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Mills, Lifeboats and Local History



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How The Mill Works

By Marilyn Adams


The Sails


The power required for the operation of a Windmill is transmitted from the sails

via a horizontal shaft to a vertical shaft which runs down the centre of the mill

and provides the energy to turn the millstones. Thus the speed of the sails was a

crucial factor in the milling process. Originally, Lytham Mill had "common sails",

simple lattice like structures spread with canvas sail-cloths which the miller

reefed according to the varying force of the wind.


Lytham Windmill 1914


In 1845 a letter from one William Houghton to the miller states "If it be so that

you want a new suit of cloths for here, I should be much obliged to you for the

order, as I fit all in Preston and nearly all in the neighbourhood with mill



In 1900 the Mill was given a set of self—reefing patent sails. Instead of sailcloths

these had shutters which operated automatically to spill the wind. They were

much longer than the present dummy sails for at over 40' in length they almost

touched the top of the plinth.


The Cap and Fantail


The cap of a windmill needs to turn so that the sails can always be facing into the

eye of the wind. It rotates on a series of rollers round the top of the mill and is

held in position purely by its own weight.


Cap Rotation


Originally the cap was turned manually by the miller, this arduous task, known as hand-luffing required strenuous pulling on a continuous chain which was

suspended from a large wheel at the back of the cap.


Inside Cap




The fantail was fitted in about 1870, no doubt to the great relief of the miller! It consists of a wind-wheel with eight vanes which is situated at the back of the

cap, when the fantail revolves in the wind it automatically turns the

cap so that the sails face square into the wind.


The Fantail





The Gearing System


In a Windmill the first gear is the brake-wheel which is mounted on the

horizontal windshaft to which the sails are fixed.


This transmits power to the Wallower Wheel and down through the upright shaft

to the Great Spur Wheel. This in turn drives four spur pinions or "stone nuts"

which are mounted on square cut shafts called "quants" which turn the runner



Section 2


The power transmitted through the upright shaft also drives auxiliary machinery

such as the sack hoist and flour dressing machines.


The Stones


In its working days Lytham Mill had four pairs of stones - each pair being driven

from above by shafts powered by the Great Spur Wheel.




The top stone, known as the Runner Stone had a large hole in the centre called

the "eye". This revolved over the stationary Bed Stone. Grooves or furrows were cut into the stones and as they passed over each other they produced a scissor-like action which ground the grain into fine meal, The grooves needed to be cut regularly

despite the fact that the stones were of such hard material - the process was

known as stone dressing and was usually carried out by an itinerant stone dresser,

a millwright or often by the Miller himself.


Mill Bill and Thrift


Mill Bill


The tool used for dressing the stones.




Each stone measured about 4'6" across and could weigh up to 1 1/2 tons, the top

or runner stone being mounted on a spindle supported by a beam called the

bridgetree and balanced so that it did not actually touch the bed stone. The gap

between the stones was a mere fraction of an inch and the fine quality of the

meal was fully dependent on this factor. The gap was regulated by an

arrangement of screws and levers which raised or lowered the runner

stone, and which were operated by the miller from the floor below. This was

known as the "tentering" mechanism.


The Grain Feed System


The grain was raised in sacks via the sack hoist to the top or "grain floor" where

it could be gravity fed to the rest of the mill. Here it was tipped into a grain bin

which was set into the floor and which could hold about four sacks full of grain. It

passed down a wooden chute into a ‘stone hopper` above the stones and via an

adjustable gate into an inclined `shoe’ which dropped it directly into the eye of the

revolving millstone.


The shoe was suspended at the upper end by chains and its level adjusted by a

crook string at the lower end. The shoe was inclined but the grain would not flow

unless shaken, this was achieved by the contact of a wooden ‘rap‘ fixed to one lip

of the shoe, with the corners of the revolving square cut driving shaft (quant).

The faster the stones turned, the more the shoe was shaken thus allowing a

greater flow of grain onto the stones.


The miller, working on the meal floor below was warned that the stone hopper

was nearly empty by a simple, yet ingenious device:- a bell attached to a leather

strap fixed to the inside of the hopper could be brought into contact with the

quant. The middle of the strap, depressed by the weight of the grain in the hopper

was released when the hopper emptied, dragging the bell against the revolving

quant - thus emitting a noise something like a student alarm clock!


The grain fed into the stones was caught in the furrows and ground as it passed

outwards, the resulting wheat-meal being contained between the stones and their

casing, the "stone-vat". It then fell down through the meal spout to the control

floor where it was collected in sacks.


This product was pure wholemeal flour which could be used to make rich brown

bread with all the nourishment of the whole grain still in it. However, in the latter

years of milling the public began to prefer white bread which meant the wheat-

meal had to undergo a further process. It was passed through a flour dressing

machine, a cloth-covered ‘bolter' in the early days and later superseded by a "wire

machine" which effectively sieved the flour into three grades and removed the

bran which was then used principally for animal fodder.







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