IN 1770, miller George Waud, of Holgate, York, sat back and breathed in the smell of freshly ground flour from his new windmill.

Listening to the gentle swish of the sails and the rhythmic whirr of the grindstones, he heaved another sack of grains up the narrow wooden stairs and waited for the horse and cart to bring more.

The mill, he hoped, would provide a fine business for himself, his son and grandson. It did, for more than 80 years. In fact, the mill continued to grind flour until 1933, under seven different families.

More than 200 years later, and the builders who work in the tower have a very different view.

The brick structure is covered in scaffolding and red netting, and the sails have long gone.

The stones that once ground corn, wheat and barley stopped working long ago, and the rusty iron poles and rotten wood, which once bore the weight of machinery, are supported by scaffolding.

You can still clamber up the miller's ladder, but you won't see sacks of flour any more; more likely florescent jackets, work tools and safety notices.

This won't be the picture for much longer, though.

Members of Holgate Windmill Association have been campaigning to fund a refurbishment of the building for six years.

To restore and commission the mill to grind flour will cost around £350,000, says chairman Bob Anderton.

A tall order, but not impossible.

Recently, a mystery retired businessman donated £25,000 to the cause, and two weeks ago, it received a £50,000 Heritage Lottery grant.

The scaffolding will soon be down and new oak doors and white windows will keep out the cold. The brick tower will be painted black, similar to when it was a working mill and was covered with tar as a weather-proofing agent.

Millwright Tom Davies has taken the cap away for restoration and, eventually, the sails will go back on.

Within five years, the mill could be up and running again, possibly even grinding flour.

The building has now been made safe by City of York Council, says Bob, but you can't go in without a hard hat.

There are lights hanging from the dark, brick walls and a warming electric fire by the door.

A dank smell lingers inside the mill and, every now and again, a smattering of rubble hits the floor.

The association has pinned up laminated guides, explaining how the rusty machinery was used before the mill closed in 1933. It's all part of the preparation for its refurbishment.

"It is a very unusual mill because it had five sails and was double shuttered," explains Bob.

"We think it was a very efficient windmill because of the type of stones it has.

"There are three pairs of French Burr grindstones (the large stones used to grind flour), as well as a Peck stone.

"French Burr stones were very expensive. They came from just outside Paris, and they were expensive to quarry and expensive to bring over from France.

"It's not a big mill, and normally one of its size would have had only two pairs of stones.

"So the fact it has four pairs suggests it was very efficient."

The mill hasn't always been so well looked after, though.

Bob has lived in Windmill Rise for 20 years and, although he always admired the mill, he wasn't overly interested in it.

"It was only about six years ago when my daughters were younger and they used to play on it, and one day one of them said: Dad, there are bits falling off the windmill'.

"She said this big lump of masonry fell down while they were playing and I thought: It's getting dangerous now'."

Around the same time, concern was mounting among local residents.

A group of them formed an association and applied for funding, initially securing a £22,000 heritage award.

There are now 15 people on the management committee, and an estimated 600 members.

One of its first jobs was to erect struts inside the mill to keep the machinery propped up.

"Over the years, the beams on the ceiling that carried the weight of the four pairs of stones have rotted and can't bear the weight any more," explains Bob, pointing to the damage.

The stones still lie on the second floor, the metal wheels with their damp applewood teeth on the floor above.

The third floor is called the bin floor, says Bob.

It was where grains such as corn, barley and wheat would fall from their sacks on the floor above.

Different grains would be mixed in large vats before travelling through a chute onto the stones below.

They would be ground into flour there, which would collect in sacks on the bottom floor.

Much of the machinery is still there, although badly damaged.

Being a miller was back-breaking work, says Bob. You worked when the wind was blowing, sometimes all through the night.

Even if the wind was poor, the miller might sit in the mill, doing his books or waiting for it to pick up.

It was also a hazardous occupation. There are always two doors in a mill, to ensure that whichever way the sails are turning, there is always a safe door to leave by.

Some millers forgot though, and got struck by a ton of sail at 30mph.

There were also fire hazards and potential lightning strikes.

Holgate Mill is quite unusual in having a fireplace on the ground floor, says Bob.

He imagined the miller must have sat warming beside it when there wasn't enough wind to work.

Bob and the rest of the association are keen to restore the mill to its former glory.

"Particularly because it's a rare mill and one of only two that has still got its machinery in Yorkshire," says Bob.

"I think it's vital that it's saved. Not just for the locals around here either."

The association would also like to know more about the mill's customers.

"We can only assume it served people who lived round and about," says Bob.

"But it would be nice to know whether it supplied a young Rowntrees with flour for the biscuits and things, and other companies in York that started off small but became bigger.

"We would love to learn more."

  • If you would like to make a donation towards the mill's restoration, phone Bob Anderton on 01904 795851.

Miller's tale: A short history of Holgate Mill

The windmill was built by George Waud in 1770.

Records show that he bought the land in 1769 and the mill stayed in the family, being run by his son and grandson, until 1851, when a miller called John Thackery took over.

It was run by G&J Chapman between 1855 and 1859, William Bean from 1859 to 1867 and Joseph Chapman and his son, Charles, from then until 1902.

Herbert Warters took over until 1924, and Thomas Mollet was the last miller, from 1924 to 1933.

The miller's house and two-storey granary lay just to the south of the mill on either side of the snicket leading to Acomb Road. It was up this track that the corn was brought to be ground by horse and cart.

At one stage in its later working life, one set of stones was altered so it could be turned by steam power when the wind was poor.

The boiler house and chimney stood to the north-east of the mill, but the steam engine was replaced with an electric motor in 1930, and the boiler house and chimney were destroyed.

The mill stopped working in 1933, when it was owned by Mrs Gutch, of Holgate Lodge.

She wanted the mill to be kept in working order and a small park to be built on the land around it.

This was not to be and, after her death, the mill was acquired by the Corporation of York, and the mill house and granary demolished to make way for houses.

How the mill works...

As the sails turn, the power is transferred through a windshift (a long cast iron tube), to a brake wheel, which is a large cogged wooden wheel on the outside of the mill.

The cogs transfer the power vertically through a wallower (a slightly bigger cast iron wheel) down a vertical shaft (wooden at the top, but cast iron at the bottom), to a large cast iron wheel called the great spur wheel.

This wheel has applewood teeth, because metal on metal could cause sparks, which would be catastrophic with so much flour dust in the air.

As the great spur wheel turns, the teeth mesh with the stone nuts (smaller wheels with apple or pearwood teeth). From there, the power passes through long cast iron poles called quants, onto the grind stones.

The stones grind the grain into flour, which falls through wooden chutes into bags on the bottom floor.

At Holgate Windmill, three of the wheels ground flour for humans, while one was made of courser stone and only ground flour for animal consumption.

Mill is going back to work

Eventually, Bob Anderton, chairman of Holgate Windmill Association, hopes the mill will be commissioned as a working mill. But that will take many years and many thousands of pounds.

To date, the cost of the structural work is in the region of £100,000. The society has also paid for new windows, oak doors and the installation of an electrical system.

The second stage will involve restoring the cap, a white onion dome. The society needs to raise £120,000 to fund that, but has between £30,000 to £40,000 to get the ball rolling.

Another £30,000 will pay for the sails to go back on and finally, repairing machinery and commissioning it as a working mill will cost a further £100,000.