Skip to content

Replacing Bembridge Windmill’s sweeps

Installing the new sweeps on Bembridge Windmill, Isle of Wight
Installing the new sweeps on Bembridge Windmill | © National Trust Images/Chuck and Fiona Eccleston

Whilst other windmills around the Isle of Wight have crumbled away, Bembridge Windmill remains a traditional sight on the landscape to this day. Thanks to local fundraising support and a lifeline grant from the government’s Culture Recovery Fund, new sails have been restored to the Grade I listed building. Find out how it all came together to restore the mill to its former glory.

Replacing the sails

Early in 2021, father and son millwrights Geoff and John Wallis from Dorothea Restorations used a crane and cherry picker to lift the heavy timber sails (known as sweeps) and their new supporting 11m beams (known as stocks) almost 50ft in the air, and then bolted them into position.

Each pair of sweeps and stocks weighs around 600kg, and the complex and highly skilled job took several days.

The last set of sweeps were removed by the same millwrights at the end of 2018 because they had begun to rot, after 30 years’ service. The new ones were built in the Bristol-based workshops of Dorothea Restorations.

‘There are a few millwrights still about, but it takes a lifetime to learn the skills. I’ve been in the business for 45 years and my mission is to pass my skills on to future generations. I’m still learning though. Each mill is different: ages, construction, materials, technologies. It’s wonderful to see how they were put together and to study the skills of former millwrights.’

- Geoff Wallis, Millwright, Dorothea Restorations

Installing the new sweeps on Bembridge Windmill, Isle of Wight, from below
Installing the new sweeps on Bembridge Windmill, from below | © National Trust Images/Chuck and Fiona Eccleston

What are the sweeps?

The sweeps are a wooden lattice that attach to large beams known as stocks. In a complete sail, the sailcloth would have been stretched over the sweeps so that they could catch the wind and turn the machinery, which would grind the grains.

As the sweeps are made from wood, over a number of years they can start to rot and so we have to replace them every so often. We turn the sails manually to try and prevent weathering on one particular side.

Watch a video of the sails being restored.

Local support

The total cost of removing, building and installing the new sweeps and stocks was £38,000. Part of this was met by local fundraising support, including the Isle of Wight Association, as well as the Bembridge branches of the WI and Men in Sheds. The project also received a grant from the government’s Culture Recovery Fund.

Workman with spanner installing the new sweeps on Bembridge Windmill, Isle of Wight
Workman with spanner installing the new sweeps on Bembridge Windmill | © National Trust Images/Chuck and Fiona Eccleston

‘People on the island will be thrilled to see the mill reunited with its sails; it’s looked so forlorn without them.’

- Kathryn Wilson, Visitor Operations and Experience Manager, National Trust

A lost craft

This kind of work is rare to witness these days: there are only between 40 to 50 complete windmills left in the country and just a handful of practising UK millwrights. Millwrighting is on the Heritage Crafts Association’s Red List of Endangered Crafts.

Nestled in the quiet corner of a field, Bembridge Windmill is perched high enough for its sails to be seen across the surrounding countryside – a view that remains almost unchanged since it was immortalised in watercolour by JMW Turner in 1795.

Thank you

Thanks to everyone who raised funds for the sweeps. We couldn’t have done it without your support.

Visitors at Bembridge Windmill, Isle of Wight

Discover more at Bembridge Windmill

Find out when Bembridge Windmill is open, how to get here, the things to see and do and more.

You might also be interested in

Exterior of Bembridge Windmill, Isle of Wight

The history of Bembridge Windmill 

Discover the story of Bembridge Windmill, from its 18th-century beginnings to inspiring Turner and being used as a shelter and lookout during the two World Wars.

A visiting family touch the machinery inside Bembridge Windmill, Isle of Wight. Built around 1700, it last operated in 1913 but still has most of its original machinery intact

Things to see and do at Bembridge Windmill 

Discover the highlights of Bembridge Windmill, the last surviving windmill on the Isle of Wight. Climb to the top, play in the Mud Bakery or make friends with a tree in the grounds.

Ranger in National Trust fleece inspecting white blossom on tree in orchard

Our cause 

We believe that nature, beauty and history are for everyone. That’s why we’re supporting wildlife, protecting historic sites and more. Find out about our work.

Birds eye view of the kitchen garden project at Florence Court, County Fermanagh

Grants and funding 

Find out more about the funding the National Trust receives from grants, and the projects it has helped support.