One of the most photographed, loved - and more recently controversial - mills in Norfolk, Denver Windmill was owned and worked by Miller and Engineer Thomas Harris after his father’s death in 1925.  It continued to produce animal feed alongside the Steam Mill until a sail was struck by lightening in 1941 damaging the mill beyond economic repair.

During the War years the workshop was given over to munitions work and was mentioned by Churchill in connection to SOE activities.

Under the watchful eye of skilled Engineer Bill Chapman, customers at the workshop included John Cockcroft, Cancer Research and Stamford based engine builders Blackstone & Son.

Other work included commissions for local agricultural engineers, work with the ‘new’ nylon and designing automatic egg packing equipment.

As one of the last working mill owners in Norfolk Tom Harris was very concerned about preserving a means by which traditional stone milling could be experienced and understood by future generations.

Roller mills had taken over nearly all bread flour production by WWI. In the inter war years Denver Mills produced bread flour in a ‘Little Jem’ roller mill but this was removed and replaced by a mixer at the end of WWII, after which only animal feed was produced at the mill, often to individual recipes!

In 1937 Tom was awarded a Record of Appreciation by Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, and after the War the need to maintain Norfolk Mills became ever more apparent.

Throughout the 1950’s a great deal of pressure was brought upon Norfolk County Council to take responsibility for the preservation of mills in the county.

In 1959 a survey they commissioned identified Denver as one of five potential mill sites that could be preserved as a working facility and heritage asset.

From 1961-63 NCC worked with Tom in the preservation of the mill  and when in 1963 the Norfolk Windmills Trust was formed 'For the Preservation of Windmills of Beauty or Historic Interest in or near the County of Norfolk' it took over the responsibility of the site and along with the NCC worked closely with Tom until his death in 1969.

Two years later Tom’s sister Edith Staines’ gift of the Windmill into the care of the County Council for the people of Norfolk was completed.

1974 saw the BBC children’s Look & Read program ‘Cloudbirst’ film on the stone floor and outside the mill.

In 1977 the Norfolk Society - soon to become the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England (Norfolk) - formed the Norfolk Historic Buildings Trust with Norfolk County Council, and two years later presented an award to the NWT for their restoration of the windmill at Denver.

Work continued and in 1981 NWT declared its intention to “… bring Denver and Billingford mills back to full working order”.

By 2007 Denver Windmill was in real difficulties - the NHBT effectively washing its hands of the 10 year project in 2002 after issuing notice to terminate the tenancy of the Company set up to run it! - and it approached the Norfolk Rural Business Advisory Service to see if any help could be offered. At the same time the Abel family went to NoRBAS seeking premises from which a project involving traditional Norfolk skills could operate, and the two were duly introduced.

After protracted negotiations a 15 year project to bring the site to financial self sufficiency was agreed, and in June 2008 Denver Mill Ltd commenced delivery.

By bringing a whole site back together again it would be possible to not only have a fully working Mill, but also multiple income streams that could jointly produce significant revenue  - possibly even enough to make it self sustainable.

However the project did not continue in the experienced hands of the NWT but instead was entrusted to the Historic Buildings Trust. The NHBT had no experience of mills so a subsidiary company of the NWT was set up to operate the project on behalf of NHBT, NCC, CPRE(Norfolk) and local interest.

Grants were obtained from various sources including the Heritage Lottery Fund, County, District and Parish Councils and European development funding and around £1,000,000 was spent restoring the site to full working order.

The mill house was purchased and converted into three holiday units, the field to the rear of the mill was bought and turned into a car park and the outbuildings were converted into a shop, tearoom, bakery and three craft units.

After four years work, under the operation of Denver Windmill Ltd the site opened in 2000.

Under the auspices of NCC’s Director of Planning & Transportation Martin Shaw and Head of Environment & Waste Martin Scott, Norfolk was leading the Heritage field and it was under their guidance that an inspired plan was formulated which would make Denver the jewel in Norfolk’s Heritage crown.

Denver Windmill

The last one hundred years.

In 2011 all this changed when one of the stocks on the windmill broke in half, crashing one sail into another and covering the whole site in debris.

Click here to see the photo records

In 2011 Denver Mills received a considerable grant from the Fens Adventurer program to develop the food and agriculture side of the business further. Flour production was set to increase from 32 tones to 50 - 60 tones, a separate confectionary bakery was to be added to the site, a cereal cleaning and screening facility established at the farm, the Bakery School was to increase the number and range of courses, a range of branded products was to be introduced in conjunction with suppliers who would also be sharing regional delivery rounds. Already supplying London establishments with flours additional enquiries from restaurants and chefs both local and national were also to be followed up.  Considerable investment was made at this time, but after the disaster in October this all had to be suspended.

In the ensuing 15 months NHBT refused to make good the Windmill watching the site and business slowly collapse.

Despite all efforts by DML and the supporters of the Denver Windmill to keep the development of the Project going DML was forced to leave the site in June 2013.

Having repeatedly proved it’s inability to understand or run the site successfully NHBT took over again in June 2013, shortly before the mill was placed on the Buildings at Risk Register.

The Windmill has no stocks or sales, cannot mill, has the render falling from the tower and water running through the walls and floors.

Thirteen years ago £1,000,000 was given to this project - that’s £200 of public money per day so far - but it is now in considerably worse condition than when it was removed from the care of the Norfolk Windmills Trust.

After the First World War the steam engine that powered the Steam Mill was replaced by a Blackstone open crank oil engine which also drove electrical generators which provided single and three phase power to the engineering workshop and a low voltage supply to Tom’s house where a bank of carboy batteries provided domestic lighting.

The next five years proved a controversial period for the mill..  It soon became very clear that the NHBT had neither knowledge nor interest in the site and their objective had been to sell the Windmill site rather than see the project succeeding.

Essential to the success of any heritage project is a clear understanding of the need for planned and empathic repair and maintenance.  A disturbing amount of the restoration work was failing within the first ten years, and it transpired a number of major problems had not been remedied.

Despite this, DML soon established the Windmill as a centre for traditional milling and flour winning awards from East of England Tourism, Norfolk Food Festivals, Norfolk Smallholder's and for agricultural diversity with its partner farmer.

Denver Windmill soon became a popular venue for a very broad section of customers.  Open 364 days a year, young mums would call in for coffee, locals for lunch, visitors to see the mills and sample the food and in summer the holiday cottages and Tea Garden became a haven for the peacefulness of a previous age.  Vintage, veteran and modern motorcycle and car clubs, cycling and tractor clubs, old engine enthusiasts, walkers, boat owners, day trippers, bakers and cooks all became regulars at the Mill.

Profile of the Project had been increased considerably by media exposure through such programmes and Escape to the Country, Michael Portillo’s Great British Railway Journeys, Adrian Edmundson’s Ade Around Britain, Alex Polizzi’s The Fixer and Gordon Ramsay’s Home Cooking series - thanks must also go to KLFM, Radio Norfolk, Lynn News and Advertiser and Eastern Daily Press.

 Visitor numbers and income doubled making the Windmill one of the largest heritage tourist attractions in West Norfolk. The Denver Mills Baking School courses drew people from as far away as Devon and Manchester and as flour production rose from 1 ton to 32 tones a year and sales of flour through visitors, Internet and an increasing number of high profile chefs the project became nationally established.  With over twenty local suppliers and as many staff the potential of the project was finally beginning to be  realised.

In 2001 Billingford Windmill was working when the NHBT became involved with it.

By 2009 all the associated buildings have been sold off and it now has no sails and no working future.

In 2011 Denver Windmill was working.

By 2015 the tower render is falling of, there is severe water damage inside, it has no stocks or sails and no working future.