Ballycopeland Windmill featured on special Royal Mail stamp

Date published: 20 June 2017

Ballycopeland Windmill’s heritage will be celebrated on a new postage stamp issued today, as part of a range of special stamps featuring some of the UK’s surviving historic windmills and watermills.

The site, near Millisle in Co.Down, is in State Care and is unique in Northern Ireland - it is the only tower mill that still exists with its internal mechanism still intact and able to operate.

Royal Mail selected three windmills and three watermills from across the UK for this set, some of which are over 400 years old and many are still in working order. The Royal Mail’s Special Stamp programme commemorates anniversaries, celebrates events relevant to UK heritage and life, and captures the nation's passions.

The windmill sits on the Ards Peninsula of Co. Down which was an area in which a large number of mills were situated, due to the fact that it was an excellent grain growing landscape, it experiences consistent prevailing winds and it was close to ports from which grain could be transported. The mill began operation in the late 18th century and continued production of animal feed until 1915, when it ceased operations at the outset of World War 1.

In 1937 it was taken into care of the State and since then it has seen various phases of conservation. In recent years the mill has suffered damage from excessive wind and a substantial conservation project to repair the mill was started by Historic Environment Division in 2015, the first significant phase of work since the late 1970s-early 1980s, exactly 100 years after the mill had ceased to operate.

We spoke to Maybelline Gormley, the archaeologist in the Department’s Historic Environment Division, leading the project to find out more. “This has been a major conservation project for us over the last two years. During this recent phase of conservation we’ve learnt that Ballycopeland is the last remaining windmill in the world to still have the patented Hooper Roller Reefing Gear. This was the mechanism for operating the specifically designed blinds system on the sails, which captured the wind on calmer days.

“The fabric of this has been conserved and is currently being reset on the new sails which were recently reinstated onto the windmill. The sails had been replaced in the 1980s but by 2015 had come to the end of their life cycle.  The team undertook substantial research in advance of completing drawings for the replacement sails.  This included scrutinising historic photographs and drawn records.  The new sails are the most accurate in form to the original design when the windmill was still operational. 

“We had to carefully unpick and understand previous repairs, repair some of the parts and replace items that had worn out.  We then built  a prototype of the roller reefing system to work out how it actually worked.  The site is very significant for several reasons – it is the only historic intact windmill in Northern Ireland, and with its associated miller’s cottage, kiln, drying floor and kilnman’s house, it is a rare example of an entire historic milling complex in its original location.  And we’ve learnt that Ballycopeland is the last known windmill in the world to still retain the patented Hooper Roller Reefing Gear, which raises the importance of Ballycopeland to international significance. So there is plenty to see!”

Ballycopeland Windmill and the exhibition in the kilnman’s cottage which illustrates the conservation project will be open to the public on the weekend of 24 & 25 June.

Opening hours:       

  • Sat 24 June 10.30am-4.30pm
  • Sun 25 June 12noon-4.30pm

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