DOCUMENT OF THE MONTH - WINDS OF CHANGE
The wind turbine is arguably one of the most controversial objects on the modern rural landscape and every time that one is mentioned, it guarantees to get people in a spin about whether it has a good or bad visual impact on our countryside.
Many people see them as a blot on a previously uninterrupted horizon, spoiling the beauty of our rolling hills, but it’s perhaps worth remembering that, for centuries, the sight of spinning rotors in the East Yorkshire countryside was nothing unusual.
Until the turn of the 20th century, the traditional windmill could be found all over the East Riding, where there was the largest concentration of these structures in the whole of Yorkshire.
The first recorded windmill in England was at Weedley, near South Cave, in 1185, set up by the Knights Templars, who introduced the idea of windmills following crusades in present-day Iran and Afghanistan. It was common for many villages to have more than two mills, and by the 18th century, there were officially 80 windmills in the East Riding, out of a total of 100 in the county of Yorkshire (though more would have existed unofficially). From the late 19th century onwards, however, windmills fell into decline and without the fantastic visitor attraction at Skidby Mill, this region would not now have a single working mill left.
This begs the question of what is the legacy of these buildings that have now vanished from the horizon. On searching the region’s archives, staff at the East Riding Archives & Local Studies Service in Beverley have found that there is surprisingly little in the form of original photographs that depict East Yorkshire windmills in their prime i.e. complete with cap and sails.
Collections officer, Sam Bartle, said: “There are just under 40 surviving windmill structures in East Yorkshire, and it seems likely that someone will have original photographs of some of them in their heyday, and if they want to have them preserved for posterity, then they should get in touch with us.
“With the archives, we try to build a picture of what the East Riding was like. Windmills were literally everywhere in this area at one time, so it would be helpful if we could grow our photographic collection in this respect.”
The traditional windmill may have had its day, but with investment in green energy on the increase, the wind turbine may prove to be its successor on the East Riding’s horizon.
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