The Sails

Outwood Mill has had a few types of sails or sweeps fitted

The mill has carried a number of sails over the years.

In 1905, it is known to have had odd sails, one pair being double shuttered Spring sails of 25 feet (7.62 m) length, and tapering from 7-foot-6-inch (2.29 m) wide at the heel to 7-foot-1-inch (2.16 m) at the tip. The other pair were narrower, tapering from 6 feet (1.83 m) at the heel to 5-foot-6-inch (1.68 m) at the tip. These were carried by an oak windshaft with a cast iron poll end.

The sails currently on the mill span 60 feet (18.29 m). The windshaft is 16 feet (4.88 m) long, and tapers from 23 inches (0.58 m) diameter at the neck to 13 inches (0.33 m) diameter at the tail. The windshaft carries a 8-foot-3-inch (2.51 m) diameter wooden Head Wheel with 108 cogs and a composite Tail Wheel, with a cast iron centre and wooden rim. The Tail Wheel has 84 cogs.

Cloth & Reef Sails (Also known as Common Sails)

The simplest form of sail. In medieval mills the sailcloth was wound in and out of a ladder type arrangement of sails. Orginally Outwood Mill would have had this type of sail fitted to her.

Medieval sails could be constructed with or without outer sailbars. Post-medieval mill sails have a lattice framework over which the sailcloth is spread. There are various “reefs” for the different spread of sails; these are full sail, dagger point, sword point and first reef. The mill must be stopped in order to adjust the reefing of the sail.

Spring Sails

Spring sails were invented by Scottish millwright Andrew Meikle in 1772. The sail is divided into a number of bays, each having a number of shutters. All the shutters are joined together by a shutter bar, and the force required for the wind to open the shutters is adjusted by a separate spring on each sail. Although automatic in operation, the mill must be stopped in order to adjust the reefing of the sail.

Andrew Meikle (1719 – 27 November 1811) was an early mechanical engineer credited with inventing the threshing machine, a device used to remove the outer husks from grains of wheat. This was regarded as one of the key developments of the British Agricultural Revolution in the late 18th century. The invention was made around 1786, although some say he only improved on an earlier design.

Andrew Meikle by A Reddock - Outwood Mill Spring Sails

A Painting of Andrew Meikle by A. ReddickImage by Wikipedia

Earlier (c.1772), Meikle also invented windmill ‘Spring sails’, which replaced the simple canvas designs previously used with sails made from a series of shutters that could be operated by levers, allowing windmill sails to be quickly and safely controlled in the event of a storm.

Meikle worked as a millwright at Houston Mill in East Linton, East Lothian, and inspired John Rennie to become a noted civil engineer.

He died at Houston Mill and is buried in East Linton’s Prestonkirk Parish Church kirkyard, close to Rennie’s father, George Rennie, who farmed the nearby Phantassie estate by the River Tyne.

The Current Sails on Outwood Mill

In 1929, the Windmill Section of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings recognised the mill as “of paramount importance”. A new pair of Spring sails were needed in 1931.


Meikle Spring sails are the type of sail currently fitted to Outwood Mill.

The Society paid for Thomas Hunt, the Soham millwright to make and fit these at a cost of £80. William Jupp agreed not to sell the mill for demolition as a condition of the work being done. Publicity generated at the time led to an increase in orders at the mill. On 30 October 1931, a meeting was held to appeal for funds to replace the older pair of sails. Hilaire Belloc, who at the time owned Shipley windmill in Sussex, was the main speaker. Sir Joseph Rank was one of the subscribers.

In 1933, a pair of sails was purchased secondhand These had previously been on the Black Mill, Forncett End, Norfolk, which had been demolished in September 1932. These replaced a pair of sails that had been on the mill for in excess of sixty years. William Jupp died in 1934.

One of the sail stocks was found to be defective in 1955 and a new pair of spring sails was fitted. A grant of £750 from the Ministry of Works being given to enable the work to be carried out, on condition that public access would be given on appointment. The older of the two stocks broke in January 1956. E Hole & Son fitted a new stock and sail on 25 October 1958.

The sails are currently in need of some restoration work and a fund has been set up to raise the necessary funds to achieve this work.

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