Tuesday, 7 April 2015

Medieval Windmill, Scratch Built

This is my own particular take on an medieval style windmill and is loosely based on contemporary illustrations. I won't post any original images here for copyright reasons but if you use Google Images I'm sure you'll be able to find suitable pictures. I say 'loosely based' because it's a mixture of illustrations and styles I've seen and therefore will not be an entirely accurate representation of any particular image or example.
As I've stated before on similar projects this is a piece of tabletop terrain and not an item intended for display in a cabinet. I wasn't thriving to create a 100% accurate model of a windmill just my rendition of the subject to represent a mill. I made some deliberate choices that I assume to be technically incorrect but would be easier to make.

The concept of the windmill was introduced into Britain possibly at the end of 11th century (I've read this was at Dover but I can find no further reference of the claim) or more likely the mid 12th century (the idea of a windmill may come from the Middle East but this isn't known for sure). The oldest working example in the UK 'only' dates from the mid 17th century so pictorial images is all I had to work from. Watermills, on the over hand, have been around a lot longer, the Romans were operating them in England. I have a few ideas about making a model of a watermill but this is a possible future project.

The germ of the idea to make this piece was planted when I visited Avoncroft near sunny Bromsgrove, a museum that came about to preserve buildings rescued from demolition in and around the midlands. The buildings range from a substantial medieval town house up to a WWII prefab and most things in between. One of the main attractions is the windmill which I distinctly remember visiting as a young whippersnapper (many, many years ago). Although this example dates from the early 19th century one of the guides informed me that the basic design principles hadn't really changed since medieval days, they had just become bigger, more powerful and more efficient.
Avoncroft  windmill
In one of those rare moments when things just seem to go right this model was made without any pre-drawn plans (I must admit I was just plain lucky this time). With this model I used 5mm foam board (not corrugated cardboard this time. I know - last of the big spenders) that I found hidden down the side of my desk to form the main housing.
Trestle, door and steps
The base frame was made from both hardwood and balsa 6mm square section. 
The above image shows the building before I glue the base panel into place. The foam board core of the building was pegged together with cocktail sticks and glued together with PVA glue. This was clad in wooden coffee stirrers cut to represent planking.
Wooden Sail Frame
The four sails were made separately with the main spars made from barbeque sticks. The frame work of the sail was made from thin strips of hardwood. The main axle is made from 6mm (1/4") dia. wooden rod and the sails were glued into position at a slight angle like the real thing.
The roof tiles were made from cardboard, appropriately enough from a box of WotR plastic Perry Miniatures, cut into 10mm squares and glued on individually using neat PVA glue. This is not a method I'd normally use but as the area to be covered was quite small it didn't really take much time to complete.

I made the conscious decision to show the sails rolled up as the working days of a mill were relatively short, a local expert told me a miller would be lucky to operate two months out of a year (typically as I write this strong winds are blowing across England). The sails are made from small strips of tissue paper rolled tightly and super-glued into position with the sails being weaved in and out of the wooden frame (this idea came directly from seeing the mill at Avoncroft - please see photo above). Once in position I coated the tissue with PVA glue to fix it properly.

The most obvious detail missing from this model is the lack of a tail-pole, this is the long pole that would have been used to rotate the mill into the wind. After seeing an illustration in Osprey's 'The Longbow' book which also shows windmills missing this feature I decided to leave this out as well; my logic being that mills (examples built locally to me anyway) are located on the crest of hills facing towards the prevailing wind. Therefore early examples might not have needed to not been able turn into the wind. Any purists reading this can relax as I have designed (on paper at least) a far more complex and accurate model based on an early colonial American example which I will try to make whenever I get round to starting my War of 1812 project.

With hindsight I would have made this model slightly differently but I'm not going to lose any sleep over it now as this model was made pretty quickly (less than a working week allowing for various delays and overnight drying). The trestle for example would probably been buried in earth so that the windmill would appear to sit on a little mound. At least one of these mounds has been excavated in the mistaken believe that they were ancient burial grounds.

I'm not entirely sure what type of terrain I'll attempt next as I have a shed load of figures to paint but I've been looking through old photos and a picture of a well caught my eye.


  1. Very nice job on this windmill, allways impressive on our tables...

  2. Very nice. Informative as well.

  3. Great modelling work. I certainly would have no second thoughts on producing such a fine model.

  4. Great looking windmill! I took notes for my own building efforts. I agree that the individual roof tiles can be a pain, but the end effect works really well in your model.
    Cheers, PD

    1. Thanks Peter, on a smaller scale project individual roof tiles are the way to go, worth the effort.

  5. Great work again !
    very realistic !
    congrats !

  6. Great-looking model Matt, you should be proud!

    I'm not sure about the 'couple of months work' bit though. A number of lords built windmills (and water mills) to fleece their tenants that bit more, so they must have been profitable. Millers are usually the wealthier people in communities too... so either they worked damn hard in those couple of months, or they operated over longer periods.

    1. Hi John, it's funny you mention that because I had the same response when speaking to the local volunteer at the mill. I've since noticed that it is generally isn't that windy which explains why there were always far more watermills than windmills, the use of millponds allowing year round production.

      Apparently millers had quite a bad reputation down through the ages. They often had two sets of scales, one to weigh the wheat/barley coming in and another for the flour coming out and always in the miller's favour. Often just a one man operation they were regarded as the local 'fixer' in the area.

      In some cases even local hand mills were confiscated so the only option was to use the 'official' miller.

      Chaucer's 'The Reeve's Tale" is less than complimentary about millers and probably reveals, to a degree, the contemporary view of the job.

  7. Excellent bit of scratch building!


  8. Great work matey! I was actually embarking on a a similar project that I was before my circumstances changed and my work space shrank!

    Any chance you would be willing to posy=t up pics of the basic plans?


    1. Thanks Darrell, I actually made this model without initially creating any plans (I know, get me - rock'n'roll), however I should be able to draw up a few basic elevations and post them online.

    2. Thanks :>)

      That would be great- in your own time though!