The Brixton Windmill - remnant of a more pastoral time

Living History

The Brixton Windmill - remnant of a more pastoral time

Brixton Windmill, also known as Ashby's Mill, is an unusual survivor from another era. The 200-year-old structure occupies a small tranquil corner of urbanised south London, just off Brixton Hill. When it was built in 1816, this now densely populated inner London borough was still fields and market gardens.

The Brixton Windmill is the last surviving functional London mill. After it was built, it wasn't long before the rapid development of London over the next few decades saw tall Victorian industrial and residential buildings encroach upon the fields around it, which prevented winds of sufficient strength from reaching the sails. The mill was thus rendered inoperative, and instead used for storage. However, by 1902, technology had advanced enough to produce steam-driven millstones, and one was installed in the mill to resume flour production until 1934.

London County Council acquired the mill in 1957, starting a repeating cycle of restoration followed by neglect and vandalism. A 2010 heritage grant enabled significant restorations, including the sails, cap, and tower.

The mill is now open for guided tours on selected weekends, where volunteers guide visitors through its history and operation. The steam millstone, previously converted to run on gas, has been upgraded again, this time to run on electricity, allowing the production of a wholemeal flour that is sold in several local shops.

Windmills are known to have been used to grind corn in Britain for some 800 years, though they are believed to have originated in the Middle East.

By 1840 there were more than 10,000 windmills in England, 2,000 more than in Holland. Most have disappeared, but a significant number of examples have been preserved around the country, either as working heritage, or turned into quirky living accommodation.

Further reading

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