Saving Heage windmill

Back in the early 19th century around 10,000 windmills graced this green and pleasant land. These days they’re pretty thin on the ground, but luckily my home county of Derbyshire boasts one fine example: Heage Windmill. Just a couple of miles up the road from Platypus Towers, it is a sturdy, reassuring presence in the local landscape, popular with locals and tourists alike.

Sadly, however, looks can be deceiving, and not for the first time the mill is currently in danger. Major repairs are urgently needed, so it’s all hands on deck to raise the money needed to get it fixed.

* * * * *

The village of Heage (pronounced heej) lies 13 miles (21km) north of Derby. The name is a corruption of ‘High Edge’ and comes from the Anglo-Saxon Heegge meaning high, lofty and sublime. It’s therefore an ideal spot to locate a windmill, a fact that did not go unnoticed by an enterprising businessman in the late 18th century.

Reports in the Derby Mercury imply that construction of Heage Windmill began in 1791, and was completed by 1797. It had four sails, and as such differed little from a host of other windmills scattered throughout Derbyshire at the time. The local population was expanding rapidly in the early days of the Industrial Revolution, and with it the demand for flour. In the circumstances it seemed certain that the new mill would enjoy a long and busy working life.

But any structure that is deliberately located to catch the wind is inevitably vulnerable to being wrecked by it, so it should come as no surprise that in February 1894 the cap and four sails were blown off in a violent storm. Repairs were soon underway and Heage Windmill was reborn with its now familiar six sails, which would have provided more power to the millstones than the standard four sail configuration.

The repairs were doubtless well made, but the wind kept on blowing and in 1919 Heage Windmill was once again severely damaged by a howling gale. This time there were no repairs: the country was in a financial mess as it sought to recover from the horrors of World War 1, and wind power was in any case regarded as outdated technology.

The mill languished, unloved and unlovely, for some 15 years before being sold for £25 (USD 33). However, its milling days seemed to be over for good: the tower was used only for storage and fell into ever greater disrepair, a situation made even worse in 1961 when it was struck by lightning.

Heage Windmill’s fortunes began to change in 1966, when a legally-binding Building Preservation Order was placed on it. Two years later Derbyshire County Council stepped in to buy it for the princely sum of £350 (USD 456). Although this meant the mill was now in public ownership, finding the money to restore it to working order was – inevitably, I suppose – beyond the Council’s capabilities. The sails would only turn again a generation later, when the local community and a motley band of mill enthusiasts took up the challenge.

In 1996, with the Council’s support, the mill’s supporters formed a charitable trust with the aim of getting it going.  Hope at last! But just a year later, as Heage Windmill Society was finalising its plans, lightning struck the tower once more. The mill’s supporters were devastated, their dreams seemingly in tatters.

Luckily this time the damage done by the lightning strike was not serious, and work to restore the mill soon recommenced. It was an expensive project, but the Society rose heroically to the challenge, raising nearly £450,000 (USD 588,000) from various sources. Their efforts, together with the hard work of countless volunteers, prevailed and Heage Windmill finally opened to the public on 1 June, 2002.

Job well done, you might think. And it was, but of course nothing lasts forever. In 2015/16 severe rot set in, and a major fund-raising effort was needed to sort it. The money poured in and Heage Windmill was saved again. I guess the Society thought it could finally relax, but it was not to be. Earlier this year further structural defects were identified, and they need rectifying urgently. It feels like we’ve been here before!

* * * * *

Heage Windmill officially opened for the 2022 season just a few days ago, and there was a good turn out to see local television personality and celebrity auctioneer Charles Hanson cut the ribbon. But although the weather was uncharacteristically balmy and a fine time was had by all, everyone “in the know” probably had just one thing on their mind: how do we, once again, raise a vast sum of money to save our precious windmill?

It sounds daunting, but this is no time to be downhearted. Like Lazarus, Heage Windmill has a track record of rising from the grave. It’s an iconic landmark hereabouts, and as the only working six-sailed stone tower windmill in England it is also a building of national significance. Losing it is unthinkable. This iconic mill has survived countless misfortunes in its 225 years of existence, and given the scale of support that was evident at the official opening I’m confident it will be saved again.


  1. ThoughtsBecomeWords · April 27

    Such an elegant and beautiful landmark definitely worth preserving.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Steve Gingold · April 27

    I hope that the effort yields great results and the windmill receives the restoration it deserves. Wow, 10,000 windmills. I bet most were as charming as this. Here our windmills are turbines creating electricity.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · April 27

      We have wind turbines too, very controversial when they are put up in particularly scenic areas. The UK also has offshore windfarms, where the turbines are less of an eyesore but a bit of problem for the seabirds that fly into them!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Paddy Tobin · April 27

    An interesting structure and a significant part of local, perhaps national, heritage but also somewhat jinxed!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Laurie Graves · April 27

    My gosh! That beautiful windmill has as many lives as a cat. Best of luck going forward in keeping this treasure in good trim.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Another delightful post. I’m enjoying this armchair travel around your neighbourhood. In the olden days that would have been the scene on a box of chocolates:)

    Liked by 2 people

    • Platypus Man · April 28

      Yes, a perfect chocolate box image. Would also make a good subject for a jigsaw puzzle.


  6. June’s Travels · April 28

    What a beautiful landmark and heritage! It deserves all the preserving effort. The white sails with the tall tower are so beautiful👍

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Carol Ann Siciliano · April 29

    10,000 windmills once upon a time?! Your post provided wonderful insights into that past (I imagine the landscape!) and into the perils of surviving the very things that make their locations optimal. I salute all the preservationists out there — and you as well!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · April 30

      The impact on the pre-industrial landscape is difficult to overstate, particularly as windmills were inevitably located in prominent positions. Together with church spires / towers, windmills must have been one of the most widely visible indicators of the presence and impact of humans.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. tanjabrittonwriter · April 29

    I also enjoyed getting introduced to your venerable windmill. If its stones could talk, what stories they would have to tell! Stories of great glory but also of great suffering. The mill seems to have suffered more than its fair share of tribulations. But with you and our fellow bloggers I hope that it will survive this latest challenge and continue to grace the surrounding landscape as a beautiful beacon of hope and survival.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · April 30

      When we see an old building it’s so easy to simply accept it at face value”, without recognising it has a hidden “back-story”. Many of our historic buildings must have been through periods of neglect, but this windmill’s past seems to have been particularly challenging. You’re absolutely right, Tanja, in describing it as a beacon of hope and survival (much needed in these difficult times!).

      Liked by 1 person

  9. sconzani · May 1

    I love windmills, and have been lucky enough to see several and explore them during open days. Yours is superb so thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · May 2

      We always make a point of tracking down any windmills when we’re off travelling in the UK. There are some great examples, though not many measure up to our local one (well, I would say that, wouldn’t I 🙂)

      Liked by 1 person

      • sconzani · May 2

        I have a friend I visit in Sussex, where there are some cracking mills: Argos Hill, Chailey, Halnaker, Rottingdean, Stone Cross, Windmill Hill and others. I’ve blogged about some of them in my other (non-wildlife) blog:

        Liked by 1 person

      • Platypus Man · May 4

        Thank you. We’re hoping to spend a few days down that way in the autumn, so I’ll check out your blogspot blog for some tips!

        Liked by 1 person

      • sconzani · May 4

        By sheer co-incidence I’ve just seen a post on Twitter by SPAB about Heage – it’s open this coming Sunday, 11am – 4pm, as part of National Mills Weekend.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Platypus Man · May 5

        Yes, I think it’s classic motorbikes this weekend. Not really our cup of tea, so we’ll probably pass. But later in the year they’ve got a classic car event – last year’s was good, with loads on interesting photo ops, so I reckon we’ll pop along again to show our support.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Ann Mackay · May 2

    What a beautiful building! I haven’t seen a windmill with six sails before, didn’t even know that there were any. I hope the money can be raised to save it.

    Liked by 1 person

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