THE project on Wednesday to restore the sails at the Wilton Windmill is far from the first time the building has been repaired in its 200-year history.

After being out of action for the last seven months due to much needed £25,000 renovation work, specialist millwrights Owlsworth IJP returned to the windmill to put the four one-and-a-half tonne oak sails back on this week.

Rewind nearly 200 years, however, and the landscape was very different. None other than Napoléon Bonaparte was part of the reason behind why the five-floor brick tower mill was built back in 1821.

As the English Channel was in danger of being attacked by the French in the early 1800s, imports had to head to Bristol and to safety. To make this possible, the Kennet and Avon Canal was built to ship goods to London from the south west.

This canal was built over and through the site of local watermills, and the pumps providing the water for the canal also lowered the river levels so that the remaining watermills were no longer viable.

That is where the Wilton Windmill came in back in 1821 and for 100 years it was in operation. However, it fell into disuse as a result of competition from large steam roller mills, before being bought by Wiltshire Council in 1971.

It was then restored in 1976 by a team of dedicated volunteers. These days, the mill, which produced stone-ground, wholemeal flour, is managed and operated by the Wilton Windmill Society which uses the mill and provides guided tours.

To celebrate the occasion, society members and many other people enjoyed an all-day barbecue, teas and coffee and a chance to see the sails put back on with the use of a crane and cherry picker.

"To have it back in working order is something I have been so excited for, it is a real treat," said the Wilton Windmill Society's president Peter Lemon.

"Last August the sails were removed as many of the slats were rotting. People have waited for this day for a long time. It is a cherished part of the community. We have around 50-60 regular helpers who do a marvellous job.

"I am sure we all have fond memories of Wilton Windmill and mine started in 1948 when my mother took me over to see her day old chicks on the ground floor, which was next door to our home at the Wilton cottage.

"The story behind this historic mill is incredible and I am so happy this day has come, to see it restored to its former glory."