Dale Abbey Cat and Fiddle Windmill Taken From WHM March 2004
It is generally thought that the windmill originated in the East, and that the Crusaders returning from the wars possibly introduced them into England. The earliest reference to a windmill can be dated from 1185 when a mill in the village of Weedley, Yorkshire was let at a rent of 8 shillings a year. In feudal times villagers were compelled to take their corn to the Lord of the Manor’s mill to be ground. The miller took his toll for his work and it is easy to see how the traditional mistrust of the unfortunate miller came about.
Quoting from Chaucer,
By the early 1800’s there were some 30,000 windmills throughout England, being more numerous in the flat corn growing counties of Kent, Sussex, Essex, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, Lincolnshire, and the East Midlands where water power was lacking.
By the middle of the 1800’s steam power was used in flour milling and improved communications contributed to the decline of windmills. Steel rollers were introduced and in 1919 government regulations forced even more mills out of business.
Three main types of mill were used.
The Tower Mill has a stone body with a rotating cap on which the sails are fitted. It is a permanent building. The Smock Mill is similar to the Tower Mill except that the body is constructed from timber and can be moved from site to site.
The Post Mill was the earliest type of windmill and has a central post supported by a trestle. The whole body complete with sails rotates about the post. It can also be moved if so required.
Compared with other counties Derbyshire has never had a great number of windmills, but has the distinction of having one of the finest post mills in the country, the Cat and Fiddle Mill. The mill is situated in a prominent position on the crown of a hill between the villages of West Hallam and Dale Abbey. It can be seen from Crich Memorial and Wollaton Hall.
When the mill was built is unknown, but carved on the upper crosstree is the date 1788, which may be when the mill was constructed, although this could be earlier and probably succeeded an earlier mill. The mill was originally built as an open trestle mill, but in 1844 the present roundhouse was added, constructed of brick and local sandstone and whitewashed externally. The mill was not raised and to allow free access below the crosstrees, the floor was constructed below ground level.
Who worked the mill in the early days is uncertain but by the 1870s Stephen Smedley became tenant of the mill, together with Windmill Farm and began his family’s long association with the mill. His son, George, followed him. The mill worked regularly up to the end of the Second World War, when the drive to one pair of stones broke and due to shortage of labour it was not repaired. The mill had been used to grind cereal for cattle food for almost every farmer in the area, but gradually most of the farmers started setting up on their own with electrically driven mills. The mill continued to operate until 1952, when milling finally ceased. George Smedley died in the same year, and the property was taken over by his widow.
It is not plain sailing having a windmill to look after. It was Mrs Smedley’s job to keep the windmill facing the wind so that the sails were not damaged. That can mean getting up in the middle of the night if the wind changes. She knew the wind had changed if she heard the shutters on the sail rattling. She would then have to winch the windmill round until it was facing the wind again. Sometimes she would have to move it two or three times a night and sometimes not for a fortnight. It would be a battle between her and the weather.
The windmill and the site consisting of a two bedroomed cottage and 2.8 acres of land were bought by Stanton Ironworks in 1912. Their successors British Steel Corporation placed the site on the market in 1982, and so ended the era of the Smedley association with the mill. Mrs Smedley had been in charge of the mill single-handed since 1952 and had welcomed countless visitors from school children and trainee engineers to curious travellers from at least 16 countries including New Zealand, Hungary and Israel.
The author of this article had studied the windmill 1976/77 as part of a project at Nottingham Polytechnic. In our modem times we are used to sophisticated computers and machinery but 200 years ago the best they could do was limited to a windmill largely constructed of timber. However everything was on a massive scale with wooden gear wheels driven from the sails, which was wind dependent. The runner stone (through which the corn was poured into a hole at its centre) sat just above the fixed bed stone. A clever arrangement involving bob weights ensured that the com was ground but without the runner stone ever touching the bed stone. Other devices raised the corn up above and then fed the corn into the stones.
To describe the complete workings of the Dale Abbey windmill is beyond the scope of this magazine, but a detailed description is available by contacting the editor.
The Arch and All Saints, Dale Abbey
All Saints Dale Abbey
Christianity in Dale begins with a hermit. He was a baker in Derby, a devout Christian who, in about 1130, had a vision of the Virgin Mary who told him to go and live in Depedale (the old name for Dale). He carved out a cave in the rock of the hillside, living in the eastern end and using the western end as a chapel (Hermit’s Cave). He eventually found a spring (Hermit’s Well) and built a small chapel nearby, the beginnings of All Saints.
All Saints is a unique little church in a beautiful setting. It is the only church in England that shares its roof with a farm; the Jacobean cupboard, which it uses as a communion table, is in front of the reading desk instead of behind it; it has reputedly the biggest chalice in England, presented to the church in 1701 (in safe storage and used only on special occasions); there is a three-decker pulpit arrangement said to be the only one in England in regular weekly use; the pulpit, dated 1634, leans like the tower of Pisa; the north wall has a medieval wall painting; other than modem electrics and radiators the interior has not altered since 1650; it retains its box pews; communicants’ chins rest on the communion cupboard; it has a Bishop’s throne; there is a bricked-up door through to next door, which led to the bar when next door was a pub; it is said to be the smallest Anglican church in regular weekly use. One could go on.
In about 1485 The nearby Abbey appears to have abandoned its infirmary and converted the building attached to the church for that purpose, the church predating the Abbey. The church became the infirmary chapel and there were doors both downstairs and onto the gallery, where those on stretchers could see over the low edge of the gallery. The gallery is popular with West Gallery singers.
More recently next door was an inn called the Blue Bell and clergy would robe in the pub and enter the church through the intervening door bricked up in the 1820s.
The oldest part of the church is part of the wall behind the hymn board, which dates back to the hermit’s time, around 1150.
All Saints was Derbyshire’s first Cathedral and the lay bishop, Lord Stanhope, had his throne installed there. The church used to be a ‘peculiar’, it did not come under the authority of the diocesan bishop. The church had belonged to the Abbey until its dissolution by Henry VIII in 1538. The Abbot had held the authority of a bishop and when everything was sold off that authority passed to the person purchasing the church. There is a tablet to one of the lay bishops in the church. One outworking of this was that licences were issued for weddings without the necessity of banns and Dale became the Gretna Green of the Midlands, as the registers testify.
The church has a traditional service every Sunday at 3pm. There is a regular congregation of about a dozen, who make the church look quite full. The numbers are frequently boosted by walkers and rambling groups and at Christmas and Harvest the church is full to bursting. The school uses the church regularly for their Open Assemblies.
In 1985 the PCC purchased at an auction, the redundant Methodist Church in the village. This was convened into what is now the Gateway Christian Centre, open to the public for refreshments every Sunday afternoon from 2.30pm till 5pm and much used by church groups and others all through the week. Every day in term time the school have their lunch there.
In 1989 the PCC re-opened the Village School, closed in 1977 after having to completely gut a building riddled with dry rot. The school is an independent Christian School open to all and supported by parental donations, according to means. No one has ever been refused a place. The children do very well in the small classes and lovely atmosphere. The school has since opened a nursery department and there is also a flourishing Mother and Toddler group.
In 1992 Hermits Wood, including Hermits Cave within the wood, was given to the PCC. The PCC has won several awards for its management and conservation of this last remaining part of ancient Derbyshire woodland, which contains a number of rare grasses. Many thousands visit the cave and walk or ride through the wood.