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History of Horsey Windpump

Blue sky at Horsey Windpump, Norfolk
Blue sky at Horsey Windpump, Norfolk | © National Trust Images/Rob Coleman

Horsey Windpump has had a dramatic history. It’s survived floods, a lightning strike, a collapse, storms and gale force winds. Standing on the site of previous mills, Horsey Windpump is the youngest and one of the largest windpumps on the Norfolk Broads. Discover more about its history.

A landscape shaped by man

In 1797 Horsey was a wild and desolate place, known locally as the Devil’s Country due to its wild and lawless nature. The Enclosures Act paved the way for the land to be drained and changed the area forever.

Horses, floods and sickness

The name Horsey means ‘Horse Island’ and it is believed that Horsey was originally a stud or grazing area for horses. Mortality was high, with insects carrying fen plague, also known as marsh malaria. With only seven cottages and a small farmhouse, Horsey was not somewhere people wanted to live.

At this time, it was effectively still an island, surrounded by marshes with just one road in and out of the village that was often flooded for most of the year. The vicar of the parish reported that he nearly drowned on three occasions while travelling to the church to give his sermon.

Reshaping the landscape

Enclosure and drainage in the 18th century would do away with this unmanaged landscape, leading to a loss of animals and plants, many of which we now consider rare. It also meant the end of a way of life for the local people who lived here and made their living from the marshes.

Farming became easier and livestock was introduced but the sea was always a threat. When exceptionally high tides and storms coincided, the sea would break through the narrow strip of dunes, causing severe flooding, most recently in 1938.

Only in the 19th century did the sea defences and land drainage become sufficiently effective to allow for the construction of roads to neighbouring villages. But with climate change causing more frequent storms and sea level rises, the risk of flooding in this low-lying area remains high.

The 21st-century landscape

Having grown in size and now an attractive tourist destination, Horsey has changed significantly. With the land drained and a proper access road built, many tens of thousands of visitors flock to the area each year, a far cry from 200 years ago. Yet Horsey Windpump continues to stand watch over the village and mere, as she and her predecessors have done for more than 300 years.

Drainage mills at Horsey

There has been a drainage mill on or in the vicinity of the site since the early 1700s. The current mill is the third or fourth mill to exist here, with the original having been built between 1730–40.

These have been referred to as the New Mill, the Great Mill and the Black Mill. Horsey Windpump was built in 1912 by local millwright Dan England and has endured a dramatic history since.

Installing the new stocks and sail frames during the restoration project at Horsey Windpump, Norfolk
Installing the new stocks and sail frames at Horsey Windpump | © National Trust Images/Oskar Proctor

Horsey Windpump – a timeline


The Black Mill is built

The Black Mill was built between 1797–1826 and makes up the footprint of the current drainage mill.

The cap was blown off in a gale in 1895, which was replaced along with the sails, by the millwrights England’s of Ludham in 1897.

It’s presumed that the condition of the tower caused the need for a new drainage mill to be built. About 12 courses of the old Black Mill can still be seen inside the current windpump.

Millwrights then and now

For centuries, millwrights have built and carried out running repairs on windmills and drainage mills. That's still the case here at Horsey.

Millwrights of the past

In years gone by, the millwright’s job required a range of skills, including draughtsmanship, carpentry, engineering, blacksmithing and bricklaying.

Dan England

Horsey Windpump was built in 1912 by Dan England of Ludham, making it the youngest windpump on the Norfolk Broads. When it was constructed, huge cast iron gear and shafts, plus large pieces of timber had to be hauled into position by hand using only ropes, pulleys and levers.

Dan England was from a family of millwrights that had been in the trade for over 200 years. Starting as a millwright and engineer at the age of 14, Dan built the mills and made repairs and improvements to many others. His work took him to all areas of Norfolk. He was in the business for 66 years until he died at the age of 80.

Modern-day millwrights

The skills required to be a millwright in the 21st century haven't changed, but electrical tools and modern cranes have made the job easier, and health and safety laws have made it safer.

However, just 12 millwrights remain in the UK today and the number is set to decrease further, leaving this traditional trade at risk of being lost forever.

Tim Whiting

Tim has been a millwright since 2011 and has worked on a variety of mills across the country. Alongside his team of Suffolk-based millwrights, he has been working on Horsey Windpump since 2016. Since then, the team has restored and replaced many parts of this Norfolk landmark. With their hard work and dedication, the Windpump has once again become a living machine.

View of Horsey Windpump and its reflection in the water, Norfolk. The windpump was built in 1912 and is now a grade two listed building.

Discover more at Horsey Windpump

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

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Things to do at Horsey Windpump 

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Horsey Windpump restoration project 

Find out how we worked to get this historic windpump turning in the Norfolk landscape again, and how expert millwrights restored vital components during the three-year project.

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Visiting Horsey Windpump with your dog 

Horsey Windpump is a two pawprint rated place. Dogs on leads are welcome, with several dog-friendly walks on the surrounding Broadland landscape.

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