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Wimbledon Windmill Museum

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by Bastion Harrison (subscribe)
Freelance writer and poet from London; if you would like to read my poetry, please check out my book, 'Poems on the Page', available from
Published April 17th 2013
Have a go at grinding wheat
wimbledon windmill museum
Wimbledon Windmill Museum

Wimbledon is regular shopping ground for me, but despite my constant trips to the town centre, I have rarely ventured much further. Just recently, however, that has started to change. Back in the autumn I picked up a leaflet advertising the Wimbledon Windmill Museum, which is up on the common. I decided that I wanted to go and have a look, but as I read on, quickly discovered that it is only open between the 30th March - 27th October each year.

And so I waited. And waited. And waited some more. Finally the end of March was in sight. Unfortunately the end of winter was not. So I waited some more. Then at last some sun. Spring had arrived, and I was ready to make my journey.

Looking at the map on the leaflet, I could see that I could take the bus and get off at Wimbledon Common. The only problem is that Wimbledon Common is a big place, and the map was not particularly to scale. As a result, I ended up getting off far too early, and having to walk the rest of the way down.

wimbledon windmill museum, wombles
Wombles of Wimbledon

When I eventually got there, I paid my 2 admittance and had a little browse of the gift shop. There were a few things about windmills, but most of what was on sale were booklets about Wimbledon Common. There were also 30p postcards boomerangs, and a collection of wombles for 10 each.

Before walking through to the exhibit, the entrance had a model of men at work, constructing the windmill. There was an explanation about some of the tools that were used, such as a side axe, which was sharpened on one side and used for shaping timber.

Upon entering the hallway I was immediately face with a big vertical iron shaft, which drives the machinery. Hanging on the wall next to it were various tools for harvesting wheat, such as an iron sickle, which was used for many centuries. The earliest types of sickles were made with a wooden or bone handle, and with a sharpened flint blade. It also turns out that the scythe is merely on loan to the Grim Reaper, as it was traditionally used for gathering hay. It was also used for reaping rye and oats, which were then gathered into sheathes. Once the sheathes were brought to the barn, they were thrashed with flails in order to release the grain. A flail is one of the oldest tools used, with a handle made of ash, and a swingle made of holly. These two joints were bound together by eel skin.

The hall lead to four different rooms, on the right was the movie room, which showed a looping documentary about windmills, and on the left was a display cabinet depicting a workmen's bench surrounded by all his tools.

wimbledon windmill museum,
Post Mill

The main room on the ground floor had lots of models of different types of windmills. While I knew there were different types of mills for doing different jobs, I never knew there were so many different types of windmill. The first known windmills were called Persian Mills with records dating back to 644AD. This just goes to show how advanced they were in the Middle East, because windmills did not appear in Europe until five hundred years later. These took the form of Greek Mills, in which the machinery was house in a cylindrical tower with a conical roof, and with sails resembling that of a ship. The earliest windmill to be built in England was a 12th century Post Mill. It was a small building supported by a central post, and unlike Persian and Greek Mills, worked whichever way the wind was blowing.

Wimbledon Windmill is a Hollow Post Mill, the rarest type in England. There is only one other in the country, and that is in Mitcham. The difference between this and a regular Post Mill is that the supports have been hollowed out to make way for the iron shaft.

In the final room, it gave examples of how mills were used for other tasks before the steam engine was invented, one of which included grinding bone.

The first floor looked more like what you would expect to see in windmill, with pulleys, sacks of grain, and large cogs (plus a slightly more contemporary radiator to keep visitors warm).

In this section, it explained the milling process, starting with its earliest conception over two and a half thousand years ago with the mortar and pestle. There was also the chance to grind your own wheat. This is a laborious task, so pretty soon the quern was invented. A quern was made from two circular stones balanced on top of one another. Grain was fed through a hole at the top, and the upper stone was turned by a handle to grind it down.

Until more sophisticated methods were developed in 18th century France, the course grain caused havoc with people's teeth.

wimbledon windmill museum,
Elizabeth Towne's Room

In 1864 Wimbledon Windmill ceased operations and was converted into small flats. In 1870, it housed six families, including a dressmaker called Elizabeth Towne.

wimbledon windmill museum, boy scout, girl scout
Boy Scout's Shirt

I was quite surprised to see a display case filled with boy/girl scout memorabilia; it is not usually something would associate with a windmill. It turns out that in 1908, British general, Robert Baden-Powell, who was the founder of the Scout Movement, was writing a book on the subject. He was having trouble finding somewhere to carry out his project, and ended up being given permission to work at the mill.

Once I had finished looking around the first floor, there were a set of very steep, narrow stairs leading up to the loft. There was not much up there, but what I did find was particularly interesting.

While today it would be called vandalism, back then it was common practice for workmen to carve their name into the windmill as a kind of a signature of their handy work.
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Why? Learn something
When: 30th March - 27th October each year, Sat: 2pm-5pm, Sun: 11am-5pm
Where: Wimbledon Common
Cost: 2 adult, 1 child & concessions, 5 family
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