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Fig. 11.1: Quainton tower mill from Simber Hill.

The great tower mill at Wendover has an air of power and majesty about it, whereas that at Quainton excels in elegance and good looks.  Its slender, gently tapered body stands over 70 feet tall, making it, so its keepers claim, the tallest windmill in Buckinghamshire — however, when compared with the six floors and massive cap of Wendover Mill, there can’t be much in it.  As a landmark, Quainton Mill stands proud and prominent and, when driven, it is sheer delight to see its slowly-revolving sails play flitting change with sun and shade.  But despite its modern construction, as a windmill Quainton was not a great success commercially due mainly to its poor position some 250 feet beneath the peak of Simber hill, which stands immediately behind it:

The one great mistake with Quainton Mill was to put it at the foot of the hill instead of on top — 350ft above the Ordnance datum with a 600 ft summit just behind it.  The east winds were cut off by the hill, the north winds by the trees, whilst the west winds were deflected by the recoil off the hill and the south winds were broken by the trees and houses; so the mill — a masterpiece of the millwright’s art — never did much good . . . .

Unpublished manuscript (1939) by Stanley Freece, Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies.

Referring to the nearby Curtis’s Mill, a renovated post mill, Stanley Freece was told that:

She was a nice little fast-running mill, she would always go, even when the giant tower mill refused to start.

Unpublished manuscript (1939) by Stanley Freece, Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies.

. . . . the giant tower mill being Quainton.

Fig. 11.2: some of the locally made bricks.

Built by James Anstiss, construction began in 1830, but when the tower had reached what became the third floor, work ceased and a temporary thatched roof protected the structure while Anstiss went to America.  On his return, work continued and was completed in 1832.  To celebrate the event, James Dubney, one of his workmen, is said to have climbed the mills highest sail to celebrate the event by drinking to its success, not realising that the brake was not on — fortunately for him the sails did not turn.

The mill was built from hand-made bricks, the clay for which was taken from a nearby pit, moulded, and burnt on site.  The tower was constructed from the inside along the lines of an industrial chimney of the era, no external scaffolding being necessary.  The tower has six floors plus the cap, its two pairs of under-driven stones being on the fourth.  The machinery, much of which is iron, was installed by the millwright William Cooper of Aylesbury, who shortly after the mill
s completion was declared bankrupt (and disappeared from the scene).  Thus, in place of the great timber post seen in local post mills and in the smock mill at Lacey Green, the upright shaft at Quainton is a slender iron pole, some 8 inches in diameter.  The arrangements for rotating the cap are the same as those at Wendover, the cap being mounted on iron rollers which run upon an iron curb, forming, in effect, a roller bearing.



Fig. 11.3: looking up into the cap.  The fantail drives the horizontal worm (just visible
top, left of centre).  The drive is then transmitted through a worm wheel and an upright shaft
 to drive the pinion (the cog shown above).  This meshes with the rack to rotate the cap.

Fig. 11.4:  The iron windshaft is shown passing through the centre of the brake wheel.  The brake
wheel (fitted with wooden teeth) engages the wallower (shown above).  The wallower transmits
   the drive down the mill via the upright (or main) shaft (just visible passing through its centre).

For details windmill operation see fig. 3.8.

Fig. 11.5: the massive wooden beam supporting the great spur wheel (top) and the upright shaft.
The lay shaft extending to the left of the picture powers a belt drive to a flour dresser (fig. 3.13) on the floor below.


The iron spur wheel (fig. 11.5) originally drove three stone nuts (see fig. 3.8), which in turn powered three pairs of millstones.  Today, only two pairs remain, one of which is out of use.

Nothing appears to be recorded about the mill’s working life.  Following the enclosures and the conversion of Aylesbury Vale to grass, it is thought that by the 1860s the mill had lapsed into intermittent use.  By then it had been fitted with a steam engine, which provided some compensation for both its sheltered location and, according to Freece, the unusually high gearing of its stones.  From the 1870s, the mill
s demise was probably hastened by growing competition from the large industrial plants that had been built at the ports to mill grain imported cheaply from Canada and the USA; by the turn of the century Quainton Mill had probably fallen out of use.  But in the absence of hard fact, much of this is conjecture.

Fig. 11.6: Quainton tower mill c.1936.

In 1914 the mills steam engine was sold for scrap and over the following twenty years three of its sails fell off.  Following a visit to the mill during the 1930s, Freece gave the opinion that . . . .

“. . . .  one of the most notable and praiseworthy features of the mill’s construction is that the floor joists rest upon large oak blocks placed in recesses in the interior of the walls (see recessed beam mounting, fig. 11.5), and wedged also at the sides by other oak blocks; thus the ends of the beams do not make contact with the brickwork which, if damp, is a prolific cause of rotting of the beams and the eventual collapse of the floors.  Quainton towermill, 100 years old, is as good and sound today as when it was built — notwithstanding the entrance of wet through a broken cap for many years; and it is indeed a tragedy that many of the floor-boards have been torn up . . . . there are four fine big floors beneath the stone floor, offering an excellent opportunity to anyone who cared to undertake the expense of repairing the cap and re-boarding the floors to convert it into a nice residence4 and yet retain the splendid machinery in situ . . . .”

Stanley Freece manuscript (1939), Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies.

. . . . but there were no home conversion takers for the derelict mill, which continued to decay until, in 1970, interest was shown in its restoration within the village community.  In 1972, a feasibility study undertaken by the millwright Derek Ogden estimated that restoration would cost some £19,000, and in May 1974 the Quainton Windmill Society was formed with this aim.  After years of patient work by volunteers, the manufacture of parts by various organisations gratis or for a nominal sum, and cash grants and donations, the mill once again ground grain in the spring of 1996.  Alas, the rigours of age and the weather have combined to take their toll, and a major repair and refurbishment programme is again (2013) in progress.

Fig. 11.7: retired machinery — spur wheels and a pair of millstones.