Leicestershire and Rutland were once dotted with windmills for grinding corn which added charm to the landscape. Records indicate seventy-five around 1300 and eighty-three in 1650. In 1779 there were a hundred working windmills. Numbers peaked at one hundred and fifty-two in the period 1830 to 1835, then a slow decline set in and by 1855 they had dipped to a hundred and thirty-one. They continued to fall. In 1877 there were ninety-nine, in 1900 thirty-four and in 1914 twenty-two. By the 1920s and 30s there were only four windmills still working. Now the few that survive have fallen into disuse.
Few people passing through Hoton know that the village once had a windmill. Writing in Hoton, a Stroll Round a Conservation Village Rachel Flynn says that in 1823 local landowner William Gill sold a quarter of an acre of land in the old Well Field to the miller Edward Watkin. A post windmill was erected on a small knoll adjoining the turnpike on the northern outskirts of the village. The mill’s exact location is shown on the 19th century (post-enclosure) field map as Mill Close. It stood on the west side of the Rempstone Road (A60), beyond the farm road entrance to Dirty Lane, about 250 yards south of King’s Bridge, close to the Nottingham boundary (see next page). In the early days it would have been a familiar landmark to travellers on the stagecoaches rattling by daily.
There is more detailed information about the mill’s history in The Windmills of Leicestershire and Rutland by Nigel Moon published by Sycamore Press, Wymondham, in 1986. He says the post mill was erected between 1826 and 1836 on raised ground, on what is thought to have been a new mill site.
The Watkin family held the Hoton mill for the whole of its life. Joseph Watkin was the miller until 1863, and the last recorded millers were W. and E. Watkin in 1908. The mill was struck by lightning and burnt down soon after this date.
After the fire, Mr T. Hazelwood of Asfordby used some of the timber to make the oak screen and choir stalls in Hoby church. One pier of the trestle and the foundations of the other three survived. The pier measured 2ft 7in high and was 4ft 2in by 2ft 9in at ground level decreasing to 2ft 4in wide at the top. The distance apart of the piers (measuring from their inside faces) was 12ft 6in. Nearby, pieces of both burr and peak millstone were found indicating that the mill had two pairs of stones. Usually four to five feet in diameter, millstones were of two kinds. Some were made from a single block of Derbyshire peak millstone grit and were best for grinding barley. Others were composite stones made up of fourteen pieces of ‘burr’ – a quartzite imported from France – cemented together and bound with iron bands around the periphery and these the miller preferred for grinding wheat, oats, maize and beans. Grinding grooves on the surface of the stone were cut in ten divisions or harps of four grooves each to bring flour to the edge. The runner stone was concave on one side and revolved on top of the fixed bed stone. Rachel Flynn mentions that in 1804, before the date of this post mill, a pair of millstones with carriage paid 2s 6d toll on the turnpike.
Post mills – which date back to the 12th century – had a revolving wooden body containing the machinery and carrying the sails, and steps down to the ground. The body was balanced on a central oaken main post which was fixed and held in the vertical by a trestle resting on brick piers. This allowed the body to be turned to suit the wind, as sails can only turn properly if pointing directly into the wind. From the 18th century, the bottom part of the main post and its timber supports or trestle was sometimes enclosed and protected under the revolving body by a roundhouse. In the East Midlands, the roundhouse walls carried the track and mill body rollers which steadied the mill when working.
The photograph in Nigel Moon’s book was taken around 1900–5 and shows the mill apparently in working order since there is still canvas on the common sails. However, the mill has a roundhouse and an undated photograph of Hoton mill published in the Loughborough Monitor in January 1950 shows a mill with the wooden trestle exposed.
Mill mounds that have lost their mill may be criss-crossed like a large hot cross bun, especially where an early mill was set upon an artificial mound. This is because the housing of the main post consisted of quarter bars sloping to cross trees which rested on stone piers set inside the mound. These marks are often still visible but due to extensive farming activity since Hoton mill was dismantled, no trace of the mill foundations can be seen, even on aerial photographs.
Originally published in WHO Newsletter 2002
Copyright the author Philip White