Thurrock's Windmills

by Susan Yates

It is said that in the early part of the 19th century you could not travel more than 3 miles in Essex without seeing a windmill. Thurrock had its share too with windmills at Aveley, South Ockendon, West Tilbury, East Tilbury, Grays, West Thurrock, Bulphan, Horndon on the Hill just to name a few. There were also watermills at Bumpstead Mead, Aveley and on the River Mardyke at Purfleet.

Here we are concerned only with windmills. The earliest known windmill in England was at Wigston Parva, Leicestershire in 1135, which is mentioned in the records of the local Abbey as having been built without the permission of the abbot and as a consequence had to be pulled down. The earliest known windmill in Thurrock was at South Ockendon circa 1295. The reason for the proliferation of windmills was that each Lord of the Manor had his own windmill and the locals were expected to use it.

There are three basic types of windmill. The earliest type is the post mill. It takes its name from its central oak post on which the body of the mill turned and these were seen at Aveley and Horndon on the Hill. The next type to appear was the smock mill, so called because these timber structures resembled a farmer’s smock, as was seen at South Ockendon and still seen at Baker Street. The third type was a brick tower mill this was really just a smock mill built in brick. There have been none of these in Thurrock.

Baker Street Windmill

Baker Street is 3 miles from Grays and this windmill is not to be confused with the post mill which stood in School Lane, Orsett and of which only the roundhouse now remains.

There was probably a mill on this site as far back as 1674. According to the owner of this, smock type windmill, in 1950 it was built in 1765 but there is no evidence of its existence until 1796.

The windmill has an octagonal base with a gallery at 1st floor height. It has double shuttered patent sails and a fantail. The cap is boat shaped, but not the traditional Essex boat shape such as that seen at Upminster. All the works were made of wood except the windshaft. It had 3 pairs of stones which were overdriven and with centrifugal governors. They were located on the 3rd floor, also known as the stone floor. This was the floor above the brick base. There were two inscriptions in the mill the first the initials RB and the date 1814 and the second the initials SS and the date 1762. Whilst on the same floor they were at different heights possibly suggesting the raising in height of the mill between these dates. The smock frame was somewhat askew prior to restoration and this could have been caused by raising the frame of the mill.

The mill was put up for sale in October 1808 and the freehold was offered again in 1811.

Its working life ended 1915-1917 possibly due to damage to its winding gear in a gale. Two of its sails were destroyed by fire circa 1926.

Mill Owners

1830 & 1839 James Woollings
1848 & 1886 William Woollings
1890 & 1894 Mrs Emma Woollings (miller and baker)
1898 Thomas Ridgewell
1902 Christopher Moore
1908 Arthur William Cocks
1910 William Scott
1912 H. Lindsay

In May 1853 Baker Street windmill was the scene of a tragedy. William Harris an employee of William Woollings whilst doing some maintenance work fell from the sails landing first on the staging and then on the ground. A doctor was summoned but to no avail.

By the 1970’s the windmill was derelict. Builder John G. Smith bought the mill and by 1982 it was surrounded by scaffolding. Mr. Smith had the body of the mill restored by two Sikh carpenters. These were the only people who apparently had the requisite skills to perform the necessary work. A new cap and sails were also required but this was specialist work and could only be carried out by skilled millwrights for which there was a ‘waiting list’. The work was not completed until after John Smith had sold the windmill to Tony Mudd. Mr. Mudd had the cap and sails installed but regrettably only a few months after completion he passed away.


This mill was of the post mill type and was located in Mill Road where the derelict St. Pauls Catholic church now stands. It was erected about 1645. The adjacent Mill house still standing is built in a hollow possibly created by the removal of earth for a mill mound. It was tailpole winded (turned into the wind manually by pushing the tailpole). Had a single storey roundhouse and the sails were one pair of common sails (a frame work of bays with canvas stretched across) and one pair of single shuttered patent sails (instead of canvas the frame work had a set up like a venetian blind each bay had three shutters). It was owned by the Barrett family of Belhus and in 1694 was leased by Richard Barrett to Richard Spicer for 21 years at �12 per annum. In 1714 the executors of Richard Spicer signed over the remainder of the lease to Thomas Collins of Purfleet. The next mention is 1763 when the mill was leased for 21 years to Joseph Joyner at a rent of �20 per annum. The miller in 1798 was one Joseph Rivisell and in 1834 the then miller was Willis Fitch junior who died in an accident on his way back from market in Romford. He is buried at St. Michaels church. Thomas Hallam is shown as miller in 1842. In 1846 the mill had two pairs of stones and in 1882 William Purkiss was the miller. The mill was demolished between 1916 and 1917 by Belhus estate staff but the remains were not removed until circa 1923.


It is known that there was at least one windmill in Bulphan although its type is unknown. One was located about 1,430 yards west of the church and 100 yards east of Stone Hall Farm south of Fen Lane. There is also some evidence to suggest that there may have been a mill in the field to the rear of the Village Hall.

Chadwell St. Mary

Morant’s map of 1768 shows 112 windmills one of which was located at Chadwell St. Mary. Its type is not known.

South Ockendon

There is a separate article about the South Ockendon windmill

Horndon on the Hill

The Feet of Fines shows a mill at Malgraves of unknown type in 1286 and Morant has a post mill at Arden Hall in 1295. It is possible that the Malgraves mill was moved to Arden Hall, this was not uncommon but there is no evidence of this.

In 1805 Daniel Stammers was miller. The 1826 Land Tax list shows there was only one windmill in Horndon and it was owned and occupied by Mary Stammers. By 1832 it was shown as being in the possession of Joseph Stammers. This was a post mill, tailpole winded. This tailpole was unusual in that its stringers were at the top of the door to the buck (body). The roundhouse had a mansard roof with a loading door at cross tree level. The mill had two pairs of single patent sails which went anti-clockwise.

In 1842 a windmill by the church was owned by Richard Turner. 1857 has the freehold being sold to Garraways, London for �630 who let the mill to Eleazar Tyrell at �45 per annum. The last miller, from 1886-1898 at least, was Robert Linn. The mill then fell into disuse and the body was taken down in 1917. Now in 2012 only the brick piers, the cross trees and the tiled floor of the windmill remain.

The Miller 1910

“ Wasted Energy.”

“An old windmill at Horndon-on-the-Hill, Essex, that had been out of use for 10 years started revolving rapidly in the gale the other Sunday and kept going all night. Its sudden energy, however, was wasted, as without a duty on foreign wheat, says an English paper it would not pay to grind English. But the poor old windmill could hardly be expected to know this.”


This windmill stood 750 yards north of the church behind Mill House on the west side of the road leading to the A13. Its type is not known.

The millers were:

1608 John Gudgen
1620 John Goodwin
1636 John Ring

In 1732 the then miller John Pain died. In 1792 the mill is shown as being a post mill with one pair of French Burr stones (these grind for human consumption) with an open trestle. An open trestle mill is one where there is no brick structure around the wooden support beams of the windmill. In 1796 the mill was insured for a paltry �50 plus �50 for millwrights work. The mill must then have deteriorated somewhat as in 1799 it is insured by James Hills of Corringham farmer for �50 plus only �30 for millwrights work.

The mill was rented throughout the 19th century. It was owned by the Sewell family in 1839, 1880 and let to John Burles in 1839, 1848, to Charles Boorman 1855, 1868 and Thomas Holder 1870. Benjamin Frostick leased the mill from 1874 to 1879 at which time it had two pairs of French Burr stones. In 1871 the annual rent was �50 which included 11 acres of land, 100 turkeys and mill sail cloths. By 1879 this was reduced to �40 or �30 without the windmill. A William Lloyd was the miller up to 1886 but there is no evidence of milling in the 1890’s. The mill is shown on maps in 1893 and 1895. A Mr Tinworth in 1980 recalled that the windmill was still standing in 1899 but in a ruinous condition.


The Domesday Survey of 1086 shows a mill but this would have been a watermill. However, an indenture dated 20th June 1493 between Thomas Bawde and William Austen mentions a windmill of unknown type. Thomas Bawde in leasing the manor to William Austen specifically excluded the windmill. In 1497 Blanche wife of the late John Kent held a cottage and garden abutting on the west side Mylle Strete between a disused mill on the North and Corringham on the south side. This location is highly unlikely to have been that of the watermill but as four years before this Thomas Bawde kept the windmill for himself it seems unlikely that this would have been in such a state unless caused by some catastrophe. Having said that the possibility of a second windmill seem highly unlikely.


Situated in School Lane, this mill was of the post mill type, the roundhouse of which still remains.

The last miller was Henry Lindsey who allegedly held a deed for the building of a windmill in 1684 for the Wordley family. The earliest know miller is Isaac Audley in 1742. In 1797 it was leased firstly to Edward Kilworth then to James Woolings, baker.

The James family were associated with the mill for many years. In November 1783 Thomas James of Orsett was miller and insured the mill for �150. In 1832 Richard James was the miller but leased the premises from Mrs. Jane Baker in 1841. He died in 1876 at the grand old age of 84.

The mill was held by George Sparrow around 1871 and by Benjamin Frostick in 1879 who was the last miller to mill by wind power. By 1887 the mill was out of use but still occupied by farmer T. Ridgewell and by 1893 it had gone.

The post mill in Orsett


There was possibly a mill of the post mill type situated east of Grays Wharf in 1700.

Edward Kighley, Esq., of Grays sold a mill for �60 to Sir Edward Barrett of Belhouse to be taken down and removed before 25th July 1624. This could have become the Aveley post mill.

West Thurrock

There is a chalk drawing of this mill where it is shown as being of the smock type. It had five floors two of brick and three of timber and was fitted with a fantail. It was located a few yards from the head of the tidal inlet at Wouldham Cement works about 120 yards from the river. The 1864 O.S. map shows it had steam but no wind power.

In 1799 James Gilbee, was the miller and insured its contents for �999, which seems very high. An advert of 1815 describes the mill as having four pairs of French burr stones. The Nokes milling family leased the mill for in excess of 50 years as well as Upminster mill. In 1817 William Nokes insured the mill for �1,500 and its stock for �1,800. Over the years the Nokes family extended the premises until they were insured for �4,400. Thomas Nokes miller was succeeded by his son Thomas Nokes junior at the end of the 1850’s. In October 1860 Nokes went bust. The mill ceased to mill by wind power about 1864.


Whilst it is known there was a watermill here on the River Mardyke there is also some evidence to suggest there was a windmill here in 1653 location and type not known.

East Tilbury

The windmill at East Tilbury was a drainage mill and located on Gobions Farm 820 yards east of the road from Muckingford to East Tilbury and 50 yards southeast of Gobions Farm. It was pulled down 1939-1940 but the remains were not taken away until after December 1956. This drainage mill was built over a ditch on a hollow square concrete base. It had a metal domed cap which was ogee (onion) shaped. It had a fantail, four single shuttered patent sails which went anti-clockwise. Each sail had 8 bays with 2 shutters in each bay. The brake wheel drove the upright shaft via a system of bevel gears and this lifted the water up.

There was also an unknown type of mill at Muckingford shown on the O.S. map of 1843 and also in the Tithe apportionment of 1839.

West Tilbury

There was post mill here in 1584, exactly where is not known.

In 1767 a mill of unknown type was insured for �150 by Edward Leader.

In 1784 a smock mill is advertised as to let with 1 pair of French Burr stones and 1 pair of Peak stones.

William Sweeting was miller at West Tilbury from 1761 – 1765, Spray in 1765 and Edward Leader in 1766. By 1803 James Burles was miller until 1809 when Thomas James took over. The freehold was auctioned at The Coffee House, Mark Lane, London EC3 in May 1834. By 1840 Joseph and Richard James were millers until 1843 when it was just Joseph James. In 1851 Joseph aged 38 was master miller employing three men. 1890 and 1898 has Joseph James as miller but he died in November 1898 at the age of 85, thus ended the business and the mill was pulled down 3rd April 1905 as the only photo of the mill shows.