JUST over 200 years ago, in a clearing of Epping Forest, the Walthamstow Windmill stood proud for all around to see.

Surrounded by corn fields, it stood on a high point of the forest ridge, at about 220ft above sea level and was strategically placed so residents of the surrounding area could access it.

Access was vital so residents could grind their produce to make flour for bread – a staple part of their diet – and the miller would take a percentage.

Windmills were prevalent in the eastern counties throughout the 17th and 18th centuries because the area was the main corn-growing region in Britain.

A map of Essex dated 1777 shows 187 windmills, including the Walthamstow Windmill.

But the number rapidly declined towards the end of the 19th Century, mainly because the importation of vast quantities of corn from the American prairies drove the development of steam-driven roller mills at British ports.

The Walthamstow Windmill was founded in 1676, when the lord of the manor of Walthamstow Toni, William Maynard, granted a building lease to John Hawkes, millwright of Whitechapel, with the agreement of his tenants.

The lease was for half an acre of land at Tile Kiln Hill and John Hawkes was to build a cottage and a windmill.

Although there is very little surviving evidence about the mill, the Walthamstow Parish Registers record the burial of a 'John Grimston, Miller' in 1684 and the burial of the 'Old Miller' two years later.

Other historical records show one of the windmill's later occupants, John Hanes, was brought before the Walthamstow Toni Manor courts in 1745, 1746 and 1747 for brewing beer without a licence.

The last available reference to anyone running the mill is in 1800, although it was depicted on the first Ordanance Survey map of the area in 1805.

It is thought the mill stopped producing flour at this time because local people would have used the water mills of the River Lea to the north and south of Walthamstow.

The mill-house, known as Mill Cottage, survived until 1890 and its most famous occupant was noted botanist and philanthropist Edward Forster junior, who lived at the cottage between 1826 and 1838.

Walthamstow Windmill was of a post mill design, which meant the body of the mill turned on a central post so the sails could be turned to face the direction of the wind.

Several examples of post mills still survive today in Essex and can be visited between April and September, including Aythorpe Roding, Finchingfield and Mountnessing, which are all owned by Essex County Council.

For more information on the mills and opening times, visit essexcc.gov.uk