A Solihull woman has been using lockdown to complete the ultimate DIY project – refurbishing the windmill in her back garden.
And no, this is not some ornamental creation to compliment a garden pond but a full-size, fully working early 19th century windmill.
As part of the project Jeannette McGarry required a cherry picker to paint the sails of Berkswell Windmill.
It has undergone extensive restoration and the sails now turn once again and the stones turn to make flour.
Built in 1826, the windmill is on the site of a much older wooden post mill.
It is believed to be one of the few windmills in the UK to still have all its original machinery and was last used as a working mill in 1948.
The 70ft Grade II-listed building was bought by Jeannette in 2005.
She then spent £200,000 restoring the four-bladed tower mill to its former glory with the help of English Heritage.
It has been described as among “the finest Georgian windmills in Britain” and one of the “most complete in the UK”.
Jeanette, 58, spent three weeks touching up the paintwork on the huge five tonne sails as part of a refurbishment of the windmill.
She made the most of the Solihull local lockdown to complete much-needed renovation work throughout September.
The maintenance involved continuous limewashing of the interior, dressing of mill stones and painting the sails with the help of the cherry picker to reach the top.
With the latest refurbishment complete Jeanette hopes to welcome visitors back once Covid-19 restrictions are eased.
She described her mammoth lockdon DIY project as a “real labour of love.”
The mum-of-three, who works in local government, said the windmill was like the “British equivalent of the Egyptian pyramids”.
She said: “I want to make sure that the windmill is preserved so it’s here for generations to come, along with the countryside around it
“It’s been a ongoing labour of love. Every morning when I wake up I feel blessed. I feel like the luckiest person on the planet really, because it’s just such a beautiful sight.
“I feel more like the guardian of the windmill rather than the owner of the windmill.
“If it is snowing, if it’s windy, if it’s sunny, the windmill never fails to bring a smile to my face. It’s absolutely beautiful. It’s all the history that goes with it.”
Jeannette added: “I really marvel at the windmill, in terms of how they were built. To me, it’s like the British equivalent of the Egyptian pyramids.
“They didn’t have cranes back in the day. They didn’t have precision instruments. They did a lot of things by sight.
“The roof of the windmill is known as a Warwickshire Boat Cap, so each county has its own style of roof. It looks like an upside-down boat, like a rowing boat.
“The roof can be turned so it moves 360 degrees, all the way around. You pull a chain at the back and that means the sails can face the wind.”
Last used as a commercial mill in 1948 by John Hammond, when he died it was bought by retired couple George and Betty Field in 1972 who carried out repairs.
They both passed away suddenly and it was left derelict for a period until Jeanette moved in 15 years ago.
She said: “On the day that I moved in with my ex-husband, lots of people were coming in through the gates asking to look at the mill.
“I contacted Historic England and they agreed to help me to restore the windmill. They funded 70 per cent and I paid 30 per cent.
“I also had to contact the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, which was originally set up by William Morris.
“They have a list of millwrights, the people that work on windmills and they are the expert builders if you like. There are only about 12 in the whole country.”
She added: “We had it completely restored. We had the roof taken off, which is known as a cap, and repaired.
“We also had the whole mill re-pointed because it’s a brick-built tower and had all of the sails replaced.
“I’ve actually got records from the 1700s of the miller here. It’s quite incredible when you go inside the mill, it’s just as it was when it was last used in 1948.
“It’s all the original machinery, all of the original cogs and wheels, which very few windmills have. It’s like a time capsule.
“Like any building, any wooden structure, you need to paint the sails regularly so we try to do it at least every three years.
“We have to buy specialist paint from Scandinavia. It was pretty tricky during lockdown because it’s been hard to get hold of materials.
“I hired a cherry picker so that it would be safer to do the painting.”
Jeanette and Dutch millwright Johan Vanderste worked tirelessly for three weeks from 7.30am to 6pm to carry out the restoration of the mill.
Johan is one of the Volunteers of Berkswell Windmill, who give their time freely to keep the building in shape and more.
Bizarrely, despite his experience, Johan is afraid of heights – but it didn’t stop him going up in the cherry picker.
Jeannette said: “Johan is 6ft 6 tall but is terrified of heights – but he still goes up.
“He must just be forcing himself – he’s a really good volunteer.
“He had his own windmill in Holland and studied windmills and agriculture.
“He’s a real expert.”
And he’s not the only expert Jeannette has had to help her out.
She added: “The other chap helping with painting the sails is John Beddington, who used to be a miller.
“He’s in his late seventies but still managed to clamber up the sails.”
The sail painting required 20 five-litre tins of specialised Scandinavian paint for £2,600 and the hire of a cherry picker at £1,000 a day.
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The interior was also given a coat of limewash, which is in keeping with the heritage of the mill as it predates paint itself.
Jeannette said: “It needs a lot of ongoing work as it is completely operational.
“On the ground floor, you have the sacks where the flour comes out. The next floor up is the stone floor.
“There are two sets of massive stones, with four stones in total. Each stone takes at least five grown men to lift, they are really heavy.
“When you’re milling you have to lift the stones up partway through and chisel the pattern into the stone so that you’ve got some friction.
“It quickly gets clogged with flour so you have to lift those stones and re-chisel the pattern.”
She added: “The stones only come from two places in the whole world. The stones for fine flour come from France, the French Burr Stone.
“The stones for the coarse wholemeal flour come from Derbyshire, they are Peak District stones.
“Outside of Covid, we open once a month, with the help of volunteers, from Easter Monday through to October.
“People say they remember coming here when they were children, just before or just after the Second World War.
“We get people from across the globe coming. From America, Taiwan, Spain, all over the world. It’s a real joy.
“We really miss our visitors and can’t wait to have them back.”