Myrehead Windmill

In the early 19th century Andrew Robertson took a lease of Myrehead Farm from William Forbes of Callendar.  As the name suggests, the land was of relatively poor quality and he set about a series of major projects in draining, fertilising, liming and rotating the crops, which resulted in conspicuous improvements to its quality as agricultural land.  Robertson was a progressive farmer and built much of the steading at Myrehead using the latest and most suitable designs.  Thirlage in the parish had been abandoned and so the farmers were at liberty to process their own grain.  Robertson believed that wind power for his own mill would be a great advantage and appears to have built a freestanding wooden structure for this purpose.  However, it was not nearly as efficient as he had hoped and so in 1814 he went to Haddington to inspect the windmills there and to speak to the farmers.  This part of Lothian was considered to be more advanced in agriculture than most places in Scotland.  Whilst there, he also examined the barns with the intention of erecting a new one at Myrehead.

“I am just now returned from Haddingtoun, where the Farmers were very oblidging in Shoeing me there Farms, and wind Millns, I think I have found the reason why my winde milln takes more winde to drive her than I expected, which will be easie remedy altered when I get my Stone Towr built, as I will then get here Arms or Blades lengthnd 5 or 6 feet longer which is her only defect.

With respect to my New Barn Mr Rennie of Fantasie drew me the plan that they are all adopting in Bereke Shire which although they be a little more expence in the errecting are still more preferable in my own opinion than the Kineele Barns, because they can have 3 different kings of stra in the stra Barn and get at any of them they please,  nother advantage they have more room for Botling the Stra and Shorter to Carray it”

(Forbes Papers 1046/18)

The result was a T-shaped barn with the windmill tucked into one of the re-entrant angles.  By November it was ready and he was able to get it working:

“I have only just now got my Barn finished and my Wind Milln Set to work, Owing to a driver being Saved with the room and Conveniency of the Barn, we this day Threshed a Stack with 4 hands that would have taken 7 besides the horses to have done it with the horse milln in the same time.   Although I think She will Save her price in a few years yet I must be warrie in trying any more Such Magots, as She has been a 500£ Stling Since I first began that is to Say with the Barn and Tour.”

William Forbes allowed Robertson a discount on his rent for constructing the barn.  Robertson pushed on with his improvements and with agricultural produce prices high due to the Napoleonic Wars he borrowed money for the purpose.  By 1822 he was in financial difficulties and had it not been for the sympathetic ear of the Forbes family he would have been bankrupted.  He seems to have laboured on under considerable stress.

Illus: Section through the Tower at Myrehead and plan of the Building.

The round tower of the windmill is 6m in external diameter at the base but tapers upwards to a little over 4m at a height of 12.6m, with stone rubble walls 0.6-1.0m thick.  The quoins of the doors are of large freestone with stone lintels.  It had three floors plus the cap-house.  Doorways on the ground floor in the south and east walls gave direct communication with the barn.  There was also an external door in the west wall, and a small window in the north wall.  This room was 3.8m high and in the room above there was another small window in the north wall.  The second floor was set at a height of 4.9m above the ground.  At this level a tall doorway on the west side gave access to an external balcony, still evidenced by the beam slots or putlog holes.  It is at approximately this level that the tower tapers at its greatest and this platform was evidently used to trim the sails which cleared the building as a result of the intake.  The cloth that had formerly been spread over the lattice frame of the sail was known as reef and this then became the reefing balcony, now used to tension the springs of the wooden paddles.  The next floor was 2.2m further up.

The wind power was used to turn millstones.  The rotary motion of the sails would have been transferred to an internal vertical shaft through a system of gears.  This in turn was connected to an upper millstone which it rotated whilst the lower millstone remained stationary.  The timber floor at this level had to be particularly strong.

Illus: 1863 Ordnance Survey Map surveyed in 1859 (National Library of Scotland).

The author of the New Statistical Account for the parish, published in 1841, was impressed by the changes that he had witnessed in the area :

The progress of cultivation has entirely changed the appearance of the Parish, since the date of the last Account.  At that time, it seemed that every one sought to grind his own meal.  There were 17 mills within the parish; now, there is but one corn and flour-mill, one saw and two flax-mills… The access to markets and superior mills is much increased; and no district has improved more rapidly under the superior means of communication which the age affords

(McFarlane 1841, 214).

The windmill at Myrehead, built at such great an expense, was effectively redundant.  The 1863 Ordnance Survey map shows that the sails had been removed, and a furnace inserted up one side of the tower converted it into an engine house.  This was more versatile and could also be used for winnowing – replacing the horse gin shown on the south side of the complex.  It could also be used for drying the grain.

This use did not last for long either.  The tower, however, is shown as still roofed on the 1897, 1915 and 1951 editions of the OS maps.  Today it is open at the top and the interior has been gutted.

Illus: View of the interior of Myrehead Windmill with the brick chimney on the left.
Illus: Elevation Drawings of the Myrehead Windmill.

Sites & Monuments Record

Myrehead WindmillSMR 715NS 9652 7757

G.B. Bailey, 2022