Wimbledon Windmill, one of the area’s most iconic landmarks, features on this year’s Christmas card produced jointly by the Wimbledon Society and the Commons Conservators. It is shown in last winter’s snow.
Now a popular museum with interactive exhibits and lots of material on windmills in general, Wimbledon Windmill has been in place for 195 years although it has not actually been used to grind corn since 1864. It was built in 1817 by a Roehampton carpenter named Charles March who had a 99-year lease and paid an annual rent of two shillings (10 pence).
The mill’s hollow-post was a Dutch design rather than an English one but he is thought to have copied it from a similar one at Southwark.
For 47 years the mill supplied ground corn to the local neighbourhood. Then the miller of the day was forced to stop by Earl Spencer, Lord of the Manor, who wanted to enclose Wimbledon Common for his own use (see Heritage story 16th November 2012).
Spencer wanted to build himself a new manor house on the site of the mill but having been forced to sell out, the miller had no wish to allow the Earl any chance of competing with his family’s other mills in Kingston so he removed the stones and working machinery.
No longer operational, the mill was converted into living accommodation for six families, with fireplaces and chimneys added and the original wooden upper storey rebuilt using brick.
After the Wimbledon and Putney Commons Act was passed in 1871, preserving the Commons for public use in perpetuity and handing control to the elected Conservators, the mill continued to be used as accommodation.
Lord Baden-Powell stayed there in 1902 and wrote part of his famous book Scouting for Boys on the premises. Published six years later it would inspire future generations of boy scouts and girl guides.
In 1893 there was a major restoration of the building. The original windmill sails were replaced by a shorter set with fixed shutters which lasted until a further repair in the 1920s when a third set of sails was installed. During World War 2 the mill was painted a drab green to camouflage its visibility for incoming enemy planes.
When it was returned to white afterwards the sails were stopped due to excessive wear in the gearing. However a public appeal for funding was launched in 1954 and after repair, the sails turned again on 25 May 1957. In 1966 an episode of Doctor Who was filmed there.
Yet another restoration followed in 1975, when the first floor was converted into a museum and then in 1999, with Heritage Lottery support, the sails were fully restored to working order and the museum extended to the ground floor.
One room in today’s museum shows exactly what the living conditions were like for the residents in 1870. The overall display tells the story of windmills from their early origins until the present day.
The Windmill Museum is closed during the winter but this year’s Christmas cards are on sale from the Rangers or from the Museum of Wimbledon at 22 Ridgway every weekend afternoon. Wimbledon Society members pay £4 for a pack of ten cards.
The Wimbledon Society is working with the Wimbledon Guardian to ensure that you, the readers, can share the fascinating discoveries that continue to emerge about our local heritage.