It is believed that this Smock Mill was erected on Beacon Hill in 1802 as the carved initials TB, 1802, standing for Thomas Beard, the owner, are to be seen on one of the original internal timbers. Further evidence of the date comes from the Sussex Weekly Advertiser of the 7th June 1802, which states that a human skeleton was discovered by workmen digging for the foundations of the windmill.
The Mill ground the corn of the village and supplied flour to the local bakers until it ceased to function in 1881. After this time it became progressively dilapidated and the village was in danger of losing their mill.
In 1923 the Marquess of Abergavenny, Lord of the Manor, granted a 99 year lease of the Mill and a small piece of land around it, to a group of important village people as Trustees for the village. The Trustees undertook “‘not to alter or detract from the picturesque appearance of the Mill and to preserve the same as an object of interest to the inhabitants and visitors to Rottingdean and district”.
When Rottingdean was absorbed into Brighton Borough in 1928, the Corporation acquired all the downland to the west side of the village from the Abergavenny estate, including the lease of the Windmill. The lease and trusteeship expire in 2021 at which time responsibility for the Mill will revert to Brighton and Hove City Council.
In 1929 the Mill was re-tarred and repairs carried out. In 1935 a fairy godfather appeared in the person of Mr. Yapp, for whom repairing windmills was a hobby. He made the Mill waterproof and safe for a considerable period. It was strengthened sufficiently to take a new set of sweeps, which he fitted.
When the Rottingdean Preservation Society was formed as a charitable trust in 1960, the Trusteeship for the Mill was vested in members of the Society. Since that time the Society has had the doubtful benefit of the outstanding full repairing lease.
During the 1960s surveys were carried out and repairs undertaken. In 1969, structural engineers reported that the Mill had a “limited life and could collapse tomorrow or last another 15 years”! They proposed a steel framework to be put inside the Mill to stop it twisting and eventually collapsing. This work was undertaken at a cost of £3,500 but as a result the Mill can never be restored to full working order. In the 1970’s repairs and renovation continued on a regular basis with the extension of the steel frame and the rebuilding of two of the sweeps.
In the 1980’s it was revealed that the weight at the top of the Mill was becoming too much for the deteriorating timbers on the south west side. Virtually the whole of the Mill was supported by the internal steelwork from that time on. Further repairs on the Mill comprised of new cant posts, three new internal frames and new feather boarding on the sides and cap.
At the beginning of the Millennium it was evident that the strong south westerly winds had taken their toll on the sweeps and stocks and they were in need of replacement. The Rottingdean Preservation Society made a successful bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund and received a grant for £41,800 towards the work on this Grade 2 listed landmark.
In acknowledgement of the Heritage Lottery Fund support the Windmill is open to the public on special days.
For more information about the windmill, please call the Grange on 01273 301004