Windpump sails into new phase of repair

Horsey Windpump has had a dramatic history – it has survived floods, a lightning strike, a collapse, storms and gale force winds. Despite this it has remained an iconic feature of the Broads landscape for more than a century. But, now the time has come for this Norfolk icon to undergo significant and essential repair works, which will see the start of works to reinstate the mill back to its former glory.


This week, Building Surveyor and Project Manager, Paul Coleman, talks to us about the repairs…

Windpump’s are a feature of the Norfolk Broads landscape, as they were an efficient method of draining the landscape for agriculture. Horsey Windpump, standing at five storeys, is the youngest drainage mill in the Broads; built in 1912 by millwrights England of Ludham on the foundations of an 18th-century mill.

The building has fallen victim to the recent ravages of weather and water has managed to get inside – causing rotting timber, both to the outside cap and sails, but also to the inside of the building and the beams which support the weight of the sail mechanism. So, we now need to remove the sails and tail fan to be able to repair the damage and safe guard access to the building.

Work commenced this April to remove the sails and fan stage and more work will continue later in the year in phases, but with time we are hoping to see the sails turning on this iconic broads building once more.


This isn’t the first time Horsey Windpump has been in need of repair:

  • The cap of the old Horsey ‘Black Mill’ was blown off into the road, following a gale in 1895. Repairs to the top of the mill were carried out in 1897 when a new cap was fitted.
  • By 1912 the tower structure was in a dangerous condition, so the mill was dismantled by hand, brick by brick, almost to ground level. The cap of the mill, still in excellent condition, was reputedly smashed during the process of supporting it – leaving the sails in place – while the tower was taken down. An expensive accident!
  • Then in a storm surge in February 1938, a breach of the sea defences at Horsey flooded 15 square miles of the surrounding land.
  • In July 1943 a lightning strike put the four sails out of action and the diesel pump, which had been installed four years earlier to the windmill, took over.
  • The mill’s damaged sails were removed in 1956. Although repairs to the cap and fan stage were completed three years later, the mill remained without sails or fantail until 1962. This was when the mill was given new sails without shutters or a spider – changing the sails from their historic pattern.
  • During the great gales of 1987 the building succumbed to the extreme weather conditions and the cap was severely damaged, the sails rendered inoperable and the fantail was blown off.  Repair works followed and the building was reopened to visitors in 1990.
  • And now… 2014, the sails and fan stage are to be removed once more and the start of a new period of repair ensues.

Horsey c1930s

Pictured above, Horsey Windpump in the 1930s

horsey mill 1938 flood

Pictured above, Horsey Windpump surrounded by flood water in 1938

The immediate work will see us remove the sails and fan tail, as work begins to secure loose timber surrounding the building. Once this is complete, the mill will re-open to visitors, enabling them to ascend the building and see the openness of the Norfolk landscape once more. Our plan then will be to commence works later in the year or during early 2015, to remove the cap to ground level and carry out repairs that will allow the cap to be reinstated to the original old ‘boat’ shaped pattern.  We will also be looking towards putting back the authentic sail design, which is featured in so many of the pre 1950s photographs.


This is a very exciting restoration project and we are keen for people to support or even get involved with what we are planning. We hope to enable people to see first-hand the specialist craftsmen going about their work andeven gain hands on experience of conservation work. So Horsey Windpump will look very different when you next see it. 

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