Landmark windmill gets its cap back on
- Credit: Simon Parkin
Its iconic sails had turned for more than 150 years, now one of the most picturesque landmarks in the Norfolk landscape is a major step closer to being fully restored to its original glory.
In a careful operation the newly renovated iconic white wooden cap was gently lifted up and lowered on to the top of Billingford Mill using a giant crane.
The cap - or roof - had been lifted off in 2017 to go to a millwright's works for restoration. Its return marks a major step in a £150,000 project on the Grade II listed mill near Diss.
The five-storey, red-brick building had increasingly needed repairs - not least to its ageing sails, which had to be removed in 2010 after becoming rotton after decades of weathering by storms and strong gales.
A new set to sails and stocks, the giant timbers that hold them in place, are currently been made before being attached, hopefully sometime later this summer, restoring the mill to its full glory with sails turning for the first time in a decade.
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Suffolk-based millwright Tim Whiting, who was overseeing the operation, said: "The cap has been restored in Saxmundham and has been put back to how it was originally. We produced drawings to match original photographs from as far back as we could find. It is a completely new profile to what many people will remember. It will look different, but it looks amazing."
Vital rebuilding work has had to be carried out on the tower to repair damage cause by very heavy steel stocks that were installed in the 1980s.
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"That is why the project has overrun," said Mr Whiting. "We have had to rebuild the entire top half of the tower and put brand new castings in that match the original ones."
Billingford Mill was built in 1860 by W Skinner for the princely sum of £1,300 and was a large source of flour production in the area. It ceased to be used as a commercial mill in the 1950s and was the last of its kind to be operated as a wind-powered commercial mill in Norfolk.
It is now overseen by mill custodians Julie and Herbert Websdell, who look after the Norfolk County Council-owned site on behalf of the Norfolk Windmills Trust.
Despite not operating as a fully-functioning mill, Mr and Mrs Websdell have still held open days and demonstrations to visitors. The next open day is June 9.
Mr Websdell said: "People have been able to see parts of the building that are not normally seen. We recently discovered graffiti in the tower that goes back to 1889.
"We will be milling again when it is up and running. When you get the sails working it is very therapeutic. It just trundles away and now it should be even better. Before the stocks weighed over four tonnes, the new ones will be about a tonne so we should get a lot more wind power from it."