Windmills of Merseyside and Wirral

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Last updated 11th December 2014
 
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Windmills on Copperas Hill in 1797
Introduction
Windmills were known in Persia as long ago as 200 BC. Their first appearance in England dates to the 11th or 12th century, where they were mostly used for milling grain to make flour.
There are only six remaining traditional windmills in the Merseyside and Wirral area as far as I am aware and this site is about them. Their rarity and oddity always make them an arresting feature of the landscape. Once, of course, they were very common - even the centre of Liverpool boasted a considerable number. Curiously, many remained in use well into the era of steam and electrical power. They must have got something right!
Windmills on Liverpool North Shore in the 18th century
The Old Mill, Great Crosby
The Old Mill (on the left), located at Great Crosby's highest point, dates from 1813.
 
Forest's Mill, Lydiate
Forest's Mill (on the right), sometimes known as Foster's Mill, was built in 1768. It was derelict for a long time and was converted into a house in the 1960s.
Painting of Bidston Windmill after the gale of 1927
Bidston Windmill, Bidston Hill
It is believed that Bidston Hill has sported a windmill since 1596. The sails of an earlier wooden peg mill broke loose in a gale in 1791 and the friction produced by the revolving wooden machinery caused a fire which destroyed the mill.
The present brick tower mill, built in 1800, replaced the earlier mill and was used to grind corn to flour until 1875. It could produce over 100 lb (50 kg) of flour every 3 to 5 minutes. The top can be rotated through 360 degrees so that the sails can be moved to follow the direction of the wind. There are two doors to allow millers safe exit avoiding walking into the rapidly turning sails that could reach up to 60 mph (100 kph), a safety feature that, alas, was not always effective.
The windmill was restored in 1894 but destroyed by a gale in 1927. It has been maintained Wirral Borough Council over the years. As of 2014, thanks to the efforts of the Friends of Bidston Hill, it will be open to the public again at certain times.
Gayton Mill in the early 20th century
Gayton Mill
Gayton Mill dates from around 1760, making it the oldest surviving windmill on the Wirral Peninsula. it was built of sandstone, probably from Runcorn, and once had four large sails. It last worked in 1875, when the miller was living in the adjacent cottage with his sixteen children. The sails had disappeared by 1905 due to neglect, and it continued to deteriorate until rescued by a local builder and turned into a residential property. The miller's cottage was also restored and now adjoins the windwill.
Willaston Windmill
There are records of a mill on the site of Willaston Windmill (on the left) on Mill Lane back to 1321. Windmills were dangerous places and there are several recorded deaths in Cheshire as a result of being hit by the sails, including a Margaret Palin here at Willaston in 1774. The present structure, built of recycled materials from the previous mill, dates from 1800. At 80ft (24m) high, it was the largest of the Wirral windmills. It became disused following storm damage in 1930 and was restored and converted for residential purposes in 1958. One of the millstones now dominates the village sign on the Little Green.
 
The Gibbet Mill, Great Saughall
The Gibbet Mill (on the right) takes its name from a murder that took place in the vicinity. In 1750, four Irish harvesters were travelling to Parkgate on their way back to Ireland, when three of them attacked the fourth and killed him. They robbed the body of money and clothes and deposited the corpse in a ditch. They made the mistake of spending some of their booty in a local inn, where they were caught. During the assize trial, one of the murderers gave evidence against his companions, who were subsequently hanged at Boughton. The two bodies were hung up in irons near the Two Mills on the heath as a warning to their countrymen, who had recently been causing trouble in that part of the country.
The present windmill is probably of a slightly later date, possibly the 1770s, but it has acquired the sobriquet nonetheless. The mill continued to grind corn until 1926. After falling into ruin, it was restored and is now a private house.
Wind turbine by Crosby Radar Station
Wind Turbines
Modern day wind turbines are, of course, used to drive dynamos to generate electricity. The first such was the work of the Scot James Blyth, who used wind power to charge batteries to light his home, and they remained a competitive source of electricity in isolated areas for many years.
The first wind turbine connected to the electricity grid was built by John Brown and Co. in Orkney in 1951. The huge recent growth in wind turbines is due their 'green' credentials: they are a renewable source of energy with low climate impact (only in manufacturing).
They remain controversial. Production costs are high, energy return from wind is much lower than from water (hydroelectric or tidal) and the visual impact on the environment often regarded as undesirable. A modern take on an old success story?
Wind turbines off Crosby Shore
 
Acknowledgements and Further Reading
The engraving of windmills on the North Shore is from The History of Liverpool, 1810. The view from Copperas Hill is from Pictorial Relics of Ancient Liverpool, engraved by W.G. Herdman, 1843. The black and white photo of Great Crosby Mill is a freely licensed image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. The painting of Bidston Windmill is from Bidston Hill: Bidston Lighthouse. For further reading on Bidston Windmill see Friends of Bidston Hill: Bidston Windmill and wirralhistory.net: Bidston - The Mill. The black and white photo of Gayton Mill is from Hidden Wirral Myths & Legends: Gayton Mill, which also has further reading. The site The Mills of Wirral has interesting background information. For further reading on Gibbet Mill see Myths and Legends of Cheshire: Saughall's Gibbet Mill. My thanks to all of those authors from whom I have borrowed images, to whom I am very much indebted.
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