A couple of weeks ago, I was surprised and delighted to log on to twitter and find that I am being followed by a windmill. This is not just any windmill, but the Outwood Post Mill, the oldest working windmill in the UK, built in 1665!
As you know, writing fantasy has turned me into a history buff. One of my particular areas of interest is medieval technology. I get peeved when I read a fantasy novel suggesting that the society has stagnated for centuries, relying on a very narrow band of technology without innovation. Without even, alas, the level of innovation that already existed for much of the Middle Ages. (See also Elaine Isaak’s Hard Fantasy Manifesto, and AVISTA, a scholarly organization for the study of Medieval science and technology.)
Aside from incorporating guns in warfare–an exciting, terrifying and new-fangled thing at the time–I’m trying to slip in an appropriate level and understanding of technology into the books whenever possible. Which is where the windmills come in. They were widely in use for grinding grain, along with water mills and even tidal mills. Some mills were used to mechanize the fulling of woven cloth–take a look at Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth/World Without End to see some of these things integrated into fiction.
Thanks to growing up in New England, I’ve visited several working water mills, and I have a pretty good grasp of how they operate and what it’s like inside. But I have not yet visited a working, historical windmill. JonathanWallace posted a useful video of the interior of the Fulwell Windmill, Sunderland, but it’s not running. So the question is, what does a running windmill sound like, inside and out?
I’ve heard pumping windmills, like the ones on many Western farms, and modern turbines (which allows me to sympathize with the folks who don’t want them in their own backyards), but a real, wood-vaned, grinding grain, turning with the breeze windmill? Never. Like Don Quixote, I’m on a quest. . .