The history of Bembridge Windmill
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. Discover how its story progressed during the following centuries, from serving as an artistic inspiration for JMW Turner to being used as a shelter and lookout during the World Wars.
How old is the windmill?
Much of the machinery remaining in the mill is typical of the early 1700s. The earliest positive date was found during restoration work when the steps between the first and second floor were replaced. The 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 of which could be 1701, but is not clear enough to give positive dating.
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, Irish artist George 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.
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 else worked at the mill?
1820 is the next 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.
There was also a Victorian lady named Frances Tull who took charge of Bembridge Windmill after her husband died. Despite it being a hazardous and male-dominated operation, she decided to take over the mill and ran it with her journeyman and nephew.
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 at the mill.
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 lost 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 remains an important part of the island’s heritage. In 2021 new ‘sweeps’ were installed on the windmill.
Find out how new sails have been restored to the Grade I listed Bembridge Windmill on the Isle of Wight, thanks to local fundraising support and a Culture Recovery Fund grant.
Discover the highlights of Bembridge Windmill, the last surviving windmill on the Isle of Wight. Climb to the top, play in the Mud Bakery or make friends with a tree in the grounds.
Learn about people from the past, discover remarkable works of art and brush up on your knowledge of architecture and gardens.