A visit to Hampshire’s only working windmill, currently not working!
Somewhere I’ve been meaning to visit for a long time is the windmill at Bursledon. I’ve seen it in the distance when we’ve driven past but I’ve never actually been there and, as its the only working windmill in Hampshire, I thought it was worth a look.
The windmill stands on Providence Hill and there is a small car park, but I decided to walk as it is only about three miles from my house. Once I got Windmill Lane I wasn’t sure exactly how far down this half mile long lane the windmill actually was, I’d thought I’d be able to see it by this point.
At the beginning of the lane there was a row of sweet little pebbledash cottages all painted in different shades. Opposite these were woods, blocking my view. As I came towards the end of the cottages the was a lane leading off into the woods, on closer inspection I saw a rather low key sign saying Bursledon Windmill. Somehow I’d expected something more grand for such an historic building. So I crossed the lane and set off down the rather rustic winding lane lined with trees. There were some big wooden gates to my right with a sign saying Mill House, but I couldn’t actually see a house or a windmill. By virtue of the fact it is a windmill and therefore dependent on the wind, I’d expected it to be higher up somehow and easier to spot. Maybe the lane was a lot longer than I’d thought?
Finally, a little way around the corner from the gates of the mill house, I caught my first glimpse of the mill above the high laurel hedge. It was just the top of the boat shaped roof and two white struts where there should be sails but at least it was there. I was beginning to wonder if I’d been on a wild goose chase up until that point. A few steps later I was looking up at the old mill. Its brick walls were green with moss and algae the lattices that hold the sails absent, even so it was a breath taking sight which would have benefitted from some blue sky behind it rather than grey threatening clouds.
This windmill has a very interesting history, all made possible by an incredible woman called Phoebe Langtry. Built in 1766 to mill grain for the local villagers it was originally a wooden structure. Phoebe’s husband William had been the miller since 1787 and, in 1813, Phoeby thought it was about time something was done to rebuild the crumbling mill. Despite William’s disenchantment with the scheme (he actually had legal papers drawn up stating the project was “independent of any husband”) Phoebe was undetterred.
Phoebe was independent and strong, in a time when women didn’t even have the right to vote. This was a hundred years before Emily Davison, died under the King’s horse, Anmer, at the Epsom Derby, while many of her fellow Suffragettes were on hunger strike in prison. It must have taken great courage to go against her husband. The original mill machinery was kept but the wooden tower was rebuilt in brick. Without her it undoubtedly would have been lost forever.
By 1907 there was no more need for a mill and the sails stopped turning until the Hampshire Buildings Preservation Trust began a thirteen year restoration programme in 1979. Finally, in May 1991 the windmill was opened to the public as a museum. Sadly (or should that be happily?), a new restoration programme is underway at the moment, replacing the windshaft (the bit the struts, lattices and sails fit on), so for the time being, no more grain is being milled, although, until recently you could watch the mill working and even buy some of the flour to take home. The work is expected to be finished by 2014 in time for the bicentennial of Phoebe’s original restoration.
Even without the lattice work and the cloth sails the windmill is beautiful. Beside the mill stands the Chineham Barn, a large wooden structure with a tiled roof and doors at various points opening onto thin air. I’m not sure what that is all about but all barns seem to be built that way. The barn serves as the ticket office, and I wandered through marvelling at the high ceiling, the old beams and ancient tools hanging on the wall. Through the open door at the other side of the barn I had a tantalising view of the pond and the garden.
The pond, originally to provide drinking water for the farmers horses, is small and half filled with reeds. A wheelbarrow stood abandoned beside it showing that someone has been working on cleaning the semi stagnant water. In the grass near the wheelbarrow two abandoned mill wheels lay gathering moss and lichen. Apparently there are ducks regularly visiting the pond but I didn’t see them. Perhaps they, and the wheelbarrow owner were on a tea break together. The mill rose majestically into the grey clouds behind the pond and I couldn’t help thinking how much prettier it all would have looked had the sky been blue. There was another small building in the garden, Hiltingbury Granary. This small wooden shed stands on mushroom shaped stone props to stop the rats getting into the grain. My sister in law has a similar building at her farm that also used to be a granary many years ago.
Around the side of the granary I saw a sight that got me quite excited, a woodland walk. You all know how much I love a nice woodland walk. Sadly, today it wasn’t to be though. I went through the gate and, almost immediately two huge Rottweilers came bounding towards me! I froze in my tracks, big dogs with no owners in sight scare me and there was no one else around at all. The dogs kept coming towards me looking very fierce and I stood like a statue pulling my hands up into the sleeves of my jacket in case they attacked. One of the dogs actually came right up and touched my hand and I pulled it away, shouting “No” loudly but it didn’t back off. It seemed like I stood there for ages with the big dogs looking up at me until eventually, a man, woman and young girl appeared from the direction of the mill and called the dogs away. Even then they kept running back to me.
The dogs owners made no attempt to keep their beasts from running at me, apart from the occasional half hearted call from a distance and, as soon as the family we’re between me and the dogs I turned and left. It isn’t that I have anything against dogs but, really, when you have two such large dogs, I think you should be a bit more responsible. Maybe they just wanted to play with me but it must have been obvious to the couple, once they finally appeared, that I was afraid. The very least they could have done was make sure their animals came away from me and stayed away and it would have been nice to get some kind of apology or even an acknowledgment of the situation. After all, Rottweilers are very big scary looking dogs and you’d think anyone owning them would be well aware people would be nervous of them.
Once I had the pond and the garden between me and the woodland walk and I was satisfied that the dogs were long gone I stopped to have a closer look at the windmill. There was a little path leading up to the door so I walked up and peeked inside at stone floors, whitewashed walls and wooden beams, plus various pieces of odd looking equipment. Squinting up at the balcony running around the first floor I could see the big wheel and chains opposite the sails and could almost imagine Phoebe walking around the balcony surveying her work.