take it down by hand, brick by brick, to its foundations. In the same year the new tower was constructed, entirely from red bricks sourced locally from Martham and built on the existing foundations and a few courses of the original brickwork can still be seen. The brick work tower was completed in time to deal with the exceptional floods in the summer of 1912.
The vertical shafting was renewed in Scandinavian Pine specially imported for the purpose of transferring the forces required to drive the horizontal pumping shaft at ground level, which along with the machinery is still the original. The teeth of the wooden cog wheels are made of hornbeam. When the pump was in operation the sails would turn at 10 to 12 revolutions per minute (rpm), but in a gale they would often go round at up to 15 rpm.
The purpose of drainage windpumps like this one was to pump water from the dykes, which intersect and drain the land, into the high level system of the broads and tidal waterways. The water pumped at Horsey from the low level system to the high reaches the sea at Great Yarmouth after a course of 23 miles. This watercourse is affected throughout its length by the state of the tide in the North Sea.
At Horsey the maximum lift from at the highest water from marsh level to Mere level is 7 foot. Drainage windpumps like this have always been a prominent feature of the Norfolk Broads and at one time large numbers could be seen at work in every direction. Now practically all these windpumps have been replaced by diesel or electric pumps. Following the construction in 1912 the new windpump was working alongside an auxiliary steam pump, this was then converted in 1939 to diesel power.
Horsey Windpump continued working until July 1943 when it was severely struck by lightning and put out of action. The lightning strike split the massive timber stocks that held the sails from end to end. Owing to a shortage of timber these remained damaged and unusable throughout the Second World War and for some years afterwards, pumping was subsequently solely carried out by the diesel motor.
In 1948 the Horsey Windpump, together with the freehold of Horsey Estate, was acquired by the National Trust from Major Anthony Buxton of Horsey Hall, the Buxton family now leases the estate from the National Trust and continue to live in Horsey Hall.
In 1956 the damaged timber stocks were considered to have become too dangerous and were taken down. In 1957 the old diesel motor was replaced by an electric pump and in the same year the Windmill Section of the Society for the Protection of Ancient buildings launched an appeal for funds to restore and paint the cap of the windpump.
During the Great Gales of 1987 Horsey Windpump once again succumbed to extreme weather conditions; the fantail blew off and the cap was severely damaged. Repair work was carried out during 1988 and 1989 and the windpump reopened to the public in 1990.
Horsey Windpump has had a dramatic history and like many old buildings the time has come for this iconic landmark to undergo significant and essential repairs which will include replacement of the cap and sails, and reinstating this special building back to its former glory by December 2016.