The English Windmill by Rex Wailes–A Review

By Paul Gipe

Ok, I am a windmill geek, have been for decades now. I work with modern wind energy, but my interest in the subject has led off in many directions, including traditional or “Dutch” windmills. I have a hefty collection of books on Dutch, German, French, and, yes, on English windmills.

I’d known of Rex Wailes and his work documenting and restoring English windmills in the 1950s and 1960s from my early work tracking the technological development of modern wind turbines. Wailes, an engineer by training, became the honorary technical advisor to the Windmill Section of the British Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings at its formation in 1931. (More biographical information can be found on Wikipedia.)

His book is a classic and I was shocked when I realized I didn’t have it on my shelf. This came to my attention when Martyn Taylor contacted me about his movie on the The English Windmill. Taylor’s video rekindled my long lost interest in the history of wind energy and the struggle to bring power to the people.

Wailes’ book was first published in 1954. My copy is the third printing in 1971. You can find used copies for US$50. But beware I came across one version for nearly $900! I got my copy from Abe Books.

While the book mostly traces the style, origin, and ownership history of several prominent English windmills, Wailes also provides a number of useful illustrations.

What intrigued me most was his chapter on Miscellaneous Mills where Wailes describes two what he calls horizontal mills. We know them as Vertical-Axis Wind Turbines or VAWTs. His Plate VI depicts Stephen Hooper’s two-story VAWT built in Kent at the end of the 18th century.

Wailes goes on to describe “Fowler’s” VAWT in Surrey that was built in 1788  to Cooper’s design and includes it in Plate VII. He says it fell into disrepair because of the expense of maintaining it and it was removed in 1849.

Both of these are what I call “squirrel-cage” VAWTs. They have external slats or shutters that control the wind striking the rotor on the interior of the structure.

Even in the late 18th century this design was an old idea Wailes points out. The vertical-axis windmills of Seistan province in what is now Iran were reported by an Arabian geographer in 915. Those mills are still standing by the way.

Wailes, Rex. The English Windmill. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1971. 3rd Edition. 246 pages. ISBN-13: 978-0710022417. Printed in Great Britain.

See also.

Hills, Richard L. Power from the Wind: A history of windmill technlogy. Cambridge University Press, 1994. 324 pages. ISBN 10: 0521413982 ISBN 13: 9780521413985. Printed in Great Britain.





Part One. The Mills

Saxtead Green Mill

The Post Mill

Cranbook Mill

the Smock Mill

Sibsey Mill

The Twower Mill

Ashtree Farm and the Drainage Mills

Miscellaneous Mills

Part Two. The Machinery

The Sails

Winding the Mill



Brake Wheels, Brakes, and wallowers

The Final Drive to the Stones

Stones, Bell Alarms and Tentering

Sack Hoists, Machines and Industrial Uses

Part Three. The Men

Origins and Customs

Windmills in War

The Miller





The Annular Sail

The Iconography of the Windmill

Buxhall windmill Contracts

Stone Dressing