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Stevington Windmill

Stevington Windmill 1965 [Z50/112/1]
Stevington Windmill 1965 [Z50/112/1]

The windmill was listed by the former Department of Environment in May 1952 as Grade II*, of special interest and particularly important. One of the crosstrees contains an incised date of 1770 which presumably refers to the date at which it was built. The same piece of wood contains a date of 1921 and the name P. Keech, the name of the restorer and the date at which it was restored.

 Graffiti inside Stevington Windmill 1965 [Z50/112/6]
Graffiti inside Stevington Windmill 1965 [Z50/112/6]

The department noted: Two-storey body, timber-framed with pitch pine weatherboarding. Gambrel corrugated iron roof. Four common sails (no longer covered). Internal machinery completely restored and in workable order. Roundhouse around base was probably added in the 19th century, rubble with tile roof. This is the only complete windmill left in Bedfordshire and probably the last windmill in England to work with four common sails".

The first date in paper associated with the mill is 1785 - the following advertisement appears in the Northampton Mercury of 11th April:

STEVINGTON, BEDFORDSHIRE
APRIL 6, 1785
WANTED immediately, a MAN, that under-
Stands Grinding and Dressing of Stones at a
WIND-MILL. Any one that can bring a good Character
From his last Place, by applying to Mr. Richard Poole, as
Above, may have constant Employ and good Wages.
N. B. A single Man, to bed and board, would be pre-
ferred.

 Mill stone 1965 [Z50/112/9]
Mill stone 1965 [Z50/112/9]

Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service has a run of deeds for the mill from 1797 to 1951. In 1797 William Bithrey of Carlton, yeoman made an agreement with William Potteford of Harrold, grocer and tallow chandler to enact a fine to better assure Bithrey's title to two acres in eight lands above Barnsey, one acre in fifteen  lands on Budley Furlong and nine acres of arable in a field called Fox in the Holes near Picts Hill [CCE885/4]. The mill was not mentioned and so it is not certain whether Bithrey, in fact, owned it, the balance of probability (see below) being that he did not. The land was noted as previously having been in the occupation of Israel Wheaton, now of Richard Poole.

In 1804 Bithrey conveyed the twelve acres, again not mentioning the mill, by feoffment, to its tenant Richard Poole of Stevington, baker for £150 [CCE885/5]. The following Stevington was inclosed by Act of Parliament and in 1807 the inclosure award granted Richard Poole 7 acres, 2 roods, 37 poles in Great Field in compensation for his twelve acres [CCE885/6]. The land was bounded by Windmill Lane and Poole's will and later deeds make it clear that this was called Mill Close. In 1832 Richard's son William definitely owned the mill as well as the close because in that year he was forced to make an arrangement with his creditors and he had to convey the mill, with his other land, to the two trustees appointed by the creditors [WL1000/1/Stev/2/8].

Stevington Windmill interior 1965 [Z50/112/7]
Stevington Windmill interior 1965 [Z50/112/7]

An abstract of title of 1868 [CCE885/7] abstracts that Poole's will of 1811 devised Mill Close and the windmill standing on it to his wife for the remainder of her life, then to their son William, charged with an annuity of £5 for each of his daughters Sarah and Sophia until their respective marriages. Poole died in 1812. William Poole mortgaged the mill and its field to Bedford merchants Francis and John Green for £400 in 1825, taking out a further advance of £100 in 1828.

Either Poole was not a good businessman or the economic climate was against him (or, indeed, both) because in 1832 he had to assign mill and land to trustees Daniel Hipwell (also a miller) and William Halfhead (a corn dealer) for the benefit of his creditors. In 1837 both mill and Mill Close, along with £1,365, were conveyed to Francis Green in partial satisfaction of £3,000 owed to him by Poole.

Millstone and machinery 1965 [Z50/112/19]
Millstone and machinery 1965 [Z50/112/19]

Green made his will in 1837 and devised all his real estate to his nephew Thomas Abbott Green. The will was proved in 1840 and in 1849 Green conveyed the mill and Mill Close for £750 to Edmund Favell of Stevington, miller, who was, hitherto, his tenant. Favell at once mortgaged both mill and land for £800 to Sarah Sanders of Bedford. The mortgage was transferred to Joseph Knibb of Bedford in 1867.

In March 1868 Favell conveyed the mill to William Raban of Stevington, miller for £700, of which £600 was paid to Joseph Knibb to settle the unredeemed part of the mortgage [CCE885/8]. Raban immediately took out a mortgage for £500 with John Hart of Bedford [CCE885/9]. In 1917, after William Raban's death his widow Jane, now living in Aylesbury [Buckinghamshire], conveyed the mill and Mill Close to Alfred Raban of Stevington, miller, for £250 [CCE885/10]. Raban immediately conveyed the mill to George Field for £320 [CCE885/12], Field mortgaging it to Elizabeth Rolls of Bedford, widow, for £250 [CCE885/13]. Four years later Field took out a second mortgage for £200 with Alfred Raban [CCE885/14]. Elizabeth Rolls' mortgage was transferred to Bertha May Glasspole of Bedford in 1925 after Elizabeth Rolls' death [CCE885/15].

Stevington Windmill about 1920 [Z50/112/20]
Stevington Windmill about 1920 [Z50/112/20]

The Rating and Valuation Act 1925 specified that every building and piece of land in the country was to be assessed to determine its rateable value. Stevington was assessed in 1926 and the valuer visiting the windmill [DV1/C120/23] noted that it was owned and occupied by G. Field and commented: "Old sail windmill. One pair of stones used sometimes. Saw Mr. Field, said he lost money. Mill stands in Field, very bad approach. Useless. Luton and Biggleswade Rural District Councils have none that work".

In 1931 Bedfordshire Historical Records Society published a volume (Number 14) which included accounts of Bedfordshire mills by J. Steele Elliott. Of Stevington mill he observed: "The post-mill, one is pleased to think, still works intermittently. It was considerably repaired about 1900, and previously to that time was without the enclosed ground floor, the supporting beams resting upon four masonry pillars and open below. The base is of local limestone, and measures 23 feet overall, with an interior measurement of 18 feet 6 inches. The mill has cloth-covered sails; these are 6 feet wide and with a span of 54 feet across, but they have been reduced in length, as at one time a hollow was sunk into the ground to allow the sails to turn freely, but even so they still come within a foot or so of the ground; little wonder that a sheep was killed by them which came within the danger zone. The base of the main-pos is unusually massive, being 27 inches square, resting on 10½-inch square cross beams; the post tapers to 22 inches and is circular at the top. It carries an overhead crown-beam 20 inches by 15 inches, and the brake-wheel is 8 feet in diameter. It works one pair of 4 feet 6 inches stones only, and these are fixed in the topmost floor. The present owner is George Field, who purchased it from the previous owner Alfred Raban. Mrs. Ann Franklin was miller in 1848; Edward Favell in 1852; William Raban in 1869; then came James Raban, followed by his son Alfred who was there from 1898 to 1916".

Elevation of Stevington Windmill
Elevation of Stevington Windmill: please click on the image for a larger version

In 1951 Bedfordshire County Council purchased the mill and Mill Close from the late George Field's personal representatives for £390 as part of the Festival of Britain celebrations (marking 2,000 years of British history since Julius Caesar's first invasion). This allowed the mortgage with Bertha Glasspole to be redeemed, Alfred Raban's mortgage having been redeemed in 1929 following the deaths of both Raban and his wife Harriet in that year. The County Council restored the mill to full working order, using Harrold builders Clayson & Son to do the work. In May 1999 Stuart Antrobus compiled a chronology of the mill, including events since 1951 which were as follows:

  • 1958: four new sails and a stock were fitted by E. Hole & Son;
  • 1974: the stock was replaced by E. Hole & Son;
  • 1985: four new sails, a new stock and four new clamps were fitted by P. Hadley-Gormley;
  • 1996: the sails and broken back stock were removed by C. F. Worral & Son;
  • 1998: agreement by the Access to Countryside Sub-Committee for the sails to be replaced and the mill to be restored to full working order.

The sails were finally restored in 2004 and the mill remains in working order down to the time of writing [2009] though, since the abolition of the County Council on 1st April 2009, now in the ownership of new unitary authority Bedford Borough Council.

Stevington Windmill December 2008
Stevington Windmill December 2008