Anything but plain sailing as renovations start at Wilton Windmill

Written by Peter Davison.

Going – the crane moves into positionGoing – the crane moves into positionThe sails have come down at the last working windmill in Wessex – but for the professional millwrights tasked with removing the sails, the job was anything but straightforward.

Rusty iron bolts which affixed the one-and-a-half-tonne oak sails to the iron axis cross had galvanised, and had to be cut off using an angle grinder.

The restorers – with a low-loader, cherry picker and crane – moved onto the site at 6am today (Tuesday) and by 2pm they were still only three sails down, with one to go.

Going – an angle grinder is used to remove the rusty boltsGoing – an angle grinder is used to remove the rusty boltsThe sails were erected in 1976, after the windmill was purchased – in a dilapidated state - by Wiltshire Council, and restored to its former glory.

They were modelled on the original 1821 sails. Two of the sails are ‘plain’ sails covered in canvas, while the other two, which are in the worse condition, are known as ‘Patent Sails’. The slats can be opened or closed to suit the wind speeds.

The patent for the Patent Sails was only granted in 1818 – meaning Wilton Windmill was using cutting edge technology when it first started milling flour.

Gone – three sails down, one to goGone – three sails down, one to goIn the 1970s, the entire renovation cost £25,000, which coincidentally is the cost of the current sails restoration project.

It is estimated that the restoration work will take two months – which means that the sails won’t be back for Heritage Open Day, which takes place on Sunday, September 11, when the site is opened to the public, and free guided tours are offered by members of the Wilton Windmill Society.