Rottingdean Windmill

A Brief History

This smock windmill was erected here on Beacon Hill in 1802 by Thomas Beard, and the carved initials, TB 1802, can be seen on one of the internal timbers. A curious incident was reported in the Sussex Weekly Advertiser of 7th June 1802; on digging the foundations, workmen uncovered the remains of an ancient warrior and sword. When they returned after a break, both items had gone and were never seen again!

Rottingdean Windmill ground corn for the village, and supplied flour to the local bakers. Around 1877 George Nicholls was miller and baker, and his little son Harry had the job of delivering hot rolls around the village before school. They lived in the High Street and George was the last miller when the Mill ceased to function in 1881.

Once it stopped working, the mill became increasingly dilapidated; it was damaged by fire, lost its sweeps and fantail, and gaping holes appeared in its wooden sides. By 1922, when the village realised they were likely to lose their mill altogether a Parish Meeting was called, and raised £400 for repairs, with one of their distinguished supporters being Hilaire Belloc, the writer. The repairs resulted in much of the internal machinery being removed, and the doors were bricked up.

The following year, the Marquess of Abergavenny, Lord of the Manor, granted a 99-year lease of the mill, and the Trustees agreed ‘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 the lease of the windmill from the Abergavenny estate. In 1929 the Mill was re-tarred and basic repairs carried out. In 1935 Fred Neve, the Heathfield millwright made the Mill weatherproof and safe for many years, the work being funded by Mr Yapp of Haywards Heath. It was strengthened sufficiently to take a new set of sweeps.

This important work was captured on film in a newsreel from 1935: click here to view.

When the Rottingdean Preservation Society was formed in 1960, the Trusteeship of the mill was vested in the members of the Society, together with a full repairing lease. Between 1961 and 1965, further repairs were carried out, including timber treatment for beetle, and the base was re-tarred. Soon after, gales damaged the sweeps, the mill was struck by lightning, and in 1969, a steel framework was erected inside the mill, to stop it twisting and collapsing. The work, carried out by Ernest Hole and Son, cost £3,500. Fortunately the Society received a substantial bequest from Mr R A Caton at about that time to make this and future work possible.

In the 1980s, on the advice of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, the sweeps were removed, and the weight of the upper structure transferred onto the steel frame. From that time on virtually the whole of the mill was supported by the internal steelwork. Remarkably, the mill then withstood the 1987 hurricane without significant damage. Subsequent work required a considerable amount of oak, including the donation of an English oak tree by Lord March of Goodwood.

As part of a Millennium Project, the Preservation Society replaced the wooden timbers that form the foundation for the cant posts. Further work to weatherproof the cap, rebuild and replace internal posts, frames and feather-boarding was also carried out, the total cost to the Society being over £57,000. In 2003, the sweeps and stocks needed replacement, and this was supported by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

And work continues on this Grade 2 listed landmark here on Beacon Hill! The prevailing south-westerly winds on this exposed part of the South Downs means that the Mill needs constant attention and maintenance, and this continues to be carried out by the Rottingdean Preservation Society. So, well over 100 years since it last ground corn for the village, this mill still remains a landmark for all to see and enjoy.

The Windmill is open to the public on National Mills Days and regularly throughout the summer

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© 2020 Rottingdean Preservation Society