This blog is devoted to images and recollections of Leek and the surrounding Staffordshire Moorlands from years gone by. I hope you find it interesting. If you have anything to add, please use the comment window or you can email me on

Thursday, 12 November 2009

When Werrington's windmill still turned

Werrington windmill in 1905 – the small turbine on top was used to generate electricity.

Few of us have time to give it more than a glance as we travel along the busy Ash Bank Road, but Werrington’s circular brick tower has a special place in Moorlands history as the district’s last remaining windmill.

Although windpower has gained new importance in the search for renewable energy sources, windmills have been used for centuries to grind corn and minerals.

Staffordshire may have had many more watermills than the wind-powered variety, but local expert Dr Barry Job has identified over 130 windmills within the county boundaries, nearly half of which date from before 1700. Of these, just two were in the Moorlands: at Dilhorne, now long disappeared, and the one at Werrington.

Thanks to Dr Job’s research, we know that Werrington windmill dates from 1730. When advertised for sale in 1804 it was described as “a powerful corn mill consisting of four pairs of mill stones and one flour machine,” that came complete with warehouses, drying kiln, stables and two acres of land.

By 1845, owner John Fynney was so proud of his mill that he commissioned a jug to be made showing the four-sailed mill on one side and the Windmill Inn on the other. Subsequent owners included the Rev. Charles Stephen Hassell who lived at the nearby Fox Earth mansion.

The mill was very much a local landmark, as illustrated in 1876, members of the newly-formed Leek Cyclists’ Club chose it as the destination for one of their very first club runs. Club documents tell us that just five enthusiasts cycled to Werrington, took refreshment at the Windmill Inn, viewed the nearby Reformatory and then, courtesy of the miller, climbed to the top of the windmill from where they enjoyed a magnificent view of the surrounding countryside.

By the 1880’s the mill is thought to have ceased grinding corn, however it was then put the more unusual use of grinding coal – probably from some of the small collieries in the area – to be mixed with bitumen to make briquettes.

By 1905, which is when our old photograph was taken, the mill was in a near-derelict state, its sails long gone, but topped by a miniature turbine used to generate electricity for the pub next door. The board over the pub door tells us that Edwin Biddleston was licensee at the time.

What we see today is the remaining four-storey tower, although because the ground around it has been raised over the years we don’t get a true idea of the building’s original height. Inside, the main shaft which linked the sails to the grinding stones, is believed to be still in place.

The mill as it looked in 1962.

The castle-like top dates from the Second World War when the mill was used as a lookout by the local Home Guard detachment – their shelter remains on the roof. The brickwork was restored in the mid-Eighties by the Midlands Electricity Board, which had bought the mill in 1952. At the same time, the MEB also installed a standby generator and radio masts.

Nowadays the mill, owned by E.ON Central Networks, is overshadowed by a telecommunications tower twice its height and is almost surrounded by village shops.

The district’s only other windmill lay directly north of Dilhorne village and, according to Dr Job’s research, was first shown on a map in 1775. Between 1854 and 1872 the miller was Silas Jackson, but by 1900 the mill had ceased to appear on maps.

Apart from Werrington, only two other windmills still stand in North Staffordshire. A sandstone tower at Kidsgrove and the 35-feet-high brick windmill at Meir Heath which local residents are successfully campaigning to preserve.

Will the Moorlands see the return of the windpower? Only about a mile away from the old mill, two wind turbines have been erected close to Cellarhead crossroads and provide power to the adjoining glass workshop. And with windfarm appearing nationwide, it’s perhaps just a matter of time before our own windswept moors are generating electricity.

Nowadays the mill is hooked up to Central Networks power and communications equipment.

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