9:50am Monday 21st May 2012
By Helen Mead
Few buildings capture your attention in the way windmills do.
In full-sail, they dominate the landscape, a reminder of times gone by. It is hard to drive past a windmill without at least having your curiosity stirred. Even those that stand derelict and abandoned, shadows of their former selves, are of interest.
Sadly the majority are in this state, although some have been brought back to life as quirky homes.
Thanks to dedicated bands of enthusiasts, others live on as working windmills, having been rescued, renovated and returned to their former glory.
In the Bradford district, the last corn windmill to survive was at Shelf. Falling into disrepair, the dilapidated and crumbling structure remained as a landmark on Halifax Road until the early 1960s.
Built of local quarried stone, it was erected during the 19th century, replacing an earlier mill. In 1937, it was painted by watercolour artist Karl Wood. To the end it retained most of its original machinery and was photographed in 1942 missing only its cap and sails.
In its prime, the mill looked striking, towering above smaller agricultural dwellings around it. Its photograph is one of many featured in Yorkshire Windmills Through Time, a book by Yorkshire historian Alan Whitworth.
“In comparison with Norfolk, Suffolk and Lincolnshire, the county pales into insignificance,” he writes. “But in times past, stretching across the three ridings, Yorkshire could hold its own for numbers. As we travel about now, it is difficult to imagine a landscape populated every few miles with windmills, but it was so.”
Among those restored is Skidby Mill on the edge of the Yorkshire Wolds. Damaged by lightning in 1946, it was the last windmill to work in the county, and as such prompted the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings to call for its preservation. The only surviving wind-powered mill in Yorkshire, it is now a popular visitor attraction.
The book takes an alphabetical journey through the region, with photographs showing mills as they looked in their heyday, juxtaposed with pictures of how they appear today.
“A miller's life was not without danger”, writes Alan, briefly recounting the tale of William Greenfield, miller at Goole, who died in 1840 after attempting to stop his windmill by taking hold of the sail. He was lifted up and thrown a considerable distance, dying and leaving a widow and several children.
* Yorkshire Windmills Through Time is published by Amberly at £14.99.
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