‘It’s a great pleasure to both hear the old girl grinding wheat again and to pass on to the many visitors from all over the world our knowledge and history of this wonderful mill. It’s very satisfying to see it up on that hill and know that this village and other volunteers have worked so hard to see it returned to its former pride. It fills me with pride, for sure’. – Brian Naylor, Heage Windmill Trustee and Miller
The first recorded reference to a windmill in Heage is an advertisement in the Derby Mercury of 16th June 1791: Heage windmill, to be erected – any mason inclined to undertake the stone building to attend at the mill, all materials laid down in place.
And soon after, in 1798: To be let – complete smock mill with fantail, two pairs of stones,
good dressing machine – made to plans approved by Mr Wass – standing in good situation at Heage. We are therefore able to assume, in the absence of other information, that the mill was completed by 1797.
In 1850 the two brothers Isaac and Joseph Shaw purchased the mill, trading as millers and grocers, and it is believed they updated the mill, fitting four ‘patent’ sails (with shutters) and adding a fantail to turn the cap into the wind.
It operated in this form until February 1894 when the mill was tail winded (i.e. the wind blew from behind the sails) and the cap and four sails were blown off in a violent storm. A contemporary photograph (below) shows a man, presumably the miller, standing on the wreckage of the sails in front of the mill and the brake wheel protruding from the debris of the cap on top of the tower.
When the rebuilding commenced, it was decided to replace the four sails with six patent sails, presumably to give the mill more power. The mill continued to be in regular use until 1919, operated initially by Joseph and Enoch Shore, the sons of Thomas, and later, by T J (Tom) Shore.
However, in 1919 the fantail was severely damaged in a gale and, presumably in line with the economic situation of mills at that time, the windmill closed down. At this stage it was virtually abandoned and over the next 50 years became quite derelict.
In 1966, a Building Preservation order (the first ever in the county) was placed on the mill – with a Grade 2* listing – with the Council purchasing the mill for £350 in 1968.
Restoration by Heage Windmill Society
During the early 1970s, restoration work was carried out with the fitting of new floors, sails, cap covering and skeletal fantail, and new sails hoisted in 1972, though the mill remained a static feature on the landscape with no attempt made to open her to the public until, in 1989, with the involvement of the Midland Mills Group, an Open Day was held, attracting over 500 visitors. More public openings were held with volunteer working parties helping tidy up the surrounds, clean up the mill and limit further deterioration. Here were the glimmerings of a brighter future…
In 1997 the windmill was again struck by lightning, fortunately without serious damage (this should never happen again as lightning conductors are now in place!) and Derbyshire County Council was obliged to deny access to the mill on safety grounds.
Having recognised the deteriorating condition of the mill, Heage Windmill Society, a
charitable trust, was formed in 1996 with the object of restoring the mill back to
working order. With the full support of the County Council, the Society embarked on a
programme of full restoration, aimed at bringing her back to working order.
Here is a BBC TV East Midlands report on the prospects of restoration, voiced by James Roberson, in 1997
Grants totalling over £350,000 were obtained from various sources and there was
considerable input from volunteer labour and a sponsorship programme, raising the
total to close on £450,000. Alan Gifford, who was one of the Trustees instrumental in gaining the grants, recalled that the filling in of application forms was ‘like taking a degree.’ In spite of delays due to both flooding and foot and mouth disease, work eventually began in earnest in September 2000 and continued until May 2002 .
The work included the provision of a new access road and car park as well as the provision of domestic services to the site, including toilets. The gears were re-cogged where necessary and re-aligned and the redundant brick pillars removed from the basement, which became the Interpretation Centre for visitors. The cap was rebuilt and covered in the traditional painted canvas (rather than the sheet aluminium used in the 1970s) and the cap track, on which it turns, was completely re-furbished. Every one of the 126 canvas shutters on the nine-metre long sails were hand-sewn by volunteers and a new fantail was provided. The now fully working mill finally opened to the public on 1st June 2002.