History

One of the oldest windmills in Britain

What evidence, if any, is there to say that this date is when the mill was © Lauran Wise

What evidence, if any, is there to say that this date is when the mill was

The date of 1627 is the oldest of several found inscribed in the woodwork of the mill building. However, as structures such as this would have undergone frequent repairs it is generally thought that the mill was built earlier than this and that this inscription may refer to the date of a refurbishment. Whether or not the assertion that the mill is older than 1627 is true this date still makes the Pitstone Windmill several years older than the similar ‘post mill’ at Bourn in Cambridgeshire.

A lucrative asset

Pitstone Windmill is a fantastic example of living history

Pitstone Windmill is a fantastic example of living history

Pitstone Windmill was used from its earliest days to mill grain, grown in the nearby villages, into flour. Village mills like this one were once an essential service within a community so it is no surprise that the mill has a history of providing a lucrative income for its owners and tenants. Although the industrial revolution began to undermine the importance of a local mill through the advent of mass production, investment in the Pitstone Windmill continued. During the 19th century much of the machinery was replaced by the Canal Company, who owned the mill until 1842, or by Francis Beesley, who sold it for £400 in 1874 to the third Earl Brownlow, owner of the nearby Ashridge Estate. Lord Brownlow subsequently let it to a local farmer, Hawkins of Pitstone Green Farm, who ran a successful business from it and oversaw further repairs in 1895.
 

Nearly lost

  • In 1902 a fierce gale caused extensive damage. The sails were not turned in time and blew forward. This caused the tail bearing to fly through the roof and the sails to crash into the round house walls.
  • This event put the Pitstone Windmill beyond economic repair and it was left to decay. A combination of the elements and opportunists caused the loss of many of its constituent parts.
  • In 1924 the Ashridge Estate was broken-up and the mill sold off. Pitstone Windmill was bought by its tenants, the Hawkins family.
  • The Hawkins were unable to save the windmill themselves and in 1937 they donated it, and access to it, to the National Trust.
  • We endeavoured to stabilise the windmill but this initially came at the expense of its character.

Pitstone Windmill saved

Damaged portion of tail post at Pitstone Windmill  © NT Lauran Wise

Damaged portion of tail post at Pitstone Windmill

In 1963 the Pitstone Windmill Restoration Committee was founded to raise the funds and man power to repair the windmill. This work reinforced existing materials and used old photographs and local memories to repair and replace the interior and exterior. By 1970 the Pitstone Windmill was again able to grind corn. Although possible today, the sails are not active as they cause extreme shaking. We now carry out maintenance work with the help of specialists on an annual basis. Most recently the paintwork was improved and a number of minor tasks were undertaken in November 2012.

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