After my brief windmill visit on Sunday I thought it would be interesting to look back at my previous visits back in 2013 and share a little of the history of the place. It’s certainly beautiful and a little spooky.
10 March 2013
For a long time I’ve been meaning to visit the windmill at Bursledon. Having lived so close to it all my life it’s hard to believe I’ve never actually been there especially as it’s the only working windmill in Hampshire. This morning it was back to winter with a vengeance. I was glad of my padded coat, hat and gloves for sure. Still, three miles later when I got to Providence Hill I was feeling a lot warmer. A little road crossing and I was on Windmill Lane almost at the windmill. Actually, I’d thought I’d be able to see it by this point.
At the beginning of the lane I found a row of sweet little pebbledash cottages all painted in different shades. Opposite these were woods, blocking my view. Towards the end of the cottages the lane lead off into the woods and, on closer inspection, I saw a low key sign saying Bursledon Windmill. So I crossed the lane and set off down the rather rustic winding track 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.
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 white struts where there should be sails. 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. William didn’t agree, he actually had legal papers drawn up stating the project was “independent of any husband.” In a time when women didn’t even have the right to vote Phoebe was surprisingly wilful. She went ahead anyway. 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. Now a new restoration programme is underway to replace the windshaft. 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.
Beside the mill stands the Chineham Barn. 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 was the pond and garden. This pond originally provided drinking water for the farmers horses. A wheelbarrow stood abandoned beside it showing that someone has been working on cleaning the semi stagnant water.
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.
Around the side of the granary I saw a sight that got me quite excited, a woodland walk. Sadly, today it wasn’t to be. As I went through the gate 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. My fear must have been obvious to the couple. 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.
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 and could almost imagine Phoebe walking around the balcony surveying her work.
3 September 2013
For some reason I couldn’t sleep last night. Quite why this happened is a mystery, usually it’s the waking up I have problems with. I was tired, it wasn’t hot and muggy as it has been recently, there was no noise, no worries going round my head. In fact, all that was going round and round my head was a song.
‘I saw a mouse – where? There on the stair
Where on the stair? Right there
A little mouse with clogs on – well, I declare
Going clip-clippety-clop on the stair’
Sorry if it’s now in your head. Maybe I can exorcise it by telling you about my second visit to the Bursledon Windmill on Sunday, then again…
Once the windmill came into view it was obvious it was still not working, quite why I’d expected it to be I don’t know because last time I visited the word was it wouldn’t be finished until 2014. At least this time there was blue sky as a backdrop. When I walked into Chineham Barn a young man asked me if I wanted a tour. Of course, I jumped at the chance.
My guide’s name was Gary and he was full of information. On the ground floor, just inside the door, there were a series of vertical beams with wheels at the bottom circled by leather straps. This is the end of the line, where the flour ends up. Gary showed me the little hatches where the miller inspects the flour. He has to make sure it’s coming through milled to the customer’s specifications.
As we began to climb the narrow staircase to the first floor, Gary told me to mind my head on the low beams. Usually this is not something I have to worry about, being rather vertically challenged, but this beam was so low even I had to duck. On the first floor, I was fascinated by the huge cogs, like the inside of a giant wooden watch but I couldn’t figure out how it all fitted together. It must be a dangerous place when all those cogs are moving and I get the impression it would be quite noisy too. Not quite the tranquil place it looks from the outside.
Then there were the mill stones, the bottom one attached to the floor and, presumably, the mill workings and the top one leant against the wall. The stones looked cracked but, apparently, this is how they are when new. They come all the way from France. Gary explained how the grain moves through the grooves from the centre of the stone to the edge getting progressively finer as it does. He showed me how the miller uses a special tool to sharpen the cutting edge of the groves when they wear. The speed of the stones depends on the wind and, to alter this, the miller has to trim the sails, just like a sailor on a ship.
There’s a huge grain hopper the miller has to keep filled with grain. If it runs out the stones grind against each other and, not only would this damage them, it could cause a fire. Inside the hopper a little bell rings when the grain is beginning to run low. The poor miller seems to have a lot to do, what with checking the grain, trimming the sails and adjusting them to keep them facing the wind even when it changes direction plus running up and down to fill the hopper. It seems like a job that would keep you fit. As Gary said, millers in water mills have it much easier, the water just keeps running and all he has to worry about is filling the hopper.
The views from the balcony were breathtaking. Looking down I could see the mill house and above me were the massive cogs and chains that move the top of the mill towards the wind. Around the other side there was a wonderful close up of the struts that hold the lattices and sails, I could almost imagine the sound of the sails billowing in the breeze. From here I had a bird’s eye view of Chineham Barn and the Hiltingbury Granary along with the tall trees surrounding the mill.
It turns out the trees are a bit of a problem. When the mill was built the land around was heathland and the mill stood high above it. The trees have been planted since, many of them fairly recently to screen the noise of the motorway. This means the wind that used to blow from all around and turn the sails now only turns the sails when blowing in an East, West direction. As the grow the narrow wind corridor is becoming ever smaller. Eventually they will block it altogether which will be a terrible shame.
Back inside the windmill Gary asked me if I’d like to go up to the top floor. This is not normally part of the tour but I think my interested questions and photo taking made him offer. I didn’t have to be asked twice. The stairs were narrower than those below, so narrow my rucksack was almost my undoing. As I carefully climbed the almost vertical steps, watching my head on the beams, my bag very nearly got wedged in the small gap. Obviously millers had to be short and slim. Thank goodness I lost all that weight or I could have ended up stuck like a cork in a bottle.
Thankfully I didn’t get stuck and I found myself in the tiny room at the top of the mill dominated by the massive wind shaft and a wealth of cogs and supporting struts. A high window provided light. Back when the mill was in daily use the stairs I’d just struggled up didn’t exist, they are a product of modern concerns with ‘health and safety’ and with good reason.
Back then the only way to get to the top of the mill was a ladder against the wall. One day, when William was climbing it, he fell. Although he survived he was badly injured and, for the rest of his life, was in terrible pain from a damaged back. Maybe he had a premonition that things would turn out badly for him if the mill was rebuilt and that was why he tried to stop the project. Apparently his ghost haunts the mill to this day and can be heard moaning with pain.
As we stood outside I asked Gary if he’d ever seen the ghost.
“Oh yes, and I’ve heard him too,” he told me. “If you look up at the big window right now, the bottom right pane, you may even catch a glimpse yourself.”
Of course I looked and, for a few seconds I really thought there was someone peering through that window. It looked for all the world as if a ghostly, semi transparent, figure was watching me but, as I caught my breath, I could see it was just a trick of the light and a smudge on the inside of the window. At least I think it was.
Next November the mill should be turning again and you can be sure I’ll be back for another visit.