Tilting At The Brixton Windmill

On a quiet side street just off Brixton Hill is a rare surviving example of London’s bucolic past – the Brixton Windmill.

brixton windmill london

This remarkable structure was built in 1816 by Muggeridge and Sons at a time when Brixton was an idyllic rural spot – in fact, this was one of a dozen windmills that you would have found within what are now the boundaries of the modern London Borough of Lambeth.  It’s a flour mill too – for just over a hundred years it milled wheat that would have gone into the local loaves. The windmill is of a Kentish ‘tower’ style with a rotating cap at the summit which supports the sails, and the sails themselves are of a typical arrangement – two ‘common’ sails which have canvas sheets laid over their frames (much like the sails on a ship) and two ‘patent’ sails which have slatted surfaces that can be adjusted to catch the wind. I should just note here that south of the Thames windmill sails are referred to as ‘sweeps’, for reasons lost to history…

brixton windmill london

brixton windmill london

The Brixton Windmill was actually in operation up until the 1930s because for the last twenty years of its life as a working mill it housed a steam (then gas) operated provender mill on one of its lower floors. The main mechanisms had fallen out of use in the early twentieth century simply because there was no longer enough wind to catch the sails – the increasing urbanisation of the area (including the construction of Brixton Prison a few streets away) spelt the death knell for all of the local windmills. The fact that the Brixton Windmill  survived as a working mill into the inter-war period probably saved it from the fate that befell its neighbours, and its future was finally secured in 2003 when the Friends Of Windmill Gardens organisation was formed to save it. They started the long fundraising process which would culminate in its complete restoration by April 2011.

The Brixton Windmill is open to the public every weekend, but you will have to book your visit in advance if you want to be able to climb up inside and see all the cogs, wheels, pulleys and the grinding stones themselves. It’s also playing host to an audio art installation by Rosanna Greaves at the moment, ‘The Rotation Of The Earth Drags The Atmosphere Around With It: A Site Specific Audio Artwork For Brixton Windmill In Four Parts’ – on different floors of the windmill you will hear the sounds of a working mill as well as snatches of conversation between the miller and his assistants. Do go along and visit Brixton Windmill if you get the chance – it’s a lovely fragment of history from a time when outer London was just a series of rolling hills and small hamlets…

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About The Londoneer

Pete Stean is a keen blogger, amateur photographer, singer and ham radio enthusiast in his spare time...