The HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Millwrighting

 

A mixture of several crafts, but essentially building machines to harness wind, water and animal power to drive machinery.

 

Status Critically endangered
Craft category Wood, metal
Historic area of significance UK
Area currently practised Wherever the surviving mills tend to be – South and East for windmills, West for watermills.
Origin in the UK 13th century
Current no. of professionals (main income) 6-10
Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
3
Current no. of trainees 2
Current total no. serious amateur makers
2 (retirees who volunteer)
Current total no. of leisure makers
Around 20 volunteers who can do basic tasks
Minimum no. of craftspeople required 20

Many wind and watermills require annual work and every 5-10 years major work to be carried out by a professional millwright

 

History

Millwrighting started as soon as humans started to build machines, probably pre-Roman, but developed as the machines and materials did. The introduction of iron was the largest single development.

 

Techniques

Millwrights build in timber, or later metal, make patterns, machine components, make gear teeth, build, repair and dress stones, and make from scratch or repair any part of any mill, from tree or casting to component.

 

Local forms

Regional differences are important and must be kept. There are variations throughout the country with the type of building, sails, & caps of windmills.

 

Sub-crafts

 

Issues affecting the viability of the craft

  • There is plenty of work and funding available but funding will need to be applied for. There are issues with skills, costs, raw materials, recruitment, and business viability due to material costs, premises and set up costs, long turn round and getting paid. Also, the work that is done needs to be sustainable as money for maintenance is harder to obtain.
  • Can be difficult to go into in view of the need for a decent sized premises, equipment and workshops. It has tended to attract people from other craft professions who already have some skills and workshop/premises.
  • The smaller companies have cash flow issues and are strategically pushed out by the larger ones.
  • The sector is poorly funded with vulnerable buildings often being repaired by unqualified people.
  • Due to the lack of Millwrights there are a number of volunteer and Friends groups who carry out tasks and although well-intentioned this can create problems
  • The Lottery-type funding requires quick turnaround, project management and glossy websites – there’s an increasing demand for pretty but non-functional restorations at the expense of quality.
  • Millwrighting is more of a composite of other professions ‘jack of all trades’. Not all millwrights today have the full complement of skills, in fact the trend is that most now don’t and they manage by sub-contracting or commissioning more of the elements that traditional millwrights did (e.g. technical drawings, pattern making, machining etc). Along with buying modern fastenings and bearings etc off-the-shelf
  • There’s no guild/union or recognised qualification – many of the one-man-bands don’t have the skills or experience, and even less so the larger companies.
  • As there is no profession recognised standard anyone could set up and call themselves and their employee’s millwrights without having the necessary skills
  • Lack of knowledge of regional variations and techniques resulting in loss of heritage
  • Ageing workforce: Some of the very experienced Millwrights are nearing retirement with very few entering the profession and the skills are not being passed on

Support organisations

 

Craftspeople currently known

Individuals:

  • Adam Marriot – no longer working on mills
  • Richard Seago – working only in Norfolk
  • Paul Kemp
  • Tim Whiting
  • Bill Griffiths
  • Malcolm Cooper
  • Neil Medcalf – now retired
  • Derek Janes
  • Paul Abel
  • Ian Clarke, Winchester – works mainly on water mills

Businesses:

  • IJP Building Conservation
  • Dorothea Restorations
  • Traditional Millwrights Ltd
  • Nicholls Hydro Engineering Ltd

 

Other information

SPAB suggest that at least 20 millwrights need to be trained over the next 5 to 10 years as this is an intense apprenticeship which would take several years to learn all the various skills. Ideally 3 or 4 a year for the foreseeable future would cover this, allowing for some to drop out.

SPAB is funding a Fellowship for a millwright, It was due to start in 2020 but postponed till next year, but depends on the COVID situation. This may now be postponed to 2021 0r 2022.

 

References

  • Watts, Martin, ‘Millwrighting’ in Crafts in the English Countryside.
  • Wailes, The English Windmill
  • Farries, Essex millers and millwrights, volume 2
  • Freese, Stanley, Mills and Millwrighting – goes into great detail of how to build a windmill, particularly a wooden post mill, giving the types of materials and tools also the methods that should be used.