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Website Design : Simon Potter 



This article was written before Shipley Windmill closed to visitors in 2009.

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I am sure some of you have carried out the tasks that I often do at Shipley, climbing high around the Mill and up the sweeps to do a repair or replacement job.

There are not many mill enthusiasts who will do those sorts of tasks, although many will give advice !

When climbing the sweeps to replace or remove a shutter, I used to have to carry up the parts and tools needed as well as a builder's safety harness. That was quite a difficult task in its own right. While climbing up, one had to carry the harness and make sure to tread only on the sail bars and not on the shutters. Putting a foot wrong meant more shutter repair work.

On arriving at the work zone the first task was always to hook on the safety strop of the harness. But even after fixing that I never felt secure.

  Safety at Shipley Windmill

The builder's harness has a six-foot safety strop, which in turn is clipped onto a convenient part of the sail frame. I was concerned that if I slipped, I would fall a few feet before the harness grabbed me - then it had a 'break you in gently' facility so I might actually fall even further. I expect that would be very uncomfortable, although I am sure it has saved lives. But I felt that there had to be something better.

Luckily I have a daughter who is a leader for outdoor pursuit groups. One of her favourite activities is rock climbing. (I am told she goes up to horrendous heights.) One day, when she was home, I asked her round to the mill to have a look at the problem. I showed her where I had to go and she immediately realised the best solution. She herself had abseiled down many a rock face, and had even got me to do it on a couple of occasions, when in the Lake District. Abseiling equipment was the answer because it could be pre-attached leaving hands free.

The whole kit

The whole kit.   : The football on the end of the rope is designed to stop the rope getting trapped between the treads on the balcony. There must be a knot at the bottom of the rope to stop the Grigri from sliding off the end when you happen to what to abseil down.

A number of items are required: a harness to fit snugly and securely around one's lower body parts; this has to be adjusted to be tight so that you will not fall out of it and it is far less complicated than the builder's harness; a climbing rope of the correct size; a strop to pass around a secure timber or part of the mill to fix the end of the rope; a karabiner, or metal shackle with a screw collar so that it cannot come loose; and a Grigri. This is a device which grabs the rope and quickly locks tight when it is required to do so.

In November 2003 I had to go up high, re-fixing the renovated shutters ready for the 2004 open season. I was working on shutter number 27, three-quarters of the way up the sweep, with only nine more shutters above my head below the windshaft. I then stepped from the front to the rear, through the sail frame, onto the backstay.

Safety at Shipley Windmill  

I looked up to the sky as it was a lovely sunny day and then thought "Shouldn't there be some pressure on my feet similar to when you stand on the floor ?" so I looked down.

There was nothing there.

The backstay was rotten at the point of fixing to the main stock. I could see it, swinging from the outer hemlath.

I had not felt any sensation of falling at all. The Grigri had grabbed the rope so quickly I had not realised it.

I always pull up the slack rope as I go up each sail bar.

Had I been lower I might have felt the bounce that occurs due to the elasticity of the rope.

Before I start the day's climbing from the stage I always check the correct function of the safety system. When I lean back on the rope to test it, the Grigri will lock and the rope will stretch about two feet, as there is at least 30 feet of rope above.

The harness part of the kit  

Beside the safety aspect there are other advantages of this arrangement. As it was designed for abseiling it is possible to lower yourself at a controlled rate or not at all.

You can actually lean back as if sitting in the harness and be fully supported. You then have two hands free for working. There is no need to use one arm to hold on, while trying to undo a recalcitrant screw that needs real pressure, as it hasn't moved for many years.

The harness part of the kit :The legs and the waist are tight connections. Should you have the misfortune to tumble and finish upside down, you do not want to fall out of the harness and engage in head banging !


Thank heavens for a really good safety system.

Report by David French

Sussex Mills Group

Update September 2008

Two Sweeps were due to be removed in early September. With Shipley's principal 'sweep climber' on crutches and their millwright unavailable for several weeks, Jim Woodward-Nutt turned to Sussex Mills Group for help.

A site meeting was called to inspect the Sweeps and to determine how best to tackle their removal. As Sweep components were found to be loose, broken, missing and showing signs of rot, it was agreed that the 'sweep climbers' should work from abseiling ropes, rather that relying upon the Sailbars to support them.

On the following Saturday, five members of Jill Windmill's work crew spent the day ensuring that all bolts were free and all threads were clear. They took the opportunity to remove a number of Backstays (each sweep has ten of these).

On Wednesday, further Backstays were removed and ropes were tied to all sweeps. The working crew were Roger French, Simon Potter, Lionel Cole and Bernard Gasson from Jill Windmill, Peter Hill, together with Jim Woodward-Nutt, David Meares, Bill Mees and John Lynham from Shipley Windmill.

All preparatory work was completed by the time the crane was due to arrive.


The crane strop was attached to the first Sweep then the clamps, one bolt and the remaining Backstays were removed. With the Sweep supported by the crane and a single bolt, one of the abseilers descended whilst the other tied himself to the crane strop. The bolt was removed and the Sweep was gently lowered to the ground, manoeuvring around both the Spider at the top and the Gallery handrail at the bottom.

The remaining three Sweeps were rotated through 180 degrees and the procedure was repeated. All went smoothly thanks to the skills of the crane crew, the Banksman being Matt Ford, and the knowledge of the volunteers, many of whom have worked with mills for over 25 years. Sussex Mills Group should be proud and encouraged that volunteers from one mill gave their time and experience to assist with work on another's mill.

Report by Simon Potter

Jill Windmill volunteers Simon Potter and Roger French, working on Shipley Windmill's Sweeps.  Photo by Peter Hill
Jill Windmill volunteers Simon Potter and Roger French, working on Shipley Windmill's Sweeps
Photo : Peter Hill
  Windmill Tour
Website Design : Simon Potter
Website Design : Simon Potter

Hanging the Sweeps at Shipley Windmill