Identifying the prototype for the Airfix/Dapol windmill kit

Is the Airfix (and now Dapol) plastic kit for a OO scale model windmill based on a real prototype? The church kit is based on the real church at Bonchurch on the Isle of Wight, and the signal box is famously based on one at Oakham in Rutland.

After comparing various details, I suspect the windmill kit is based on the real one at Outwood in Surrey.

Factors leading me to think the model kit is based on Outwood are:

  • an Airfix advert from the October 1960 issue of Model Ralway News says Airfix kits are “exact replicas” and has a photo of a real windmill looking very similar to the model. 1 This makes me think a prototype probably does exist, and as with the church kit it is not simply a freelance model
  • the model kit is of a post mill
  • the roundhouse is circular rather than polygonal, and made of brick
  • there are two doors to the roundhouse, at least one of which is decorated with a horseshoe
  • there are three-pane windows above the roundhouse doors – these seem a distinctive feature of Outwood
  • the Airfix kit has a represention of spring sails, where each sail is divided into a bays with shutters. A new pair of spring sails were fitted to Outwood in 1955 2 Many windmills have other types of sail
  • there is one window in the side of the wooden mill body; some other mills have more
  • the mill is turned to face the wind by a pole sticking out the back, rather than a fantail

More speculatively, Outwood mill was said to be the oldest working post mill in Britain,3 and attracted interest from preservationists4 before the kit was first introduced in 1958,5 so might have come to Airfix’s notice.

Differences:

  • the model has prominent windows on both sides of the wooden body; Outwood mill doesn’t have a window on one side
  • Outwood has traces of other openings which are not present on the model (but could have been omitted for simplicity?)
  • the rear stairs aren’t quite the same

Photos

Some photos of Outwood mill on 2 August 2021, in case they are of use to anyone planning to superdetail a model kit.

Historic England describes the Grade I listed Outwood windmill as:6

Post Mill. 1665 restored in C19 & C20. Oak substructure on whitewashed brick circular base with felt pent roof. Weatherboarded above with 4″ slatted pine sails. Steps and post to rear with board door under shallow pent roof. 2 casement windows in sides and boarded openings to rear, further doors under transome lights in sides of circular base.

Interior: Mill machinery remains largely in working order. Oak crowntree 21 inches square is inscribed with date 1880. Reputed to be the oldest working Windmill in the country.

Other candidates

Various other candidates for the real windmill have ben proposed on web forums and elsewhere. Addressing some of the possibilities which have been raised:

  • Pitstone mill near Ivinghoe in Buckinghamshire has different sails, and doesn’t have the three windows above the roundhouse doors. It was also derelict at the time the Airfix kit was made.7
  • Rolvenden windmill in Kent has a different type of sail.8
  • Mountnessing windmill in Essex doesn’t have the roundhouse windows, and the body is somewhat different to the model kit

Links

References