In 1794 Bold Fleetwood Hesketh, the local squire of Rossall, had his name carved above the door of his newly completed windmill. This was Marsh Mill and it still stands today as the only functioning windmill in the whole of north west England.
Hesketh had ordered the enclosing of the common grazing land and had the marsh drained near the villages of Little Thornton and Thornton Marsh. The mill was built upon this land and probably replaced his other one at Rossall. Marsh Mill was designed by millwright Ralph Slater who was also responsible for the windmills at Pilling and Clifton.
By 1824 it had passed to Hesketh’s nephew Peter Hesketh Fleetwood, the founder of the coastal town of Fleetwood. (For more on his ambitious vision see our Fleetwood pages here and here). Peter lost most of his wealth in his venture, and the mill was one of the many assets he was forced to sell.
Such a complex piece of machinery would need regular servicing and repairs. We know that a millwright from Preston, Richard Blezzard was responsible for modernising the mill. In 1896 he had installed brand new sails and replaced the oak windshaft with a hollow iron one. (The windshaft is the central bar that the sails rotate around, and Blezzard’s replacement is still in place today). In 1907 he was back to examine the damage that a lightning strike had caused. However the mill only operated for a few more years, grinding its last grains in 1922. By this time it had only been producing meal for animal feed.
It then started to be used for a range of different functions- none of which used the mill machinery. In 1928 it was as a café and this lasted into the 1930s. Later its was a furninture store and then a factory that made false teeth. The grain drying kiln that was attached to the windmill was converted into a private house.
In the late 1950s it was bought by the local council with a view to turn it into a historical tourist attraction. Over the years it has proved very difficult to maintain, not least of all with the sails being periodically blown off. The formation of the Thornton Windmill Preservation Society in the early 1970s was a big step forward, and later in that decade it was turned into a museum. The private house connecting to it was demolished and converted back to being a grain store. The 1980s saw further large scale restoration (see an excellent set of pictures on the BBC Legacies website here) and the construction of a Craft Village around the mill. Finally on the 16th January 1990 the sails turned for the first time in 60 years.
The above paragraph can do little justice to the huge amounts of work that has been done on the windmill, both outside on the building and inside on the complicated machinery, to bring it back to full working order. This effort has been on going in the intervening decades and only in 2012 was Marsh Mill removed from the Heritage at Risk register. Most recently restoration has been carried out on the roof, balcony, fantail and new sails have been installed. Only a visit will allow the reader to get a real sense of what has been achieved.
It is beyond the scope of this page to explain how a windmill works, but here’s a brief summary of what there is inside (and what can be seen on a visit). At the top is the Dust Floor (6th storey) outside of which the sails collect the wind’s energy and feed it back into the mill through the connecting windshaft. Below is the Grain Floor (5th storey) where the corn or grain is put into hoppers which feed down on to the grinding stones on the floor below. This is the Stones Floor (4th storey) where massive circular stones crush and rub the grain together to produce flour. The next floor down is the Meal Floor (3rd storey) which is where the miller controls the mill machinery. Below is the Drying Floor (2nd storey). Underneath that is Storage Floor (1st storey) where bags of grain waiting to be ground up are stored along with flour that is ready to be shipped out to be sold.
The Drying Kiln is a rectangular shaped building connected to the mill. The one in place today is not the original, but has been reconstructed using old photographs and built on the original cobblestone foundations. The kiln was used to dry grain out before it was ground on the millstones. Grain would be spread on the floor made from perforated tiles, and the heat from the fire box underneath would rise up to dry it.
Marsh Mill is a fantastic heritage resource for Lancashire. Visitors can be taken around the various floors by volunteers and have the milling process explained to them. The Drying Kiln also houses an art gallery.
Access Marsh Mill is open on Saturdays and Sunday from Easter through to November. It is free to enter, and there is small charge for tours to the upper floors. For more details see the Visit Cleveleys website here
Nearby, just a short drive away
The Story of Marsh Mill and Other Windmills in Wyre, Ken Emery (1990), Carnegie Press
A Guide to Marsh Mill-in-Wyre (undated publication approx. 2010) Visit Wyre: Lancashire’s Great Escape
The Industrial Revolution Explained: Steam, Sparks and Massive Wheels, Stan Yorke (2005) Countryside Books