The extent of my knowledge about windmills and watermills is mainly derived from Windy Miller and Maggie Tulliver, so I was rather intrigued when asked to get out scrapbooks and albums from our collection of E. Mitford Abraham Windmills and Watermills for an Archaeology Library Guide.
E. Mitford Abraham (1883-1959), came from a family of distinguished Quakers from Ulverston, in Lancashire. He began to photograph and document windmills and watermills in a round 1900, at a time when they were fast disappearing. He amassed a remarkable collection of 47 albums containing over 1200 views of mills. This collection documents these historic buildings and provides a survey of their decline and the landscape which they inhabited. Many of these mills were rendered obsolete by new technologies but some remain as beacons of our heritage.
Windmills are often portrayed as the dying giants of countryside, quite often being ascribed human characteristics, which these photographs and articles provide evidence of. One article describes “windmills, like houses, have a kind of facial expression, especially those in Kent where they wear a boat shaped bonnet.” They show the variety of structures and different styles of windmills, for example the photos showing the number of different number of sails.
The Holgate Windmill in York is the last surviving windmill in England to feature five double shuttered sails and a fantail. This Mill has now been restored and opened to the public through the efforts of a local preservation group: To read accounts of their project see : http://holgatewindmill.org
However, the collection provides more than just a record of the buildings, for many of the photographs include pictures of people and their daily lives lived in and around these buildings, such as The Holgate Windmill, with its clearly visible washing line. The images depict a vanished way of life and evoke nostalgic recollections, which seem to be encapsulated in the current trend for heritage tourism and preservation of historic buildings.
The images of Bebington Windmill on the Wirral chronicle its slow demise. This windmill was finally demolished in the 1970s and exists today only on the school badge of the junior school that was built on the site of the old windmill.
The High Mill in Pickering closed in 1958. It operated as a corn mill until the advent of steam power and then electricity rendered water mills uneconomical. This mill has been renovated and adapted and is now used as holiday accommodation.
Among the photograph albums that E. Mitford Abraham collated were a number of scrapbooks, where numerous articles from newspapers, magazines and leaflets from campaigns to save the mills have been cut out and pasted in. These reflect the changing use of the buildings as well as providing a testament to the efforts to save them. The Manchester Guardian from March 1956 shows one of the most novel ideas for recycling a disused windmill.