Wimbledon Windmill Museum

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Get to grips with grain

Wimbledon Windmill Museum, Wimbledon Common

Detailed model of Wimbledon windmill with revolving sails
A scale mod­el of the wind­mill as it was in its work­ing days

One of the many infor­ma­tive notices at this muse­um explains that you nev­er build a wind­mill when you can build a water­mill. Rivers rarely change direc­tion and water pow­er is eas­i­er to har­ness. Yet in 1816 Charles March applied for per­mis­sion to put up a wind­mill on Wim­ble­don Com­mon – though the Riv­er Wan­dle flows a cou­ple of miles to the east and its banks were lined with water­mills in those days. It seems that Wim­ble­don folk want­ed to be able to grind their own grain local­ly rather than buy­ing some­one else’s flour. March was grant­ed a 99-year lease on a small plot of com­mon land “upon this spe­cial con­di­tion that he shall erect and keep up a pub­lic Corn Mill for the advan­tage and con­ve­nience of the neigh­bour­hood.”

Charles March was not a mill­wright but a car­pen­ter, which may explain why he con­struct­ed such a large and elab­o­rate wind­mill almost entire­ly out of wood. Orig­i­nal­ly only the ground floor was brick but the sec­ond storey was rebuilt in brick after the mill ceased to be used for its pri­ma­ry pur­pose in 1864. Fire­places and chim­neys were added and the mill was con­vert­ed into liv­ing accom­mo­da­tion for six fam­i­lies.

In 1975 the wind­mil­l’s first floor became a muse­um. Thanks to a grant from the hal­lowed Her­itage Lot­tery Fund, the sails were restored to work­ing order in 1999 and the muse­um was extend­ed to the ground floor, where the exhibits relate main­ly to the devel­op­ment and con­struc­tion of wind­mills. There’s a col­lec­tion of mill­wright’s tools and more than a dozen mod­el mills, all made by the cura­tor.

While the ground floor is con­ven­tion­al­ly muse­u­mish, the col­lec­tion is more dis­tinc­tive upstairs, where you can find out how Wim­ble­don wind­mill worked, see how grain was milled to pro­duce flour and climb a lad­der up to the base of the tow­er. One Vic­to­ri­an par­lour has been retained to give a flavour of res­i­den­tial life here in 1870.

The vol­un­teer staff are wel­com­ing and well informed. The shop is stocked with all things Wim­ble­don and wind­mills, and if you’re short on time you can vis­it it with­out pay­ing the muse­um admis­sion charge – which is any­way extreme­ly afford­able. You could come here for a month of Sat­ur­days and Sun­days for the price of one ascent of the Arcelor­Mit­tal Orbit.

Sev­er­al exhibits are espe­cial­ly appeal­ing to kids, notably the par­tic­i­pa­tive ones like the hand quern. While vis­it­ing the muse­um for Hid­den Lon­don, I observed one small child make the tran­si­tion from believ­ing that wheat had one sole pur­pose – “mak­ing Weet­abix” – to under­stand­ing the whole ‘grain chain’ and hav­ing fun while he was learn­ing. As the fam­i­ly pre­pared to leave he protest­ed, “I want to stay here longer!”

Wimbledon Windmill Museum, Windmill Road, London SW19 5NR
Phone: 020 8947 2825
Email: wimbledonwindmill@gmail.com
Website: Wimbledon Windmill Museum; also on Facebook but posts are infrequent
Open: Saturdays 2pm–5pm; Sundays and bank holiday Mondays 11am–5pm throughout British summer time. Closed all winter, except for group visits by appointment.
Admission: £2.00 (adults), £1.00 (children and concessions), £5.00 (families)
Nearest station: Wimbledon, then a 20 minute walk or a 93 bus to Parkside hospital