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The Kibworth Harcourt Windmill, situated on the Langton Road, is an early 18th century postmill. It is a Grade 2* listed building and is also a Scheduled Ancient Monument. The mill is the last survivor of 211 postmills that were once used in Leicestershire.
The main feature of a post mill is that the whole body of the mill which houses the machinery is mounted on a single vertical post, around which it can be turned to bring the sails into the wind.
The post (trestle) that the mill turns on
The central trestle is from an earlier mill on another site and is dated from the 14th century.
View of first floor showing the tressle
There are a number of carvings inside the mill, the earliest is on the tressle.
Carvings on the trestle, "DANIEL HUTCHINSON MILLER 1711”
Another carving, 'T SMITH MILLER OCTOR 1837”
The mill had two cloth (common) sails) and two spring sails (a spring sail has a number of shutters controlled by a bar and a spring which adjusts to the force of the wind). The miller turned the mill into the wind by hand using the rotation beam.
Rotation beam used by the miller to turn the mill
The mill has two pairs of millstones, one of French Burr, the other of Derbyshire Peak Stone. One was used for animal feed and the other for flour. The top stone of the pair is called the runner stone, the lower stone is called the bed stone.
Flour Stones, the finer stones are for flour grinding
The stones are turned by a large wheel which runs the stone nut (a small gear). Once through the grinding process the ground grain passes through a flour dresser which separated the flour from the other pieces of the grain. A 19th century addition to the mill was iron governors which regulate the coarseness of the flour.
It was a working mill until 1912 but from then its condition began to decline. By the 1930s the mill was in very poor condition and the owners, Merton College, had the mill inspected by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB). The inspection concluded that repairs would cost £100.00.
In 1936 Merton College transferred ownership of the mill to the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) who carried remedial work on the mill in 1936 and again in 1970.
On 8th August 2017 during an inspection of the mill one of the sails collapsed and fell to the ground. This caused the opposite sail to swing violently and it was badly damaged when it hit the ground.
For safety reasons the remaining sails were removed.
Postmill with sails removed
The Mills Section of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) has decided that a major overhaul of the mill is required and when completed will return the mill to a working condition. The overhaul will involve repair of the trestle and work to the roundhouse. Four new sails will be made, two common and two spring and a new tailpole and ladder. It is anticipated that the work will commence 2020.
Addition (October 2023)
The project has been completed and the article below is an extract from the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) website.
Text courtesy of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB).
Kibworth Harcourt Mill Project
In 2020-21, we undertook major repairs to Kibworth Harcourt Post Mill, removing it from the Heritage at Risk Register and making it operational for the first time since the 1930s.
Kibworth Harcourt Post Mill
This Grade II* listed windmill is a Scheduled Ancient Monument, with the majority of the mill dating from 1711 or earlier. It was a working flour mill until 1912 when its condition began to decline.
Merton College Oxford gave it to the SPAB in 1936 and in 2021, thanks to a generous bequest, we were able to start a year-long repair project to bring it back into working order.
Kibworth Harcourt Post Mill once again looks like its former self, with a white body and sails, black sheeted roofs, a roundhouse and a curved tail pole. The interior is covered with burn-marks and witch-marks designed to ward off evil spirits, and graffiti left by millers and visitors from the past 300 years – a fascinating insight into its long history.
Our mill is the only surviving post mill in Leicestershire. There were once dozens of post mills in Leicestershire alone – now, there are only 50 post mills left in the whole country.
A post mill is the earliest type of traditional windmill found in the UK. The weight of the mill rests on a single post so the mill can be turned to face the wind. This post is supported by a trestle which sits on brick piers, and at Kibworth, that trestle is enclosed in a brick roundhouse.
The repair project
Repairing a historic windmill is no easy task! Here’s how we did it...
We contracted Millwrights Dorothea Restorations to undertake most of the repair work. They lifted up the 15-tonne buck (body of the mill) on a temporary steel support frame so they could repair the severely decayed original oak trestle (substructure of the mill) beneath it.
They scarfed new oak sections onto the sound timber to re-establish the original joint, then re-installed the softwood side plates.
The original interior weatherboarding was in good condition, so we kept it, and fitted new white-painted exterior weatherboarding to match the original wide boards. We repaired the brickwork on the roundhouse using locally sourced lime mortar, just as the original builders would have done.
We kept all the original graffiti, comprising initials, dates, names, sketches and witches’ marks, which so eloquently tell the story of the people who worked here over the years.
We fitted new exterior steps and a tailpole, repaired the internal machinery, and added a cutting-edge VM Zinc roof on the buck and roundhouse to protect it all for years to come.
The previous sails had been removed in the 1970s as they were beyond repair. So, we fitted new common and spring sails, made at a workshop in Bristol. These are now fully operational and can be seen in action at our Open Days (wind-permitting, of course!).
The bequest that funded these repairs also funded a Millwright Fellowship. We can’t maintain our mills without skilled millwrights, but millwrighting is sadly on the Heritage Crafts Red List of Endangered Crafts.
We were therefore delighted to have carpenter Toby Slater as our first Millwright Fellow in 2021. Toby worked with Dorothea Restorations on the repairs, helping construct new sails and crafting the new external oak steps.
Interested in applying? Find out more about the Millwright Fellowship.
It takes an awful lot of talented and dedicated people to make a repair project like this happen. Our thanks go to:
- Millwrights Dorothea Restorations who undertook most of the repair work
- 2004 SPAB Scholar Naomi Hatton, the engineer in charge of the project
- Former SPAB Technical Advisor Luke Bonwick who assisted and provided drawings for Dorothea Restorations
- 2021 SPAB Millwright Fellow Toby Slater who worked on the repairs, helping construct new sails and crafting the new external oak steps
- Terra Measurement who did a full engineering report, 3D survey and fly through
- Cambridgeshire Windmills Consultancy who prepared the schedule of work
- Buildings archaeologist James Wright of Triskele Heritage who investigated the graffiti
- Local historian David Holmes who provided valuable information
- Mills Section Committee Chair Mildred Cookson who was a technical advisor on the project
- All our volunteers who have donated their time to looking after the mill and opening it to visitors
To find out more
Visit the SPAB YouTube channel to watch a fly through of the mill, find out all about Kibworth’s historic graffiti and see how the oak staircase was made. You can also hear more on BBC Radio Leicester.
How to visit
Kibworth Harcourt Post Mill is on private ground so only open to the public on select open days in the year. Subscribe to our e-newsletter to hear when the next one is.
Want to help keep the sails turning at Kibworth Harcourt? Contribute to the Mill Repair Fund.
In 1235-36 Richard de Harcourt was holding land in Kibworth from the Earl of Warwick, and it is probable that this was the manor of Kibworth Harcourt. The Harcourt family retained the manor until 1265 at which time the size of the manor was calculated for Exchequer purposes and gives an insight into the estate and its value;
One mesuage and 10 virgates in demense worth £7 12s 0d., 18½ virgates in villeinage of land, each virgate being worth 16s per annum.
Rents from free tenements and cottars amount to 38s 10d. per annum.
Fixed rent from 1 virgate free land worth 6s 8d. per annum.
One mill worth 20s 8d. per annum in rents.
A render of 4 capons at Christmas worth 6d.
Total value of the manor, £26 0s 8d. per annum
In 1265 the manor was seized from Saer de Harcourt by Henry Ⅲ because of Saer’s allegiance to Simon de Montfort (Earl of Leicester) who led the rebellion against the King. In 1267, the King handed over the manor to William Mauduit, Earl of Warwick.
In 1267 the King pardoned Saer de Harcourt and the manor was returned to him in 1268 by William Mauduit’s widow. However it is believed the Saer had financial problems and in consequence he transferred, possibly as security for debt, the manor, less the advowson, to John le Ferron, a Farrier of London.
On October 23 1270 John le Ferron granted to Walter of Merton the manor of Kibworth, with the advowson of the chapel of the same manor and on the 26ᵺ of the same month Saer of Harcourt granted to Walter of Merton, for the sum of £400, the manor of Kibworth Harcourt which John le Ferron held. The payment of £400 by Walter of Merton to Saer de Harcourt for the manor of Kibworth Harcourt appeared to be below the actual value of the manor possibly due to the Saer anxiety to urgently raise money.
On May 15 1271 the manor of Kibworth Harcourt was legally transferred from John le Farron and Saer de Harcourt to Walter of Merton.
Walter died in 1277 and he had six heirs. Two of Walter’s heirs gave up their shares to Merton College in 1278. After protracted negotiations and some substantial payments the remaining heirs gave up their shares of the manor to Merton College. This resulted in Merton College holding the whole of the Kibworth Harcourt manor.
There was a lesser manor in Kibworth Harcourt in the early reign of King Henry Ⅲ which was held by Lawrence of Apetoft. William de Harcourt, Saer de Harcourt’s grandfather, had granted 10 virgates of land to Lawrence of Apetoft during the early part of the 13th century. The Apetoft manor appears to have remained separate from the main Kibworth Harcourt manor and passed through a number of hands before being held by John le Ferron and subsequently by Walter of Merton. The Apetoft manor was granted to two fellows of Merton College, Master Henry of Fodringeye and Master Robert of Cardevre c1295 who in turn conveyed the manor to Merton College. This conveyance was challenged by the Earl of Warwick, however in 1300-1 King Edward Ⅰ dismissed the challenge and the conveyance of the Apetoft manor to Merton College was confirmed and became part of the main manor of Kibworth Harcourt.
Merton College holds the manor to the present day.
Written by David Adams
Clare and Steve Langan
British History on Line
R.H. Hilton, Kibworth Harcourt A Merton College Manor in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries
Founded in 1264 by Walter de Merton, Lord Chancellor and Bishop of Rochester, it claims to be the oldest college in Oxford. The chapel was begun in 1290 replacing an earlier structure and was used as a parish church until 1891. The great tower was complete by 1450. It’s Mob quad houses the old library on the upper floor which is one of the earliest libraries in England. With a priceless collection of early printed books and manuscripts the collection runs to 70,000 volumes.
Saer de Harcourt, a supporter of Simon de Montfort, who led a rebellion against Henry III, was captured after the Battle of Evesham in 1265, and on his release was pardoned on condition he redeemed the value of his estates at seven times their annual value. As he already owed debts to moneylenders, he sold his Kibworth Harcourt estate to the Lord Chancellor of England, Walter de Merton, in 1270, for the sum of £400. The purchase document is stored in the archives of Merton College in Oxford. Walter added the estate to the growing number being used to support scholars in his new Merton College in Oxford. Later, he also acquired much of the land around Tur Langton, the neighbouring village.
Over the centuries, various buildings owned by Merton College have been sold but even today, much of the agricultural land around the village is still owned by Merton College and leased to local farmers.The Warden and Fellows of Merton College took over the patronage of the 13th century St. Wilfrid’s Church after 1780. Merton College Fellows were installed as Rectors for the following 150 years, until the formation of the Diocese of Leicester in 1926, when the Bishop became joint patron.
The Kibworth Improvement Team thank and acknowledge the Warden and Fellows of Merton College, Oxford for permission to use images on this website of the college and archived material.