The history of Bembridge Windmill

Bembridge Windmill in the 1890s

Bembridge Windmill was built in the early 1700s when Bembridge was almost an island in its own right, cut off from the rest of the Isle of Wight.

Inspiration for an artist

When the artist JMW Turner visited in 1795, he began a watercolour of the windmill showing the sea lapping at the bottom of the hill on which the mill stands. A copy of this unfinished painting can be seen in the windmill kiosk.
 
As well as Turner, Brannon published an engraving of Brading Haven in 1840 taken from a similar position to Turner, and the windmill has featured as a model ever since for countless artists. The harbour was reclaimed between 1894-97, but the view otherwise remains much the same.
 
Date carved into timber

How old is the windmill?

Much of the machinery remaining in the mill is typical of early 1700s. The earliest positive date was found during restoration work when the steps between the first and second floor were replaced. Those steps had previously been reversed so that the runner against the wall had once been the outer runner, along which the inscription “E BEKER 1746 A C” had been carved. Other inscriptions have been found, one which could be 1701, but is not clear enough to give positive dating.

A vital part of the community

For two centuries the windmill provided a service for the local community and work for generations of millers. Little is known about the millers although in January 1811 the Hampshire Chronicle reported that 'Mr Cook, miller of Bembridge [was] found frozen to death by his own mill'.
 
Visit the windmill early in the year and you may still find the wind whistling through the mill’s windows but it's hard to think that Mr Cook died solely from the cold.
 

Who worked at the mill?

1820 is the earliest date we have for a named miller, when one James Jacobs married Hannah Coles on 16 June at Godshill Church and according to the register “went to work at Bembridge mill”. Benjemen Jolliffe and James Hunt are two subsequent millers we know the names of.

Discover how the windmill works
People looking at the machinery inside Bembridge Windmill on the Isle of Wight
Discover how the windmill works
 

Grinding to a halt

In the late 1800s Bembridge’s isolation ended when Brading Haven was drained. The arrival of the railway bringing cheap flour meant that from 1897 onwards only cattle feed was produced. Poignantly the mill last operated in 1913. By the following harvest the men had gone off to fight in the Great War and the mill never reopened.
 

During the First World War, the windmill was used as a shelter by the Volunteer Reserve on night duty and as a store and workshop by its owner. During the Second World War it served as a lookout for the army and headquarters for the local home guard, but it lost one half of its sweeps and nearly became derelict.

 
Repairs were made in the 1930s, and then in the late 1950s local people paid for further restoration work before giving the mill to the National Trust in 1961.
 
As the only surviving windmill on the island, Bembridge Windmill is an important part of the island’s heritage.