Ullesthorpe Windmill, classified Grade ll, stands in a conservation area in the centre of the village, having been built from the subscriptions for shares raised from local people in 1800 primarily to provide flour for the poor of the village. Being on high ground, the mill is visible for some distance in all directions and is therefore a distinctive local landmark.
It ceased operation as a windmill in the 1890s. No photographs have been found showing it complete with its sails and reefing stage, but there are ones of a very similar and now vanished mill built in Lutterworth at the same time. At some point in the last years of operation of the Ullesthorpe mill, a pair of millstones was set up on the first floor (the original stones remaining on the third floor) driven by a steam engine in the yard.
The mill mechanism is unusual in never having been updated since it was built and is largely complete and in a good state of preservation. In nearly all mills iron-based mechanisms replaced wooden ones in the mid-19th century. The uniqueness of this feature is a major argument for the mill’s preservation.
The tower has several buildings abutting it. The two-storey extension behind is a lime-ash floored granary over a stable and a bucket “mother and daughter” privy. This building alone is described by the mill expert J.Kenneth Major as “Of incredible importance because of its survival”, the form of construction of the first floor being rare. In front is the former bakehouse, with a small office adjoining the door into the mill.
The rectangular plot also contains a pigsty with a copper for boiling the feed and, most importantly, the miller’s cottage. This is well preserved and has been continuously inhabited. Together, the buildings contained within this small plot are a rare surviving example of the close inter-dependency of the different activities that were driven by the process of milling, whilst nearby is the village granary where the grain harvest was stored.
By the middle of the 19th century ownership had passed to the principal shareholders, the Goodacre family. In the 1970s John Goodacre, the present owner, carried out essential repairs to make the structure weatherproof and restored the doors and windows. Some windowpanes were later broken by vandals, which resulted in pigeon infestation. In 2004 he commissioned a report into the mill’s condition and the likely cost of restoration. Unaware of this, early in 2005 some Ullesthorpe residents, having long considered that it was a potentially valuable asset to the village which had long remained locked-up and inaccessible, wondered if its restoration might be pursued as a community project and approached the owner.
- The initial approach was welcomed and resulted in a village meeting. This in turn led to a number of enthusiastic villagers forming a group dedicated to the mill’s restoration, with the owner chosen as chairman. After consulting the local preservation officer, the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Architectural Heritage Fund, all of which took the view that restoration was worthwhile and likely to be supported financially, the Group formed itself into a Building Preservation Trust.
- The Ullesthorpe Preservation Trust was formed as a limited company, subsequently registered as a charity. Members embrace a wide range of skills, including, architectural design, archaeology, local history, project management, woodworking, glazing, etc.
- A “Friends of Ullesthorpe Mill” was also formed and, in return for social events, newsletters and concessions, supplies much-needed help with running expenses.
- Once access was obtained the guano was removed, the interior cleaned, all windows restored and repaired and complete boarding-over of rotten floorboards at all levels completed. Steps replaced ladders to provide safe access to all floors and iron shoes fitted to beam-ends where required.
- Kenneth Major, the mill expert who advises English Heritage, visited the mill and was asked to consider whether its listing should be raised from Grade II to Grade II*. The result is a highly supportive report.
- At this point we submitted, to the Heritage Lottery Fund through a DEFRA Local Initiative programme, an extensive series of proposals for opening the mill to the public and for communicating its history and technology. We were awarded a grant for this that has proved extremely valuable and successful – so much so that 400 visitors attended our most recent of a series of Open Weekends. All were impressed – even awed – when climbing to the cap to see the massive wooden mechanism and the way that the whole cap and its structure rotated on a huge roller bearing, the very latest thing when it was built.
- This website is itself being developed through our HLF grant.
- We were also fortunate to receive a £3,000 grant from the parish council for structural and timber surveys.
Developing a Restoration Strategy
This progress and experience enables us to now consider what restoration strategy would be best. Paramount in this is the need to attract sufficient funds to both restore and maintain the mill, should the Trust take on a long lease. This in turn requires that we demonstrate that the mill will contribute to the life of the community. Judging from the highly encouraging level of interest already demonstrated this at least should not be a problem