I was quite surprised to learn last year that there are windmills in London. There is one in the southwest at Wimbledon, one at Brixton in south London, at Upminster in east London and one at Shirley. They are reminders that London once was an area for agriculture and food production. So it is not just Amsterdam that has windmills!
I have plans to visit all these windmills although the Upminster one is currently closed for renovation. The first windmill I visited was at Shirley. Shirley is a town near Croydon, it used to be in Surrey but now comes under Greater London.
The friends of Shirley windmill hold open days a few times a year and I finally managed to go to one.
The approach is now through a modern housing area
It is the only surviving windmill in the Croydon area but is not the original. The original mill was built in 1808 and was a timber post mill but was destroyed by fire in 1854. A new tower mill was built and was used until 1890 when it was declared nonviable and was abandoned. It may well have been the last large windmill ever built in Surrey.
Models of a post mill and a tower mill -
Over the years the mill deteriorated, having been struck by lightning in 1899 and again in 1906. The first attempt at restoration was in 1927. In the 1950s the mill was threatened with demolition when the John Ruskin School was built, but it was protected. In 1996 the London Borough of Croydon (who now own the mill) received a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (£218,000) and this money helped to restore the mill to near-working order. The mill was then opened to the public.
The sails today are shorter than they would have been on the working mill and also they haven't been filled in, when the mill was working they would have looked like those on the model above, which can be opened or closed according to the wind.
The cap or top of the mill looks like a boat -
Shirley mill is five storeys tall. The tour starts at the top floor, where there are nice views towards Crystal Palace and central London -
The top floor is the dust floor, named from the dust in the air. This is the engine house of the mill as this is where the wind provides the power to drive the machinery. The shaft that is turned by the sails moves the gears. See more here.
Below is the bin floor, where the sacks of grain were stored. Then the stone floor, where the millstones are located which were used to grind the grain. These have been restored. They are made from fresh water quartz. Nowadays millstones are generally made from steel, due to the fact that bits of stone get into the flour. The stone masons tools can be seen, the stones had to be constantly balanced.
Then the meal floor. The ground grain is sent down and is put into sacks and then loaded onto wagons. There are a few exhibits at the ground level and throughout the mill are meccano models which adds a nice touch. There is also a small information centre in a separate building.
See more on Shirley windmill on the official site.
I'm now curious to see the other windmills in London.