John was brought up in Old Buckenham, where his parents held the license of Whit Horse public house (now returned to its original name as The Gamekeeper). He was educated in Diss before joining the Royal Air Force. John was well known as an active member of the Old Buckenham football and cricket clubs. Later on he took up his trade as a millwright and became involved, through Norfolk Windmills Trust, in the maintenance and restoration of many corn mills and drainage mills throughout the county. He had a unique knowledge of the trade and his sense of dedication to the preservation of mills will be sadly missed. John's last commission was the restoration of Old Buckenham windmill, which had fallen into decay over many years since it ceased working in the early 1920s. It was a fitting that a memorial should be sited in Old Buckenham, where he grew up and where, but for his efforts, the windmill would not have become such a local point of interest and tourist attraction. Much of the work was done at a time when he was battling against failing health, underlining the dedication he showed. Sadly, John was in the process of restoring his own windmill at Caston at the time of his death - a task he was not to complete.
Old Buckenhamm windmill is unique in being a brick-built tower with the largest diameter in the country. When working it had five pairs of milling stones, where normally a mill would have had only two or three pairs. It was a very large mill for its time, when it was built for a local miller in 1818. Over its lifetime it milled wheat and all types of grains for animal feed. Research into the history of milling in Old Buckenham [by my late uncle Harry Apling (1904-1989)] has brought to light at least 5 others that were sited within a couple of miles of the present mill in the 17th and 18th centuries. The original miller was a John Burlingham, a well-established local miller at the time he took over the new mill.
In the years that followed the mill had a number of owners - chief among them were Jeremiad and James Coleman (James married John Burlingham's daughter in 1826) and in Victorian times, HRH Prince Frederick Duleep Singh (the 2nd son of Prince Duleep Singh of Elvedon Hall; Frederick lived with his wife Princess Sophia Alexandrona at Old Buckenham Hall). In 1905 the mill was sold again to a local miller and by 1921 it had deteriorated beyond economical repair. Milling continued for a few more year in the nearby granary before the miller lost his arm in a machine and the business closed.
The mill building was used as a farm store and progressively deteriorated until t e cap and sails had to be removed for safety reasons in 1976. It was not until the mill came into the ownership of Norfolk County Council (Norfolk Windmills Trust) that public funding was available to commence restoration. John Lawn worked on the mill from 1994 and the cap and sails were finally restored in 1996, exactly 20 years from the time they were removed. The mill itself is a fine tribute to John's skills. All the work was done without plans to work form. The boat shaped cap alone is a major piece of skilled construction, weighing nearly 15 tons when it was lifted into place.
Old Buckenham windmill is now looked after by a small group of local volunteers and is open to the public on the 2nd Sunday of each month from April to September (2.00 pm to 5.00 pm). Entrance is a minimal 70p for adults and 30p for children, making an interesting glimpse into the rural life of the 1800s, with a booklet on the mill and a number of small souvenirs on sale. Why not give it a look? It is situated on the road out of Old Buckenham to Stacksford and is signposted from the village green on open days. The next opening on May 13th as part of the annual National Mills Day events. Group visits can be arranged by appointment, although the diary for 2001 is already almost full, with visits planned by several local WI groups, Attleborough Young Farmers Club and the Great Yarmouth Builders Guild.
© The Wayland News, May 2001.
Further information on Old Buckenham Mill is to be found in Norfolk Corn Windmills, Harry Apling, Norfolk Windmills Trust, 1984, pp. 192-194.
This page prepared by Paddy Apling, 1st May, 2001.
John Lawn Obituary [Eastern Daily Press, 17 Jan 2000]
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