There may have been windmills on the Commons since before the 17th century but the current mill was constructed in 1817 by Charles March, a local carpenter, having been given permission to build the Windmill "upon this condition, that he shall erect, and keep up, a public Corn Mill , for the advantage and convenience of the neighbourhood"
The Windmill was constructed as a hollow post mill, which is very unusual for this country, although quite common in Holland. The name "hollow post" derives from the fact that the shaft driving the machinery passes through the hollowed out core of the main supporting post. It is not known why Charles March decided to build in the way, but as the Windmill bears a striking resemblance to one of the very few other hollow post mills which was, at that time, still standing in Southark. It is possible he simply copied this building out of ignorance of normal windmill practice.
It is not known if Charles March actually worked the mill himself, but there are records of two millers at the Wimbledon Windmill. The first was Thomas Hunt Dann in and around the 1840s. The second was Mr A Halloway who was noted as being the miller in 1855. By the 1860s, the mill was being worked by John Marsh of Kingston. The millers of Wimbledon Common combined their work as miller with that of the office of Constable. In the 17th & 18th centuries, Wimbledon Commons and Putney Heath were popular places for duels. Although duelling was illegal, it continued into the 19th century and miller Dann was appointed to keep watch from the vantage point of the mill for duellists as well as common thieves and robbers.
Marsh worked until around 1864 when, in hisattempt to reduce the opposition to have part of Wimbledon Common enclosed off as a park, Earl Spencer, the Lord of the Manor of Wimbledon, purchased the Windmill from the Marsh family who had been working it since the 1860s. As they did not want the mill to be in competition with their own mills, the stones and machinery were removed and thus the Windmill came to the end its working life and was converted into cottages.
With the passing of the Wimbledon and Putney Commons Act in 1871, the Windmill came into the hands of the Conservators. The building they inherited was in very poor condition and by 1890 it was in danger of collapse. A public appeal was launched and in 1893 major repairs were carried out. The roof of the roundhouse was completely rebuilt and the hollow post and its supporting beams were removed. Further repairs were carried out in 1952 and in 1967 but it wasn't until 1974 when the cottages in the roundhouse were vacated that the true extent of the rot within the timbers was discovered and extensive repairs were now necessary and an appeal was launched to raised £20,000.
The last section deals with flour grinding. The pestle and mortar on the floor and the hand quern on the table can be used by children. The hand quern should be turned at a steady speed - turning it fast will polish the surfaces and it will not grind the grain. The hand quern, invented about 500 BC., is a very important and ingenious device. It represents the first form of continuous grinding (essential for mechanization) and from it all later millstones were developed. The key to the invention is the iron bridge or "rhynd" across the central opening which allows the upper stone to balance on a pivot and turn freely. Without a gap of about one quarter of a millimetre between the stones they would not turn. The large millstones in a timber casing are typical of all those to be found in windmills or watermills. (A pair of millstones can be seen outside the mill showing that they are made from a number of stones bound together and that there is a pattern of grooves on each surface to grind the corn). The millstones in the mill would have been turned by gear wheels under the floor which would have been turned by a long iron shaft running through the centre of the mill from top to bottom. The shaft would have been driven by a large gear wheel connected to the sails at the top of the mill. The iron brake-wheel, which has sockets for wooden teeth, can be seen by looking, through a trap door in the ceiling, up to the top of the mill. Also in this section are a machine for sifting flour, bins for measuring grain and scales for weighing it in pounds and hundredweights (1cwt = 50Kg).
An extensive collection of woodworking tools donated by Mr Bert Follen is also housed in the Windmill. This provides a useful illustration of the many tools used in the traditional craft of carpentry, each one for a different purpose - cutting, drilling, measuring, shaping, jointing and smoothing.
The tower may be opened to look up inside but access to the tower is not permitted. Children may use the hand quern and pestle and mortar.
The Windmill Museum is open on Saturdays from April to October from 2 - 5 pm and on Sundays and public holidays from 11am to 5pm. Adults £2, Children & Concessions £1, Families £5 (2 Adults and up to four Children). School parties are able to visit the museum at other times by arrangement (Contact: 020 8947 2825).
For more information on the Windmill go to the Wimbledon Windmill Museum website