History of Pitstone Windmill
Dating back to at least the 17th century, Pitstone Windmill has a rich past that takes you back to its former life as a working mill in the Chiltern countryside. Although the exact date or decade of its construction remains unknown, it is still acknowledged to be one of the oldest post mills in Britain.
When the Pitstone story began
The date of 1627 is the oldest of several dates found inscribed in the woodwork inside the mill building. However, as structures like this would have undergone frequent repairs it is thought that the mill was built earlier than this and that this inscription may refer to the date of a refurbishment.
Whether or not this assertion is true, the date of 1627 still makes Pitstone Windmill several years older than the similar post mill at Bourn in Cambridgeshire.
A lucrative asset
The windmill was used from its earliest days to mill grain grown around the nearby villages into flour. Village mills like this one were once an essential resource 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.
In 1902 a fierce gale caused extensive damage. The sails were not turned in time and blew forward, causing the tail bearing to fly through the roof and the sails to crash into the roundhouse walls.
This put the windmill beyond economic repair and it was left to decay. In 1924 the Ashridge Estate was broken up and the mill was sold off. It was bought by its tenants, the Hawkins family.
The Hawkins were unable to save the windmill though and in 1937 they donated it, and access to it, to the National Trust.
Pitstone Mill saved
After efforts to stabilise the mill proved difficult, in 1963 the Pitstone Windmill Restoration Committee was founded to raise the funds and manpower to fully repair the structure.
This work reinforced existing materials and used old photographs and local memories to repair and replace the interior and exterior. By 1970 the mill was able again to grind corn.
The National Trust now carries out maintenance work on an annual basis with the help of specialists, although the sails are sadly no longer active as they cause extreme shaking and vibration.
Join the volunteering team at Pitstone Windmill and help us to tell the story of the oldest post mill in the country. Find out what’s involved and how to apply to join the team.