The Mill

The Windmill believed c1900

The windmill was on the site of the current Travis Perkins builders’ merchants and was established over 200 years ago.  It was first shown on Faden’s Map of Norfolk, in 1797.  A newspaper advertisement in 1815 describes the mill as being available to let for a 12-year period.

There was a bakery at the mill together with the miller’s house which was to one side of the site.

During the mid-1800s, ownership was passed between Henry Banham and Vincent Jermyn. Genealogical research suggests the two were related by marriage, albeit from different generations of two Wymondham families.  Comparing documents, including census returns, suggests many of the actual millers were tenants.

On 3rd August in 1879 there was a great storm which caused widespread damage in the area.  Wreningham’s windmill was no exception.  Newspaper reports from the time state that “windmills at Wreningham and Wymondham were dismantled & much injured by the violence of the wind …”.  No doubt the repairs were costly, although an 1886 auction document implies the mill had been returned to good working order.  After this, there appears to have been joint ownership between Vincent Jermyn and John Bullimore with Robert Andrews as their tenant. In due course, Robert Andrew’s son, Harry, became the new owner, and, in 1892, a small steam engine was introduced (presumably) to provide backup power for periods when the wind wasn’t doing the job.

However, owner Harry Andrews committed suicide in 1908 – believed to be due to financial difficulties – presumably, associated with the business. 

In 1910 a Mr Rackham demolished the windmill and replaced it with a totally steam powered facility; his new building still stands, today.  Its fortunes changed. The steam mill, under a new owner William Bunting and later, Herbert Aldridge, is believed to have been a thriving business. Steam probably provided the predictability, reliability and improved economics which wind could not. 

Milling came to an end in 1964/65. In due course, the steam mill was re-purposed to become a builders merchant.

This photograph is believed to be from about 1951. The brick-built Steam Mill – middle right, eventually became part of builders merchant: William Ashby & Son and later passing to Travis Perkins. In about 1971 a wider entrance had been created for better vehicle access. The original miller’s cottage (still in existence as a home, today) can be seen at the top of the image.

We are now speculating if the mill’s power source might eventually have been changed from steam to electricity. NB The above c1951 photograph shows no signs of a chimney, whilst the dark shape on the right side of a small brick building in the yard might well be a generator. Does anyone have any information?

A more detailed history of the Wreningham mill can be found at the Norfolk Mills website. Anyone wanting a deeper technical understanding of how windmills work might like to take a look here. It’s a lot more complicated than you might expect.

A modern comment

We would suggest that Wreningham’s windmill was not optimally located to catch “the right kind” of wind; however, 200 years ago, not many might have understood this.

The mill was well positioned from a “communications” standpoint, being located near a convenient junction with a main “highway”. However, in Norfolk, low average wind-speeds require a windmill to be on a hilltop or on a long and exposed slope (preferably facing the prevailing wind) to collect the greatest amount of wind energy. It is also important to avoid obstructions (buildings, trees etc) because those cause air turbulence – and you can’t extract useful amounts of energy from turbulent air, however “windy” it appears to be.

High Common would have been a far better location – or even further up the hill near the Bird in Hand, but still keeping clear of other buildings and trees. As things were, the potential to “find suitable wind” for long enough periods, in its Mill Lane location, must have been limited.

Mill Cottage which had been constructed directly to the south west of the mill, may have increased this problem. It was directly in the line of any south west prevailing wind – increasing the periods when the sails would have been exposed to higher levels of turbulent air, making it more difficult for the sails to extract useful levels of energy.

When the mill changed to operating from 100% steam power, in the early 1900s, those constraints must have fallen away – and that is consistent with the outcome. The steam mill was said to have been a great success.

In the recent past, at the opposite end of Mill Lane, a small wind-turbine was erected on a mast outside Wreningham village hall. However, the village hall’s wind turbine was unable to generate significant amounts of electrical power; this was due to the limitations of the local terrain and adjacent tall trees creating turbulent air – the village hall’s wind turbine was soon dismantled. It’s always important to understand our history and ensure we don’t repeat old mistakes.

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