Weatherwatch: Wind turbines may be opposed but windmills are attractions

There are still many windmills in the British countryside, and they are seen as attractions, while wind turbines are frequently vehemently opposed. In the 18th and 19th century when there were thousands more windmills they were also controversial, built by entrepreneurs cashing in on the high price of corn and flour. Most towns had three or four in fierce competition.

Not surprisingly, mills kept running flat out to make profits were prone to weather related accidents, and many of them caught fire. One common reason was spelt out in a contemporary account. The Imperial Magazine of 15 February, 1760 reported: "This night a most terrible storm happened that did most prodigious damage upon sea and land. Near Winslow, Bucks, five windmills were burnt to the ground, occasioned by the high wind, which gave them such quick motion that their axletrees took fire."

Early windmills were wooden and built on a single enormous timber. The whole structure was balanced on this trunk and was turned to face the wind by the miller or pulled round by a horse. Later versions had a solid tower and a top that turned, and it is these that mostly survive. But even these brick-built ones suffered a lot of fierce fires. Flour burns rapidly and on a windy day, inside a draughty mill, flour dust, oxygen and a source of ignition can cause an explosion. This combination destroyed many Victorian mills; modern millers still constantly guard against this danger. © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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