114. Bembridge Windmill – 3/6/2017

For the second of the Isle of Wight visits, we headed off to Bembridge, which is at the complete opposite end of the island from The Needles. Bembridge is home to a windmill and a fort, both of which are NT-owned, although only the former is on my list.

Now I must admit that I am already slightly over-milled at this stage in my challenge as, despite a generally varied portfolio, the National Trust does seem to have a surfeit of mills, both individually and as parts of larger estates. I have already visited a few and am aware that there are a fair number still awaiting me up the road, so the enthusiasm for milling is waning a little. However, in Bembridge’s favour, it is a windmill rather than a watermill and I have only come across one of those before: Stembridge Tower Mill in Somerset, which wasn’t actually on the list and a place I only photographed in passing.

Stembridge’s claim to fame is that it is the last thatched windmill in England and Bembridge has a couple of claims of its own: Claim to Fame 1 – it is the only surviving windmill on the Isle of Wight; and Claim to Fame 2 – it is the subject of a sketch by JMW Turner (albeit an unfinished sketch).

The precise date of the construction of the windmill is not known but it was certainly built early in the 18th century and stopped work for the final time in 1913. It later served as a lookout post and HQ for the Home Guard in WWII but was given to the Trust as a nearly derelict building in 1958. There is little detail about the restoration in the guidebook but I imagine it was a fairly extensive project to get it back to a state suitable for visitors.

Inside the mill, you can climb three steep ladder staircases to the very top and learn about the milling process from top to bottom. I admit that I am not particularly enthralled by the mechanics of milling, but even I was impressed by the Great Brake Wheel on the top floor, which joins the power of the turning sails to the horizontal Wallower via large cogs. I was also surprised to learn that the central Upright Shaft is actually made from a single oak tree trunk, which runs through three floors of the mill. On the bottom floor, you can also learn about how to translate the Dutch language of windmills, with stationary sail positions supposedly indicating certain things, such as a celebration or a death in the family, or even just that the miller has ‘gone to lunch’.

There is a good little guidebook available to outline the milling process and this also gives a timeline of Bembridge’s millers between 1746 and 1913, including a James Hunt but sadly no Windy Miller (only readers of a certain age will remember him!). There was also one George Cook who was found frozen to death at the mill in January 1811. It would be nice to think that someone was aware of the Dutch traditions at that time and placed the sails into the mourning position to mark his passing.

Highlights: Change from a watermill!

Refreshments: None

Purchase(s): Guidebook

Companion(s): The Dusty Jackets

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