Windmills: A New History

Windmills: A New History

author: Colin Moore
publisher: The History Press
published: 2010
details: paperback, 192pp
ISBN: 978 0 7524 5400 9

Windmills: A New History - cover

This book starts with one of the most prominent "about the author" sections I can ever recall in a book, which helps set the scene that the author is a retired metallurgist, who has come to follow his interest in the history and engineering of windmills, and of wind energy in general, during his retirement. Despite not being a professional author, he has a number of other technical books and publications to his name, and has also been granted a number of patents.

The strong points of this book understandably build on these interests - there is a fairly widespread theme of patents indicating technological advances throughout the centuries. One of the best chapters in the book, and indeed the longest, is the "History of Milling and Windmills" which the book title pre announces. This chapter considers a timeline of milling from 200BC onwards, mixing some substantial descriptions of significant events, together with more whimsical entries such as "1615 A post mill was sold for £47", and a number of patents are introduced in to this chronological narrative. The timeline continues through to the 21st century, with wind turbines occupying many of the later entries.

Varying length chapters then follow on Post Mills, Smock Mills, Tower mills, Caps, Luffing, Sails, The Power Train, The Milling Process, The Nineteenth Century: Boom and Gloom, The American Farm Windmill, The Modern Windmill, and How the Windmills Compare.

Having worked through that mixture of subjects, I'm not exactly sure who this book is aimed at. It's certainly not an introductory book on the subject - it's written in a fairly dry technical style, rather than a engaging story telling style, yet the advanced enthusiast will dislike the fact that although a lot of "facts" are presented, there is little regard given to detailing the sources of these as a springboard for further research. (In fact the appendix on "Literature in date order" is one of the worst presented such lists I have come across - the early entries which are numbered patents are interesting, but by the time it progresses to published books the information is poorly presented - I can see no reason at all why you would ever present a list of books without giving the ISBNs where available. It's also totally unclear what this list is meant to represent, whether it is sources consulted when researching the book, or suggestions for further reading.)

Another let down in the book is the quality of the illustrations. These are hand drawn, not in an engaging artistic sketch form, but in a "this is a quick and cheap way to produce them". Whilst they are perhaps adequate in describing the technical process, the use of hand drawn irregular arrows for wind direction for example is particularly distracting. There is also a batch of colour plates grouped together in a section of the book, These include a number of undated but assumed fairly recent snapshots of mostly English windmills, and for the few photos that try and illustrate specific details of machinery the format inexplicably switches to tiny images with almost half the page left blank - the alarm bell highlighted in one caption for example is approximately 4mm tall in its illustration! The best illustration by far is the cover photo, which shows Pitstone Green mill - though I could not find this identified anywhere in the book.

Rounding out the fact that this is not a beginners book, there are no lists of mills to visit (the lists of mills that do exist in the post and tower mill chapters fail to distinguish between existing and vanished windmills) - the appendices instead give a number of mathematical formulae, and are followed by a short list of mill terminology, the already mentioned booklist, and an index.

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Last updated 03/03/2017 Text and images © Mark Berry, 1997-2017 -