Great Bircham


Drainage Mills (Windpumps)
Steam Mills

31st August 1936
31st August 1936

Gt Bircham towermill in Mill Lane was built by George Humphrey in 1846, replacing the postmill that stood on the same site and it is thought that Aickman of Kings Lynn was responsible for the millwrighting work. The five storey mill stands 52 feet high to its curb and bears a datestone inscribed GH 1846 between the first floor windows. A stage was set on the second floor above the section of the mill cottage and bakehouse that adjoined the mill. The tower was 23 feet in diameter at the base with 2 foot thick walls and was originally finished in yellow and red brick that was later tarred.

The mill stands on land that once formed part of the Marquess Cholmondeley's Houghton Estate and was bought by H.M. the Queen c.1939.

When working, the mill had four double shuttered sails with an overall span of 67 feet that operated at 12 rpm. Each sail had 8 bays of 3 shutters and that drove drove 3 pairs of overdriven French burr stones. The ogee cap holding a gallery and a 6 bladed left handed fan was vertically boarded to form a deep petticoat and was topped by a pointed finial. The iron railed gallery was typical of mills in the Kings Lynn and Wisbech area. A stage was set around the second floor. The 9ft diameter great spur wheel was made of cast iron with the rims being cast separately before being bolted on. The wooden brake was operated by a rope from the gallery.

The cap was recorded as weighing 8 tons, the windshaft 1 ton and the great spur wheel & upright shaft 3 tons.

Brick tower tarred except for top 9 courses under petticoat.
About 55 feet high. Date stone G.H. 1846
Diam. of base outside 25 ft. Walls 2 ft 6 ins. thick.

Ground floor:-
Entrance door, 2 leaf, on west side through bake house
Windows west & south

Meal floor:-
Door to north. Windows southwest & southeast

Stone floor:-
Doors east & west to stage
Windows north & south
8 arms only of castiron great spur wheel on iron shaft
Had 3 pairs overdriven stones. 1 to south and 2 to north

Corn floor:-
Cast iron vertical shat
3 windows northeast, southeast & southwest

Dust floor:-
Iron vertical shaft
2 windows north & south

No cap. Left facing west. Remains of gallery.
Curb etc. intact
Iron windshaft & wallower
Wooden brake to brakewheel
No other machinery or fittings
4 internal ladders vertically above one another.

Harry Apling - 13th June 1972

To Millers

To let, a TOWER WINDMILL with Bake office, Dwelling house, Granary, stables and Outbuildings.
Apply to George Humphrey, Great Bircham.
Norfolk Chronicle - 9th August 1856

A CAPITAL TOWER MILL driving two pairs of Stones, with BAKE OFFICE, DWELLING HOUSE, Stable and suitable Outbuildings, good Garden and upwards of Two Acres of LAND attached thereto, situate in the parish of Great Bircham, about Fourteen Miles from Lynn and Nine from Fakenham.
The property may be inspected and full particulars obtained of Mr. George Humphrey on the Premises, of Mr. Bircham, Solicitor, Fakenham & of Mr. Beck, Auctioneer, Snettisham, Lynn.
Norfolk News - 4th & 18th May 1861

On 26th March 1864, the Norfolk News reported that whilst drunk and driving his cart home at night with his wife, George Humphrey was involved in a frightful accident and his wife Elizabeth was killed. Soon after this the mortgagees put the mill up for sale and George Humphrey had become bankrupt by the end of that year.


Valuable Freehld Land, TOWER WINDMILL, DWELLING HOUSES, COTTAGES, Bake Office etc.
To be Sold by Auction by
Mr. John Beck (by direction of the Mortgagees under a Power of Sale) at the Hare Inn, Docking on Friday May 13, 1864 at 6 o'c in the Evening.
Lot 1. In Great Bircham. A Capital Brick built TOWER WINDMILL driving two Pairs of Stones with Bake Office, Dwelling House attached, good Garden and about 3 acres of excellent LAND, in the occupation of the Proprietor, Mr. George Humphrey, with two newly erected COTTAGES adjoining the above, let at £8 per annum.
The whole of the Property is Freehold. The greater part of the Purchase Money may remain on Security if required. For further particulars apply to Mr. M.B. Bircham, Solicitor, Fakenham or to the Auctioneer, Snettisham, Lynn.
Norfolk News - 30th April & 7th May 1864

The Bankruptcy Act of 1861

In the County Court of Norfolk holden at Little Walsingham In the matter of George Humphrey, late of Great Bircham in the County of Norfolk, Baker, but now of Norwich, out of business, adjudged Bankrupt on the 22nd day of November 1864... meeting for dividend... 7 December...
Norfolk News - 12th November 1870

To Millers and Bakers

Wanted, a good man for the above trades, married preferred.
Character required.
Apply to Mr. W. Palmer, Great Bircham Mill, King's Lynn.
Lynn Advertiser - 20th April 1878

To Millers and Bakers

WANTED for the above business, a steady respectable man; married preferred.
Character required.
Apply to Mr. W. Palmer, Great Bircham Mill, King's Lynn.
Lynn Advertiser - 25th October & 1st November 1879

To Bakers or Millers

WANTED a situation as above by a steady married man without family.
Apply to H.M., Great Bircham Mill, King's Lynn.
Lynn Advertiser - 14th August 1880

Sale by W.B. Lane, Monday March 6, 1882
Household Furniture, Live & Dead Farming Stock ...
effects of Mr. Walter Palmer, who is leavinhg the county.
Lynn Adbertiser - 28th February 1882

To Bakers

Wanted at once, a young man for the above business, single.
Apply to T. Howard, Bircham Mill.
Lynn Advertiser - 22nd June 1889

William Alfred Howard was born on 13th June 1878 and died on 4th July 1953. He was the son of the miller Thomas William Howard (21st August 1849 - 24th December 1898) and Elizabeth Howard (née Bales 31st July 1850 - 21st December 1926)

William Robert Howell (1884 - 23rd May 1962) married William Howard's sister, Sarah Ann Howard

Thomas & Elizabeth Howard c.1890 William Howard c.1900
Thomas & Elizabeth Howard c.1890
William Howard c.1900

William Howells cart c.1913 William Howards van c.1930
William Howell driving his bread delivery cart c.1913
William Howard's delivery van c.1930

The above left hand photo shows William Howell driving his bread delivery cart with a friend sitting beside him. The little girls on the road behind the cart are three of William Howard's four daughters, Ethel, Susanna and Dorothy.
The above right hand photo shows William Howard's van with his initials painted in the wrong order. His daughter May Howard is sitting at the wheel and her sister Ethel is sitting on the running board. The mill tower can be seen in the background.

18th May 1979
18th May 1979

Derelict c.1976 Inner pair of sails in place 17th May 1981
Derelict c.1976
Inner pair of sails in place 17th May 1981

1990 1990

August 1992
August 1992

Gt Bircham towermill 25th Aug 2003
25th August 2003

Restoration of the mill began in 1977 and the newly renovated brick tower was then coated with a black resin known as Bellecoat Stipple that was also used on Wicklewood towermill on the Hackford Road. Two pairs of patent 67 foot sails were installed along with a white ogee cap with a gallery and a six bladed fantail. A driveshaft for the sackhoist was brought in from Hackford towermill. Other fittings were brought in including a new iron cog ring for the great spur wheel, two French burr stones and their tuns, a composition sickle dressed stone, an iron stone crane, a boulter, governors and tentering gear, along with an array of mill related exibits for public display.

The four patent sails were mounted on two steel stocks that were reinforced with extra welds after the failure of a similar stock at Pakenham towermill in 1983. Lightweight hardboard shutters were fitted and some could be seen stored on the stone floor. A new clasp-arm brake wheel was been built to drive the iron wallower. Second-hand machinery was also installed to replace numerous missing original parts. At second floor level one pair of stones was made operable, overdriven by an iron spur wheel and a wooden nut. A forked lever lowered the nut out of mesh. The sails and their operating gear coiuld be reached from a wooden reefing stage at this level. On the meal floor a bolter was installed and the beams and joists testify to former millstone positions. A layshaft driven from an auxiliary bevel ring beneath the spur wheel transmitted power via flat belts to both the bolter and a sack hoist two floors above.

A bakehouse attached to the mill was already in use by 1804 and remained in production until the 1950s. The coal-fired peel oven was in regular use after restoration.

25th August 2003
25th August 2003

Joseph Wagg was the miller from 1883 to 1888 and was the great-grandfather of the mill’s restorer, Roger Wagg, whose son-in-law Stevie Chalmers later took over the running of the mill business.

In July 1985 it was reported that some stones had been brought in including a 4ft French burr stone, marked Corcoran, Mark Lane, London and a large composite stone that was possibly a granulated French burr stone that had been sickle dressed. Tentering gear was also brought in.

Belt drive 6th May 2007
Belt drive 6th May 2007

Windshaft 6th May 2007 Canister & striking gear 6th May 2007
Windshaft 6th May 2007
Canister & striking gear 6th May 2007

Gt Bircham towermill was opened to the public in the 1980s and soon became a major tourist attraction, selling bread baked on the premises and afternoon teas - see Links page.

Stevie's DIY job is height of ambition
If you dread the thought of spending all weekend painting the kitchen spare a thought for Stevie Chalmers, who's got a windmill to paint.
Mr Chalmers, of Great Bircham, is taking DIY to new heights at the top of the 60ft Bircham Mill, which he owns with his wife Elly.
He reckons the job will take two weeks, about £250 and around 17 litres of white paint to complete.
Mr Chalmer's father-in-law, Roger Wagg, and windmill employee Dave Cross have been enlisted to help with the project
It is the first time the so-called 'petticoat' at the top of the woiindmill has been painted since Mr Wagg did a similar job 12 years ago.
Mr Chalmers said maintenance of the 160-year-old building was an ongoing job.
The windmill is a popular tourist attraction as well as being a working mill.

Eastern Daily Press - 15th July 2006

6th May 2007 6th May 2007
6th May 2007
6th May 2007

OPEN DAILY (except Saturday)
Parties and Guided Tours by arrangement
Telephone SYDERSTONE 393

Newspaper Advertisment - 11th June 1986

I still have relatives living in the village, (brother and sister). When I was a boy my Dad Worked for “Billy” Howard and I still remember  vividly I was with my Dad working  in the field adjacent to the mill harvesting sugar beet when he was called to the mill to help out, I went with him and watched the dough being prepared and the loaves coming out of the oven. On a recent visit to the mill I noticed the big wooden box which held the dough was still there and it looked like the same one. I now live in Kent but I still go home every year.
I am also sure I may have a family via Elizabeth Howard née Bales and Bales is the connection as that was my grand mothers maiden name (Mary Ann Bales).

Ralph Ward - 9th May 2008

Not even the lazy Norfolk wind could turn its sails as it sat in the doldrums waiting for a rotten wooden beam to be replaced.
But one of the county's last working windmills will be able to harness its power once more as millwrights put the finishing touches to its towering structure.
With a crane to help them, yesterday craftsmen replaced a great oak beam at Bircham Mill in west Norfolk - the missing piece it needs to function.
Millwright Tom Davies said: "We have been renewing the weather beam - the main oak beam across the front of the mill which supports the weight of the sails. Without it being replaced the mill wouldn't be able to turn."
Elly Chalmers has run the mill with her husband Stevie, for 10 years. The pair took it over from her father, Roger Wagg, who bought it in the 1970s.
Mrs Chalmers said she remembered her father getting the sails turning again when she was a teenager. "I love the sounds of the cogs turning", she said.
And a generation on, it will be the first time her daughter Rachel, two, will see the sails move. Her brother Alec, six, said he was really excited as he could not remember them turning.
Mrs Chalmers said: "For three years we haven't turned the sails because the beam became too rotten. It all rots eventually because it is all made of wood.
"We've wanted it done for a long time, but mill wrights are sparse.
"It has reduced our visitor numbers: people ring up and ask if the sails will be turning and we have to tell them we can't turn them."
Although her father had planned to grind flour and make bread, Mrs Chalmers said they had decided not to and the fresh bread made a Bircham Mill was baked from flour bought from Docking.
"It's not that easy to grind the flour and keep the mill like a museum", said Mrs Chalmers. But while flour is not ground, visitors can climb inside the mill and see it working.
Mr Davies, from Lincolnshire, learned his trade from his father. "In his early days he would have done this with a block and tackle. They would have had to manually drag the beam up with rope and blocks.
"It would have taken several days longer to do and a lot more hard work."
Mr Davies said it was important to maintain and keep mills running as they were part of the country's industrial heritage.
"At one time it was the windmills and watermills that fed the county. When you go back into the early 1800s most villages would have had one.
"Being a millwright is a dying trade. It is an old fashioned trade. You cannot go to college to learn it."
Visitors should be able to see the sails turn again, wind permitting, from Wednesday when the mill reopens. It is open every day from March 31 until the end of September from 10am to 5pm.

Annabelle Dickson, Eastern Daily Press - 25th March 2010

2008: Mill open to the public 19th Marct to 30th September, 10.00am to 5.00pm.
Contact tel. 01485 578393 or the mill's own website (see links page)

1846: Mill built by George Humphrey, replacing the postmill on the same site.

Census 1851: George Humphrey (26) b.Gt Bircham, miller & baker employing 3 men
Elizabeth Humphrey (22) b.Gt Bircham
George Humphrey (9mths) b.Gt Bircham
Martha Humphrey (55) b.Tilney (mother)
Address: Mill Lane

1858: Mill photographed with an untarred tower showing bricks similar to those at Holkham

White's 1864: George Humphrey, corn miller & baker

March 1864: George Humphrey's wife killed in accident

Friday 13th May 1864: Mill sold at auction

22nd November 1864: George Humphrey declared bankrupt

1865: Henry & Philip Stanton, millers & bakers

1868: Henry & Philip Stanton, millers & bakers

Census 1871:
William Lack (28)  b.Rusham, miller & baker
Mary Ann Lack (30) b. Narbro (Narborough)
Elizabeth Mobbs b.East Walton, scholar (neice)

1872: Philip Stanton, miller

1875: Philip Stanton, miller

Kelly's 1879: Walter Palmer, miller & baker

1878-1882: Walter Palmer

1882: Walter Palmer sold mill and left the county

White's 1883: Joseph Wagg, corn miller; h. Docking - also Docking Station Rd postmill

1883-1888: Joseph Wagg - also Docking Station Rd postmill

13th November 1890: Joseph Wagg died aged 50 (born 1839)

1890: Thomas Howard took over the mill (1890-1896)

Kelly's 1892: Thomas Howard, miller (wind) & baker

Kelly's 1896: Thomas Howard, miller (wind) & baker

Kelly's 1900: Thomas Howard (Mrs) miller (wind) & baker

Kelly's 1904: Thomas Howard (Mrs) miller (wind) & baker

1908: Thomas Howard (Mrs) miller (wind) & baker

Kelly's 1912: William Alfred Howard, miller (wind) & baker

Kelly's 1916: William Alfred Howard, miller (wind) & baker

Kelly's 1922: William Alfred Howard (baker)

Karl Wood painting 1934: Sails gone, and tower capped with windshaft and fanstage remaining

May 1976: Mill bought by Roger Wagg of Docking for restoration (family connection with Joseph Wagg)

17th August 1977, Lennard & Lawn removed the cap frame and took it back to Caston mill.

2nd August 1979: New ogee cap fitted by millwright John Lawn. Woodwork & stage repaired by Roger Wagg

17th May 1980: New pair of skeleton sails fitted on a steel stock with a sackhoist drive from Harpley towermill

26th May 1983: Second pair of skeleton sails fitted

2006: Stevie & Elly Chalmers. Dave Cross, employee

July 2006: Cap petticoat repainted with 17 litres of paint at a cost of c.£250

March 2010: Weather beam replaced to allow the sails to turn again

January 2022: Chalmers family apply to NNDC for permission to refurbish cap and sails

If you have any memories, anecdotes or photos please let us know and we may be able to use them to update the site. By all means telephone 07836 675369 or

Nat Grid Ref TF 76033266
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Copyright © Jonathan Neville 2005