BRITAIN'S only remaining thatched-cap windmill will have its sails returned and historic silhouette on the skyline restored this week by the National Trust in Somerset.

Stembridge Tower Mill has stood in the village of High Ham on the Somerset levels since 1822, and was still actively grinding local cereals until 1910.

To bring it back to life, and open it to visitors, in June the National Trust began major repairs funded by a £100,000 award from GrantScape’s Community Heritage Fund.

“At the stage we were taking the sails down in summer, we were hoping the work would be finished by now but we’ve hit a few set-backs,” said Karl Papierz, building surveyor and project manager for the National Trust.

“Firstly we’d planned to rebuild one sail and repair the other three, but quickly realised we needed to rebuild two so had to source additional materials for that. We also discovered bats roosting in the roof, which meant we had to stall some stages of the work to allow them to move on.”

The sails are now fully repaired and rebuilt and ready to go back on.

In June, the operation to remove them proved tricky with jammed bolts that hadn’t been loosened for decades, and the large-scale logistics of having to counterbalance the remaining sails any were removed.

“Putting them back up, could prove just as amusing,” added Karl.

In the weeks since the sails were removed, the mill’s stonework has been repointed with lime mortar and its unique cap-shaped roof has been rethatched.

“The team have done a wonderful job,” said Martin Watts, the traditional Millwright who has been providing his expertise throughout the project.

“This is one of the few windmills in England to still have any intact mechanisms, and its ability to pivot its cap is a major feat of engineering. Stembridge Tower Mill is an important building, which is reflected in its grade two star listing, and it’s great to see it being given the restoration it deserves.

“Since the project started we’ve had lots of interest from passers by, even some driving miles, to come to see the work. Many have been really excited about it, so once the Mill is open regularly, I think it’ll be very popular."

Scores of similar windmills once stood side by side across the Somerset levels, but as the steam engine led to factories mass producing bread and grinding flour, the need for such mills – and its on site bakery - declined.

"GrantScape is thrilled to be involved, not only to help restore one of Britain's unique windmills, but to preserve its place on the landscape of the Somerset Levels," added Matt Young, grant director for GrantScape.

"This mill has survived for generations despite industrial changes which saw its neighbours become redundant. With our help, and in the custodianship of the National Trust, we're pleased Stembridge Tower Mill will continue to hold its place on the horizon line and place in local history for decades to come."

Once the sails are up, there is still some repair work on the floors to be completed inside, while outside further landscaping and wall repairs will be carried out in the spring.

When the workforce leaves the mill, and it’s no longer classed as a ‘building site’, the National Trust can allow visitors to see the mill. While those opening details remain changeable this year, and await final confirmation, the Trust can confirm the new opening times and schedule for 2010.

The Stembridge Tower Mill site will be open every day between Saturday, March 13, and Sunday, October 31, between 11am and 5pm. Visitors will also be able to see inside the mill on special open days: Sunday, April 25; Sunday, June 27; and Sunday, August 22, between 12noon and 5pm.

New information boards on-site will also explain the significance of the Mill and the work that’s been undertaken to protect it.