History of Marsh Mill Windmill

History of Marsh Mill Windmill

Marsh Mill itself is the finest, well preserved example of its kind in the north west of England.

Heritage on your Doorstep – you can see inside Marsh Mill – Grade II* (Two Star) Listed Mill on open days and weekends.

Your life is not complete without a visit to Marsh Mill, the most complete windmill in the north-west of England.

Marsh Mill windmill

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Come and see the machinery of yesteryear which ground corn into flour to make it digestible. Try grinding some yourself on the hand quern and see how flour is produced. 

The Friends of Marsh Mill open the mill at weekends throughout the summer season, with guided tours to the top where you can climb to the top to see the impressive machinery – a definite “WOW” factor.


For anyone not wishing to make the ascent there is a wealth of information on the ground floor.

More about the Friends and mill opening here

Marsh Mill in Brief

One of the largest mills in Europe, Marsh Mill stands at a height of 22.8m (70ft) and is also one of the tallest on the Fylde.

Marsh Mill windmill at Thornton

Until 1922 Marsh Mill was a working windmill. It’s what’s known as a ‘gristmill’ – one which grinds grain to flour and it produced wheatflour for bread, crushed barley for animal feed, rye flour and oatmeal.

Until the advent of the steam engine, wind and watermills provided the only source of power for many different processes – from making flour, paper, cloth to hammering metal and extracting oils. You can explore mills that produced, or still produce these products, some restored to working order, some derelict, some still working commercially.

It was built in 1794 by Ralph Slater who was a Fylde Millwright and also built Pilling and Clifton Mills. It was commissioned by Bold Hesketh, uncle of Peter Hesketh (later Peter Hesketh-Fleetwood) who would go on to play a prominent role in the expansion of Fleetwood.

Tragedy struck in May 1930, when a Miss Alice Baldwin and a Mrs Mary Jane Bailey visited the windmill with an interest in purchasing it. However, when both women stepped onto the fantail platform, the platform collapsed and the women fell to their deaths.

In 1957 it was sold to Thornton Cleveleys, later Wyre Council.

The mill underwent a two year renovation and the sails finally turned again after sixty years in 1990. A full restoration programme took place and was completed in 2016 – read on to the end of this article to see a video of the sails turning.

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Marsh Mill, Fleetwood Road North, Thornton Cleveleys, FY5 4JZ

More about Marsh Mill today

More about the Friends of Marsh Mill here

Website for the Friends of Marsh Mill here

Friends of Marsh Mill Facebook page

More about Little Marton Windmill

More about Lytham Windmill

The Friends of Marsh Mill

This group was formed in January 2013 to give an independent voice to discussions about its long-term conservation and preservation. Another key aim is to set up a calendar of events to raise the mill’s profile.

222 Years Old – and Not Out!

This account of the history of Marsh Mill Windmill is with many thanks to reader and regular contributor Barrie C Woods who has a fascination for all things mechanical.

Norfolk and Lincolnshire are counties well known for their vast flat terrain and numerous Windmills, not so the Fylde. The Fylde is a similar expanse of topography on the other side of the country, roughly from the M6 westwards and bounded by Preston in the south and Lancaster in the north. Much smaller than its eastern counterparts, but otherwise a relatively similar flat and windswept landscape.

The very low-lying area of dense black peat marsh was suitably drained (again much like the fens) starting in the late 18th Century, by the Lord of the Manor; Bold Fleetwood Hesketh, it was after his fifth son, Peter, that the local town of Fleetwood is so named.  Incidentally nearby Blackpool also owes its name to a nearby marsh – black – pool! Apart from the latter named town, the area has maintained this rural aspect throughout its long history, with the marsh drained, numerous arable farms produced various cereals, livestock also covered much of the area, all benefitting from the highly fertile soil.

The realisation that the prevailing winds were fairly constant off the Irish Sea soon brought ideas into local entrepreneurs that a machine called a Windmill would not only save a tremendous amount of hard manual labour, but would increase production of flour and of course in turn make them a profit!  In fact it became known as ‘Windmill Land’, over a period of years, some 50 mills were erected across the region and today around a dozen are extant albeit in various conditions; some are merely wrecks, others reasonably complete but derelict, some are converted into homes and some have been cosmetically restored but only one has actually retained its original machinery – Marsh Mill at Thornton Cleveleys.

Marsh Mill Windmill, with the date 1794 set in the stone lintel

A stone lintel across the entrance door to the building (above) proclaims 1794 as the build date. 

Stone carvings at Marsh Mill
The Curious engravings on the Stone door jamb to the Reefing Stage.

Construction is of local brick with a wooden ‘inverted boat-style’ rotating cap.  It is a large mill, over 70ft high with five floors, attached to which is the Drying Kiln.  This structure had been razed to the ground years ago but fortunately the original footprint of its foundations still remained so a replica kiln is now in place and open to the public to inspect. 

Marsh Mill windmillThe Cubitt’s Hinged Shutters can be seen in this view

Marsh Mill, one of the largest in the country, is equipped with four sails, these were originally ‘Common’ sails fitted with sail-cloth sheeting which was manually draped across the sails when required to increase power, then partially or fully folded if the wind became too strong.  Access to deal with this was via the Reefing stage, a footway part way up the structure encircling it. A later method was to roll the sheets across the sails which showed some improvements to the control system, but both methods requiring the sails to be temporarily stopped whilst adjustments were being completed.  

This method of control eventually changed into the ‘Cubitt’ Patent system invented by Sir William Cubitt in 1807, whereby the sails were fitted with hinged shutters automatically controlled through the hollow Windshaft, this is the main shaft on which the sails are mounted and rotate. Cubitt’s patent sails were added to the Marsh Mill in 1896 and can still be seen today.  To ensure the sails gained the most out of any wind direction, the cap had to be manually rotated until the invention of the Fan-tail which automatically adjusted them into the correct direction , the sails are adjusted manually by chain from the reefing stage which opened and closed the shutters through the hollow Windshaft via a complex system of rodding from a Striking Rod, this in turn allowed adjustment whilst the Mill continued working.

Marsh Mill operated until 1922, its last years purely for animal feed, as a more efficient method of grinding finer flour which the public were beginning to demand had been achieved by then.  There is an irony in that today there is an increasing public demand for stone-ground wholemeal flour, the likes of which mills such as Marsh Mill used to produce.

The Mill operated on the usual system whereby after drying in the kiln, which was peat-fired, the corn grain was fed into the mill itself and lifted up to the grain floor via the Sack Hoist and discharged into chutes to be ground on one of the four sets of Millstones. 

Millstone at Marsh Mill
A Grindstone by the entrance to the Mill illustrating the intricate cutting necessary bring the Gritstone into a circular shape, which is then bound with metal loops.  This example is a Bedstone, which is fixed, above it would be the rotating Runner stone.

The 5ft diameter stones, larger than the later accepted size of 4ft, were either French Burr from the Paris Basin, renowned by Millers for its really hard almost quartz-like properties, or Millstone Grit, which was found in Lancashire, Yorkshire and Cheshire. 

The latter would usually consist of just one single piece of stone shaped circular and banded with metal hoops, the French Burr more often came in pieces, which were cut and shaped, cemented together and again held with metal hoops.  The local stone dresser would then cut grooves in the stones radiating at an angle from the centre to the edge, the Bed-stone, (The fixed bottom stone) having its grooves cut in a similar fashion to the upper rotating Runner-stone, this created a scissor-type action which forced the grain, which was fed into the centre of the stone via a vibrating gadget called a Shoe, to be gradually cut and driven out towards the stone edges where they were swept by Leather sweeper attached to the perimeter of the runner stones and the wooden tuns to then fall into more chutes, on then through a sifting system which separates the meal, before finally being guided into sacks for dispatch.  Ideally the stones would rotate around 125rpm. With constant use they needed re-dressing about every four weeks.

Marsh Mill, Mill Bill and Thrift, used to dress millstones
Mill Bill – hard double ended wedge shaped chisel, inserted in a wooden handle or Thrift – used to dress the millstones.

The Stone Dressers were often contractors or itinerants going from Mill to Mill. If requiring the Dresser’s services the Miller would send a message by setting the sails so one was just in advance of the vertical (No mobile phones in those days!).

Marsh Mill fantail
Sack hoist into the rebuilt Drying Kiln and the refurbished Fan-tail.

With the sails turning and the Fan-tail (the red blades in the photo above) directing them via the rotating cap, a Brake Wheel (below) of 10 feet diameter which is mounted on the Windshaft and fitted with 80 square cast iron teeth (originally wood) converted the motion, via a Wallower, a smaller horizontally aligned gear wheel with 64 teeth, vertically through a 2ft diameter central wooden post to the Great Spur wheel which engaged with the Stone Nuts, which are gear-wheels from which rotating shafts descend to each Grind Stone set.

Gear wheels inside Marsh Mill
View of the horizontal Wallower which is driven off the Great Spur wheel from the rotating Sails, it transfers power to the vertical shafts which in turn drive the Grindstones. In this view it is the Sack hoist drive that is prominent. note also the later metal teeth on the Wallower and wooden teeth on the smaller gear wheel.

Marsh Mill windshaft
The hollow steel Windshaft leads out to the sails, within it the striking rod mechanism for altering the shutters, teeth of the Wallower in the left foreground.

These Stone Nuts or Quants vary in size to operate at different speeds again to vary the end product. It will be noticed from the photos that the sails are set at a 10% angle to the vertical, this is to ensure they clear the lower part of the structure and it also transfers some of the weight of the sails across the building to improve weight distribution.  A huge wooden brake shoe partially encircles the Brake Wheel in order to control the speed of the sails. A crude clutch-type operation not dissimilar to a traction engine would engage or disengage the Stone Nuts according to how many stone sets were required to operate at any one time. The Sack Hoist was also operated from this same power source. 

Machinery inside Marsh Mill
The Sack hoist (above) is driven off the main shaft through a system of cogs and bevel gears, sacks are hauled up through trap-doors in each floor by chain.

Marsh Mill machinery
Three of the four sets of Grindstones in Marsh Mill, the grain is fed through the troughs above into the centre of each stone.

The grade of flour could be varied by the gap between the stones, this had to be finely adjusted to avoid the stones touching each other of course and each was equipped with a Tentering device which the skilled Miller could minutely raise or lower each runner stone. The gap between them being between a 1/16th and 1/4 of an inch according to the grade of flour meal required.  The speed and height of the gap between the stones could also be controlled by an automatic Tentering device via a governor again of similar design to that often seen on steam engines. Different grades of flour meal could then be directed through a variety of sieves depending on the requirements at the time.  Both manual and automatic such devices can be witnessed at Marsh Mill.  From the shaft beneath one set of stones another pulley drives the Boulter which is an inclined sieve whereby the flour meal drops through a fine mesh and the bran is deposited into yet another chute for re-use or cattle feed.

Lost Years

After 1922 the Mill lay idle for 6 years, it then re-opened as a tea-room, this entailed removing some of the internal supports which in turn caused sagging of the upper floors and eventually jammed the machinery. In the 1930s prospective buyers, a couple of ladies, on carrying out an initial inspection, had the misfortune to step out on to a platform at the rear of the Mill near the Fan-tail which by then had rotted and could not sustain their weight and thus they unfortunately plunged to the ground both ladies died from the incident.  Later in its life the Mill became a furniture upholsterer’s, and even later the home of a Denture manufacture!  

Decay was settling in due to lack of use, then in 1957 saviour came in the form of the local Thornton Cleveleys Urban District Council which purchased the complex for £1,200.  A further £750 was immediately spent renovating the structure with the intent to open it to the public.  A slight set-back occurred in 1962 when two of the sails were blown off in the December gales!  Some months later a third sail crashed to the ground, the final one then being removed for safety reasons.  In 1965 following public demand the Council undertook restoration work with new sails, repairs to the Reefing stage and a new skeletal Fan-tail assembly. 

The fortunate part of the Mill’s history since its closure is that despite its various extraneous activities in the ensuing years all the internal machinery was retained.

Shortly after, in 1972, a local man, Walter Heapy, founded the ‘Thornton Windmill Preservation Society’, sadly he died before the work was completed, so he never saw his dream come to fruition. 

The Drying Kiln building, which had been in use as a domestic home, was declared unfit in 1977 and duly demolished.  In a more enlightened period the Kiln house was then rebuilt as mentioned above on its original foundations. 

Marsh Mill Drying Kiln
The refurbished Drying Kiln. showing cut-away section of the drying floor with specially produced bricks which allow hot air from the fire below to permeate through the grain.

Disaster struck again in 1983 when one of the replacement sails blew off and the rest were removed for safety.  By now the ground floor of the mill was being used for various arts and craft fairs and the Drying Kiln as a gallery. 

Marsh Mill Village

Following local Government reorganisation in 1974 the then new Wyre Borough Council considered the full restoration of the mill into its present condition.  Being a very flat area the mill stood head and shoulders above all other buildings in the vicinity, as indeed it does today, so has proved to be a popular visitor attraction. 

Marsh Mill windmill

To this end a craft village was built around the mill, with little shops and a village style pub and a few homes.  So once again new sails, Reefing stage and Fan-tail assembly were purchased assembled and lifted into place, the internal machinery, was checked over and renovated in a number of places. 

At 11.30 on 11 January 1990 the sails turned for the first time in 67 years – albeit via an electric motor installed within the structure – a momentous occasion for all concerned. However the situation could not be maintained and once again the Mill gradually fell into disrepair. 

The deteriorating Mill was placed on the English Heritage ‘At Risk’ register. Fortunately, following considerable local public pressure, from individuals, businesses and groups, Wyre Council made funds available and in 2013, an external restoration programme was put into action. 

This culminated in another set of new sails being purchased and fitted with the Cubitt’s shuttering system and completely new Fan-tail assembly, renovations of the internal machinery to replace rotted beams and other parts, this also included the checking and re-wiring of the electric motor which powers the sails, plus the checking of safety barriers throughout. 

It also included the external renovation work such as replacement of the rotting Reefing Stage, a general tidying up of the exterior and painting of the whole structure white with a black cap. The sails are now a bright red and show up for miles across the countryside proving to be a welcome advertisement and addition to the local history of the Fylde.

‘The Friends of Marsh Mill’ are a dedicated team of volunteers who oversee the well-being of the Mill, They are always looking for more volunteers to assist in the continuing maintenance of the structure.  On your visit you can be assured of a warm welcome. May it continue for another 222 years!

The Mill is open every weekend from 10.30am to 4.30pm from Easter to November with the Mill in action on certain dates including National Mills weekend and other special days, more information on this is available with the links at the top of this page. 

Barrie C Woods was shown around Marsh Mill with the very knowledgeable volunteer Sharon Butler, and is most grateful to her for his guided tour.

Anything to Add?

If you know anything about Marsh Mill Windmill or have anything to add to this page, please email jane@theRabbitPatch.co.uk or post on the Visit Cleveleys Facebook page

Find out More

More about the Friends of Marsh Mill here

Website for the Friends of Marsh Mill here

Friends of Marsh Mill Facebook page

Would you like to own Marsh Mill Windmill?

Visit Cleveleys is part of Visit Fylde Coast, a digital media product which is independently published by The Rabbit Patch Ltd.

We’re a design and creatives company right here on the Fylde Coast and we have an online shop where we sell our own original art.

This is our original watercolour painting of Marsh Mill Windmill – it’s available in various sizes as a framed, mounted or plain print.

Follow the link and have a look around at both local scenes and traditional seaside views.

Original watercolour painting of Marsh Mill Windmill from Seaside Emporium

Marsh Mill Windmill, watercolour painting from Seaside Emporium

Marsh Mill windmill

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