Drainage Mills (Windpumps)
Steam Mills

Yaxham replica smockmill was built in the 1970s beside the Yaxham Light Railway by David Charles Potter to generate electricity and was sometimes known as Potter's Folly. The mill lasted into the late 1980s before being dismantled.

During the first year of operation the mill was beset by a variety of problems -

10th October 1975: Sails removed by crane before being altered and placed back in situ

24th November 1975: All shutters had been removed from the sails

December 1975: Sails altered again. Wider shutters were installed onto the trailing edge. The leading edge shutters were covered to form leading boards.

2nd-3rd January 1976: Mill tail winded and lost one sail. No shutters.

20 sided smockmill, horizontally boarded with ship-lap, on a timber foundation anchored with iron girders.
Boat shaped cap
Gallery with access via an outside ladder
Iron 8 bladed fan
Stocks - Iron squared U girders
Whips inside girders
Hemlaths - pierced angle alloy (?) as for shelving supports
Shutters - 13 double, ½ inch plywood, striking by nylon cords from spider over pulleys
Leading edge
12 x 2ft. 6 ins. by about 13/14ins.
1 x 2 ft. 6 ins. by about 12 ins.
Trailing edge
12 x 1ft. 6 ins. by about 123/14ins.
1 x 1ft. 6ins. by about 12ins.
giving a sail area 4ft. by 15ft. = 60 sq. ft.
Sails CLOCKWISE, but smaller shutters should be on LEADING edge
Windshaft - cast-iron piping about 4ins. diameter and 5/8ths inch thick
Head wheel - cast-iron, 2ft. diameter

Harry Apling

The 'windmill' near Yaxham Station was built 1974/5 by David Potter, a Dereham builder, on land leased from British Rail, with the intention of providing electricity to light his chicken houses and perhaps later, his own house nearby.
It was a 20-sided smock mill, horizontally boarded with shiplap timber, round an old concrete hopper, on a foundation of railway sleepers anchored with iron girders. A boat-shaped cap had a gallery with an iron 8-bladed fan, said to have been geared originally so as to take the mill OUT of the wind!
The stocks consisted of a pair of iron U-shaped girders with separate whips inside. The sails (15 ft. by 4 ft.) were fitted to the back of these and had 13 double ½ in. plywood shutters, hinged at the bottom and opening backwards, striking by means of nylon cords. Although the sails were CLOCKWISE the larger shutters were at first on the leading edge. The windshaft was cast-iron piping 4 ins. in diameter and 5/8ths in. thick. The head wheel, also of iron, was 2 ft. in diameter.
Inside, the upright shaft terminated in a lorry half-axle standing on the differential, with the lorry brake controlling the sails. The horizontal transmission shaft drove a 4 ft. wheel which by belts drove two generators to charge fifty 24 volt batteries in stacks of 10.
The mill was featured in newspapers in April 1975, but early in May, in a strong wind with the brake on for five minutes in an endeavour to stop the sails, the iron pipe windshaft sheared between the neck and the head wheel and the sails had to come down. Later that month the teeth of the curb were stripped in a high wind and the mill was tail-winded.
After repairs and the alteration of the sails later in December the mill was again tail-winded
in the gale of 2/3 January, 1976, when the mill lost one sail. The shutters were subsequently removed and the mill has remained derelict.
Although David Potter was able to build the mill using his own firm's materials, the never used electrical equipment cost about £2,000, financed by the sale of a reconditioned steam engine. His earlier experience with windmills was only the conversion to residential accommodation at Saham Toney and Hindolveston tower mills. His later efforts at supervising the initial restoration of Dereham tower mill have proved unfortunate.
In fact Yaxham Station mill was a complete fiasco; my own name for it is 'POTTER'S FOLLY'.

Unknown Author

Iron upright shaft connects with half a lorry axle standing on differential, using lorry brake on axle as mill brake. Lorry transmission shaft drives 4 ft. (?) wheel, which by belts drives two generators.
Batteries - 24 volts in stacks of 10, on 1st and 2nd floors.
D. C. P. intends to light chicken house and then own house.

Harry Apling

Disaster No. 1
Thursday 1 May 1975.
Strong wind. Sails revolved.
Windshaft broke between neck and head-wheel. Sails taken down.
At least one whip broken. One iron stock seems to be bent.
Brake said to have taken five minutes to stop sails.
Nylon cords stretched. To be replaced by steel cable.
No weather on sails, but apparently a slight twist on U-girder stocks taking whips.

Harry Apling


This view shows No.7, a Ruston & Hornsby 16hp 2-cylinder diesel loco (works no. 170369), built in 1934 and supplied new to Chesterfield Sewage Works.  This was also acquired in 1982 and is seen in July 1986 year running on the site of the present YLR.  Much has changed since then, the derelict replica windmill has been replaced by a 3-road engine shed and much track-laying and landscaping has taken place. 
Chris Fisher - Archivist of Yaxham Light Railway, March 2007

June 1975
June 1975

c.1975   c.1975

This mill was built by David Potter for generating electricity; he was way ahead of his time. He also built the small gauge railway and saved Yaxham station after it was closed.
His owned a very large building business in Dereham called Potter Brothers of Dereham. His yard and offices were on the site of what is now the Latter Day Saints Church near Tesco’s. He was also the founder of Eckling Grange, Quebec Hall and a nursing home in South Green. In the grounds of his home he had a few steam engines and lorries. He lived at the Beeches the other side of the road to Yaxham Station
Ray Taylor - 30th March 2015

1974/5: Mill built by David Charles Potter to generate electricity

25th April 1975: The Eastern Daily Press visited and took photographs

3rd May 1975: The Eastern Daily Press visited and took photographs

10th October 1975: Sails removed by crane before being altered and placed back in situ

24th November 1975: All shutters had been removed from the sails

December 1975: Sails altered again and replaced

2nd-3rd January 1976: Mill tail winded and lost one sail. No shutters

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 TG00351013

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Copyright © Jonathan Neville 2011