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Top 25 Art Blog - Creative Tourist

Windmills

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Since Ewan MacGregor sang to Nicole Kidman to the light of a Moulin Rouge, viagra information pills or perhaps since Don Quixote tilted heroically over the hills to La Mancha at those giant-like shapes, cialis 40mg they’ve caught our hearts as surely as Windy Miller once did, waving to us from the music box as an episode of Camberwick Green came on telly. Given the topicality of their gleaming three-pronged younger brothers, the turbines bedecking our beloved bemoorlands, eyes turned to Vestas’ factory on the Isle of Wight, I thought I’d glance back a little, to quieter ages.

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Illustrations by Jeffrey Bowman

They were the great technological innovation of the twelth century, at least in Northern Europe. The Persians had been happily pumping water with wind power 1500 or so years earlier, and the Greeks on the Cyclades out-sourced their grain grinding expertise to the mainland, charging a nifty 1/10 of the flour fee. Their three pronged modern successors are the best developed shot at renewable energy we’ve properly developed yet.

When you scratch the surface of windmill history, you come across the attractively-named International Molinological Society, whose members meet every four years or so to talk over anything from ‘oblique scoopwheels’ to industrial espionage – mill technology from the USA in the early 19th century was carried across the ocean by the German spies Ganzel and Wulff to form the start of a new development in european mill technology. Can you imagine the excitement and tension in that debriefing room?

Darrell M Dodge (of Littleton, Colorado)’s Illustrated History of Wind Power Development calls windmills ‘the electrical motor of pre-industrial Europe’. They did all sorts : pumping water from wells, for irrigation, or drainage using a scoop wheel, grain-grinding, saw-milling wood, and processing spices, cocoa, paints and dyes, and tobacco.

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To see the first main kind of northern european windmill, you can take a trip down to Outwood, Britain’s oldest still-functioning windmill, built in 1665 by Thomas Budgen of Nutfield. It’s a post mill : the whole body, weighing around 25 tons, rotates on a central post made of a single enormous oak tree, to bring the mill round into the wind.

The post mill was the most common design in the twelfth century, when they were just getting going (the first reference to a British windmill is in 1191). By the end of the thirteenth century, though, the masonry tower mill had been introduced. These had the neat innovation of a turning timber cap, built on a stone tower – so the moving bit was lighter, and the windmill could be built taller with larger sails to get more power.

William Cubitt was a curious engineer from Norfolk, obsessed with the efficient use of energy. He straightened out an unsatisfactory bit of canal north of Oxford, and invented the prison treadwheel, a device which perhaps sums up that mechanical, peculiarly Victorian vision that every cog and wheel of society should find its place, in workhouse, town house or courthouse. He installed the first one in Bury St Edmunds Gaol in 1819, followed enthusiastically by ones at Cold Bath Fields (London), Swaffham, Worcester, Liverpool and probably more besides.

On the more picturesque side of his engineering, in 1807, he invented and swiftly patented a new type of sail, known from then on as ‘Patent Sails’, which combined the innovations of a Scottish millwright, Andrew Meikle (‘descended from a line of ingenious mechanics’ according to his tombstone) and Stephen Hooper. Meikle developed spring sails in 1772 made of a series of parallel shutters that could be adjusted according to windspeed, and had springs which let them open a little more if the wind gusted. Hooper invented a device in 1789 which let the sails be adjusted without ever stopping – he called it the roller reefing sail. Patent Sails became the basis of self-regulating sails, avoiding the need for tiresome constant supervision – and proved successful. Windmills on this design outlasted steam power and the industrial revolution – they were still in use as drainage pumps on the Norfolk Broads until 1959.

So, though grinding grain for bread has mostly been swapped for juicing up the national grid, some of the old guard hold on. And though I’d love to get confused about upwind turbines and Betz limits – why exactly the new wind power is generated from only three pretty fine blades slicing through the sky, we’d best leave it there for now.

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One Response to “Windmills”

  1. tigz says:

    wow i love these!

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