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Bursledon Windmill restored to former glory

PUBLISHED: 11:37 21 April 2015

Bursledon Windmill

Bursledon Windmill

Archant

It’s been a local landmark for 200 years and now Bursledon’s famous windmill has been restored to its former glory. Viv Micklefield speaks to some of those passionate about saving this county treasure

Bursledon Windmill interior grain hopperBursledon Windmill interior grain hopper

When it comes to windmills, there’s something romantic about the glimpse of sails silhouetted against a cloudless sky, or the notion of an artisan miller grinding flour for local villagers. If these monuments to a bygone era fall into disrepair, often there’s no turning back. However, as Hampshire’s only working windmill proves, once the community gets behind something then the future can look very bright and breezy indeed.

One of the older settlements in the borough of Eastleigh, records suggest that Bursledon’s first windmill was built by William Fry in 1766 following a direct request by the Bishop of Winchester. This so-called post mill provided a service to villagers who needed their grain to be milled. By 1814 however the building’s structure was crumbling, which might have signaled the site’s permanent demise had it not been for an extraordinary local woman called Phoebe Langtry. The wife of Bursledon’s former miller, Phoebe took the highly unusual step of asking the Bishop for additional land to enable her to commission the building of the replacement five-story brick tower mill. A project that saw papers drawn-up stating this was, ‘independent of any husband’ and which led to her son William becoming the new miller.

Whilst Phoebe showed prudence in recycling many of the original mill’s features, such as the distinctive boat-shaped cap on the top, this proved to be its undoing when other mills installed Victorian designed cast-iron machinery. As a result, Bursledon’s full-time revival lasted less than 70 years.

Following a series of temporary repairs, a comprehensive restoration programme began in the late 20th century led by the current owners, Hampshire Buildings Preservation Trust. And having successfully preserved the original wooden workings, so unique amongst British windmills, the building became Grade 2* listed in 1983. But despite milling being reintroduced and an historic Hampshire granary and barn added to create a working museum within this conservation area, rotting to the main oak wind shaft forced the millstones to cease grinding once more in 2012.

Today, thanks to a £94,000 Heritage Lottery Fund grant, plus almost £50,000 from the county, borough and parish council, Bursledon’s fortunes have been reversed. After checking that no bats were nesting in the cap, and with the assistance of an expert millwright, late 2014 saw the construction and installation of a new wooden shaft and replacement sails. Now, with its outside walls freshly painted, the windmill’s ground floor where the miller ‘drives’ the machinery and the stone floor on the second story where the flour gets produced is included on a guided tour. And, amongst the other attractions, you can get hands-on too, grinding flour by hand using ancient quern stones.

In these magical surroundings Bursledon Windmill has already hosted its first wedding. One wonders what the indomitable Phoebe Langtry would make of all this.

Erica Munro - Curator

An interest in local and industrial history has helped Erica who is one of the small team on 24-hour call-out in case of extreme weather, to learn the skills needed to run a windmill. As she explains: “Milling is going to be the next big step. Back in the 18th century three sets of millstones would have run here. To start with we shall use two, and these will produce single grade wholemeal flour that we shall start selling here this summer. In the future, we may also mill spelt.” Before that can happen, the machinery needs a big clean-through, all the while keeping a watchful eye on changing wind conditions that could require the sails to be maneuvered Having turned-out on New Year’s Eve, Erica says: “This windmill has become a part of our lives.”

Gary Freeman - Miller

“It was a hobby that became my job,” says Gary who learnt his craft from Bursledon’s previous miller. Having been responsible for producing flour here up until three years ago he can’t wait to get milling again - although experience has taught him that it’s a full-on job that involves constantly checking both the quality of the flour and the wind speed, which needs to be at least 18mph in order to turn the gigantic wooden cogs. Too strong and Gary will be reefing the sails to slow their speed; although, as he observes, whether milling happens is down to nature - something not appreciated by those visitors who ask: ‘Are you going to turn the sails on? ’ Likening the restoration to getting an old car going again Gary observes: “Every mill is unique you’ll never find another like this one.”

Claire Atherton - Visitor Services Assistant

Having run events onsite for the past 18 months Claire, who’s from nearby Sarisbury Green, has witnessed the growing excitement amongst visitors keen to see the restoration completed. “The windmill’s been given a new lease of life,” she says. “Making the link between the producer and food is important and we feel really lucky to be able to work the mill and, at the same time, show the public what’s happening.” Currently busy helping to train-up the band of volunteers who will take-on some of the supporting tasks around the site, Claire is just as enthusiastic about the charm of the pond sitting alongside the mill, which provides a haven for wildlife.

“It’s absolutely beautiful; we get lots of newts and dragonflies here and shall be organising pond dipping events soon.”

Diane Andrewes - Parish Councillor

As someone involved in raising a local petition when the funding to secure the windmill’s prospects looked at risk, Diane knows the enormous affection in which Bursledon residents like her hold this landmark building. “Eighty-five per cent of people selected the windmill as one of the important heritage features they would like to see protected and preserved,” she quotes, from feedback given in a survey carried out as part of the village’s Parish Plan. Following the restoration and with the Hampshire Cultural Trust behind the day-to-day running of the windmill since November, there’s a positive energy about the place. “They’re making the windmill into an attraction for the whole community to enjoy, I’m optimistic about its future,” says Diane, who is a member of the windmill’s management committee along with representatives from Eastleigh Borough Council and Hampshire County Council.

Family fun at Bursledon Windmill

Visitors of all ages will be kept busy during the coming months with nature and craft workshops, an 1851 cooking day, the Bursledon Bake-Off, and an August Harvest Fair. Visit www3.hants.gov.uk/windmill for dates and details about all of these events.

National Mills Weekend Saturday 9 & Sunday 10 May

This annual festival of our milling heritage provides a fantastic opportunity to visit some of the county’s best preserved mills. Those throwing open their doors include:

• Bursledon Windmill

• Crux Easton Wind Engine

• Bembridge Windmill, Isle of Wight

• Longbridge Watermill, Sherfield-on-Loddon

• Whitchurch Silk Mill

• Winchester City Mill

• Calbourne Watermill, Isle of Wight

For the latest updates to this list and individual opening times, visit www.nationalmillsweekend.co.uk

***

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