Norfolk Mills

Harry Apling


Harry Apling has been one of my main sources of inspiration for this website and I regret not having ever had the opportunity to meet or talk with him.

His book Norfolk Corn Windmills has been as one of my bibles and a wonderful information resource.

Please read his obituary.

Grateful thanks are also due to Harry's nephew Paddy Apling.
Jonathan Neville - 2005

Getting wind of a Norfolk trilogy

The column first came across Harry Apling, of 18, Swanton Grove, Dereham, and his filing cabinets full of details of Norfolk windmills, some years ago.
The gap is significant because the intervening period has seen a huge growth of interest in the county's corn and industrial mills which culminated in the formation of the Norfolk Windmills Trust.
It is doubly significant, perhaps, because during those same nine years, Mr. Apling found evidence, past and present, of the existence of a further 215 mills.
in 1973 he had evidence for 683 windmill sites in Norfolk. The grand total is now 898.
"I don't know where the next two are coming from," he told me."Estate maps, perhaps . . .?"
We met a second time because of the recent announcement by The Windmills Trust that there is soon to be published the first volume of a history of the county's windmills. It has been written by Harry Apling - who worked with Philip Unwin in assembling the photographs - and may be on sale next year.
The massive undertaking will in some ways be the definitive account of the county's mills, and the culmination of Mr. Apling's lifelong interest. He visited his very first mill, Hingham, in 1911.
Mr. Apling, of course, is modest about it. "It will be something for other people to work on," he told me. "A basis for future research."
Three volumes are likely to be produced. The first (for which additional photographs are still required) will deal with the history of mills and look particularly at those Norfolk sites where something is left; in other words mills restored, to the remains of mill foundations.
Volume two when published, will deal with mills for which there are no remains but for which there are written or pictorial records, while volume three will deal with undetermined types and sites.

Probing the past

To find some his 898 recorded mills Mr. Apling has plodded through books, maps, references and manuscripts going back to the medieval period.
The earliest known windmill in the country was at Orford Castle in about 1165. The earliest he has found in Norfolk is Rackheath, 1268, though there were late 13th century mills at, among other places, East Dereham, Feltwell, Fincham, Gressenhall, Kenninghall, Scoulton, Shipdham, Whinburgh and Yarmouth.
However, he firmly believes there were mills in Norfolk before 1268.
"And there must have been hundreds of medieval mills we simply haven't found," he said.
In fact, as each line of research is followed so it becomes progressively more difficult to find new evidence. The search is now largely documentary and, oddly, by aerial photography. Sites of sunk post mils, showing as crop marks or field marks, are being examined.
The bulk of Harry Apling's work, however, is completed, though his records do still have to be kept up to date. Next year's publication, therefore, will see a lifetime's ambition fulfilled.
He has made sure, he told me, that the fruits of his years of research will one day pass into the safekeeping of the Norfolk Windmills Trust. And he let me into a little secret.
I asked him which, out of the hundreds of mills and sites he had visited over the years, was his favourite.
"A wind and water mill," he said. "Little Cressingham of course."
Clement Court, Eastern Daily Press - 29th November 1982

I first met Harry Apling while in the Dereham Home Guard. He was then a robust figure of a Corporal, although I never knew him to throw his weight about. When the Home Guard stood down he was a Lieutenant.

My first contact with him was when he marched a squad of us rookies down to Barclays Bank and initiated us into the mysteries of the Lewis gun, naming the parts and stripping and re-assembling, but particular stress on the “ladies delight” body locking pin!

After reading his book, I met him in Dereham one morning - he was then a frail little gentleman - and pointed out an error in his write up on the “Wayford Bridge Mill”.

The Dereham and Fakenham Times report “Mill Tragedy at Smallburgh” (this mill was not Mr. Durrell’s mill), Durrell’s mill as I knew it in the middle 1930s was known as “Moys Mill.”

He invited me to his house that evening and we spent a pleasant couple of hours chatting and showing me his cardboard diagonal scale rulers to suit various O.S. map scales.
Hugh Dawson - 29th June 2005

Harry Apling's wonderful book
Norfolk Corn Windmills
along with around
1,500 other mill titles and documents
are available from
Alan Ticehurst

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 .

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Copyright © Jonathan Neville 2005