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