A mixture of several crafts, but essentially building machines to harness wind, water and animal power to drive machinery.
|Craft category||Wood, metal|
|Historic area of significance||UK
NB The millwrighting and associated milling crafts are similarly practiced across NW Europe.
|Area currently practised||Wherever the surviving mills tend to be – Mainly South Central to North East England for windmills, much of UK for watermills.
There is an urgent need for millwrights in the North of England & Scotland
|Origin in the UK||13th century|
|Current no. of professionals (main income)||11|
|Current no. of professionals (sideline to main income)
|Current no. of trainees||4|
|Current total no. serious amateur makers
||Around 30 volunteers who can and do carry out considerable tasks
NB This includes a considerable number of millwrights and millers who have responsibility for their mills.
|Current total no. of leisure makers
|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
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. Also the steady development of gear wheel construction was very significant, and the mechanical developments during the industrial revolution.
Millwrights designed the whole mill. They build in timber, or later metal, make patterns, machine components, make gear teeth, build, repair and dress stones, make and design windmill sails, and make from scratch or repair any part of any mill, from tree or casting to component.
Regional differences are important and must be kept. There are variations throughout the country with the type of building, sails, & caps of windmills.
- Timber framing
- Gear design and making in wood and iron
- Pattern making
- Millstone building
- Millstone dressing
- Steeplejacking/construction and repair at height
- Painting and decorating
- Sail making
- Iron and brass founding
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
- Business issues: There are issues with skills, raw materials, recruitment, and business viability due to material costs, premises and set up costs.
- Business issues: Meeting Health and Safety requirements surrounding the work can be challenging and prohibitively expensive.
- Skills: The number of skilled millwrights are in decline. The work can be challenging and so recruitment and retention can be an issue.
- Market: The sector has limited funded with vulnerable buildings often being repaired and maintained by volunteers. Due to the lack of Millwrights there are a number of volunteer and Friends groups who carry out tasks. The volunteer millwrights are vital in that they cover for the lack of general funding for millwrighting, and at those mills where they have long term responsibility they provide important continuity, encouraging the improvement of millwrighting standards & of maintenance.
- Skills: Millwrighting is a composite of other professions including mechanical engineering/machinery, timber framing, built heritage conservation, watercourse management. food production etc. Very few millwrights today will have the full complement of skills due to the wide range of different mills to be managed.
- Sector support: There is no guild/union or recognised qualification
- Training and recruitment: There is no recognised qualification or standard for Millwrighting.
- Skills: A 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
- Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) – supports its member millwrights
- Historic England – supports the SPAB list of millwrights and use it not only for their own mills, but on those where they have given grants
Craftspeople currently known
- Adam Marriot, Teme Valley Heritage Engineers
- Richard Seago – working only in Norfolk
- Paul Kemp
- Paul Sellwood
- Tim Whiting
- Bill Griffiths
- Malcolm Cooper
- Neil Medcalf – now retired
- Derek & Simon Janes
- Paul Abel
- Ian Clarke, Winchester – works mainly on water mills
- Jon McGuiness
- Bertus Dijkstra (although living in The Netherlands he is prepared to work in the UK, and has repaired fully Upminster Mill, a major project)
- IJP Building Conservation
- Dorothea Restorations
- Traditional Millwrights Ltd
- Nicholls Hydro Engineering Ltd
Other groupings involving skilled millwrights:
- Wicken Millwrights (Dave Pearce et al). Current work confined to Wicken Mill, Gransden Mill, Foxton Mill
- High Salvington Windmill
- Oldland Windmill Trust made up of skilled volunteer millers and millwrights.
- Thelnetham Windmill/Pakenham Watermill (Suffolk Buildings Preservation Trust)
Whilst there are no specific degrees or qualifications in Millwrighting, there are specialised courses available at various levels including Higher National certificates and diplomas, Foundation Degrees and Masters (MSc) Degrees. The Building Crafts College offer a range of apprenticeships and vocational qualifications in heritage construction. Millwrights may be trained in Mechanical Engineering, Civil Engineering, TImber Framing and other allied skills.
Masters Degree courses are available throughout the UK. For example, The University of Bath offers a Conservation of Historic Buildings Msc. For direct entry you’ll need to have already achieved a degree in a relevant subject or have completed a foundation degree.
There is a list of accredited courses available via the Institute for Historic Buildings Conservation website.
Apprenticeships – There are no apprenticeships specifically in Millwrighting. A Level 5 Apprenticeship ‘Heritage Construction Specialist’ is currently being developed by the Historic Environment Trailblazer group.
On the job training: Millwrighting companies will usually take on a train their own employees. There is some support available to take on and train new entrants.
- SPAB Mills Section has funded the SPAB Fellowship for a years’ training of a potential millwright. (2021, 2022 and possibly 2023)
- Hamish Ogston Foundation / Historic England are supporting some millwright trainees in 2022
Other Provision: Wicken Mill is providing on-going informal training to new volunteer millwrights. In 2022 – 2023 Oldland and Wicken Mills are providing ‘on the job’ training for a young volunteer millwright, Adam Winsor. This is with the support of HCA and Sussex Heritage Trust.
Further information on training and education:
- Society for the Protection of Old Buildings (SPAB) – Education & Training
- BuildingConservation.com – List of undergraduate courses
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.
In England there is some provision for funding of major wind and water mill restorations – with central funds from Historic England or, for very big schemes, Lottery funds. However, there is little realistic provision for funding the on-going maintenance of mills in the UK between major overhauls.
Many mills rely on skilled volunteer millwrights, often professional engineers and the like, to carry out major repair and also running repairs. Wicken Windmill was restored from a ruinous state in this way. Volunteer millwrights and millers continue the maintenance of the mill, with materials funded by sales of flour and donations.
There is an agreed need for on-going support and encouragement of the endangered craft of the professional millwright. The shortage of available funds for mill repairs in general means we must also encourage and support the equally endangered craft of the skilled volunteer miller, so that at least some funds can be earned for heritage mills by the sale of flour. The shortage of funds for mills in general gives added urgency to these needs.
- 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.