THE sails of Holgate Windmill have become a familiar sight on York's skyline once again, thanks to the Holgate Windmill Preservation Society's marvellous restoration job.

A spot of digging in our archives, however, has unearthed a whole series of old photographs of the windmill, showing it in its early years as a thriving mill, and then in successive states of decline.

According to the Preservation Society's website, the mill was built by George Waud, and completed in 1770. Mr Maud, who was the first miller, lived in the mill house with his family.

"The mill was built in open countryside looking over the hamlet of Holgate, which was centred around the junction of Acomb Road and Poppleton Road," the preservation society's website says.

"These roads provided a direct route for the grain from local farms to the mill and much of the high quality flour that George produced would have been taken into York.

"The original horse and cart track to the mill survives, in narrowed form, as a snicket from Acomb Road."

The rural setting of the mill is evident in our earlier photos, which date from the 1920s - one undated photograph is possibly even earlier.

The descendants of George Waud ran the mill until the 1850s. It then changed hands several times. One miller, Charles Chapman, is said to have died comparatively young in 1901 as a result of breathing in flour dust.

The mill continued to operate using wind power until the 1930s, however. It then "continued with the aid of electric motors until production stopped entirely around 1933," the preservation society website says.

It was bought by the York Corporation in 1939, yet despite some attempts to restore it, became steadily more dilapidated.

The sails seem to have remained in place until the 1940s, when they were badly damaged by wind. A 1954 photograph shows the sails reduced to mere spars, with the building itself showing signs of obvious neglect.

An Evening Press cutting from 1971 indicates how close we came to losing the windmill altogether.

A meeting of the council's York Finance and General Purposes Committee approved minor repairs costing £400 - but at a lively debate on the windmill's future there were several calls for it to be demolished.

Alderman WE Hargrave said the windmill would cost between £20-£30,000 to renovate properly. "We have to consider whether it is worth spending this amount of ratepayers' money," he said..

He added that in its present state it was an eyesore. "I would not like it there if I lived nearby, but that is a personal opinion."

Mrs Mary Miller, who lived in Windmill Rise, added: "It is very dilapidated. I would not object to it coming down.

"I know a lot of people feel it is a landmark and worth preserving, but rather than spend a lot of money it might be better to let it go.

"Children are always playing around it. They throw things at it and break windows."

But York Civic Trust chairman John Shannon described the windmill as a "unique example of the industrial and social history of this city," and said it should be preserved.

June Hargreaves of the city planning department agreed. "It has got to be repaired," she said. "t is listed as a building of architectural and historic interest. It is unusual in that it had five sails and is one of the few left in this area."

Fortunately, the windmill survived. In 2001 the Holgate Windmill Preservation Society was formed - and today, more than a decade later, it remains a unique part of York's heritage.

York Press:
The mill in winter

York Press:
 Washing day in 1911