Posted on

Watermills and Windmills of Middlesex (Second Edition)

Windmill gazetteer A-C


(1) C17 mill, Acton Park 208803

(2) C18 mill, Twyford Avenue 195805

(3) Smock mill at or near site of (1) 208803

(4) Possible mill, Mill Hill Park 198797

The first reference to a windmill at Acton occurs in 1622, when a document mentions the waste in front of the mill(1). It stood at the eastern end of Church Field, on land which is now part of Acton Park(2). No other information concerning it has come to light. Later, there was a mill on or near the site of the present Elms public house in Twyford Avenue. This is shown on a map of Acton dated 1700, which is preserved at Gunnersbury Park Museum, and on Seller’s map of Middlesex in 1742. The mill was sold in 1641(3) and leased by Thomas Child to William Crane in 1655(4). In 1661 William Tatton, an apothecary, took out a 99-year mortgage on it for £137.16.0(5). It is shown on Ogilby’s c1677 Map of Middlesex. Francis Child leased it to John Child in 1702(6), and it was conveyed by William Emblin to Charles Morren and his wife Elizabeth in 1723(7). It was probably the windmill which along with other properties in Ealing and Acton was mentioned in a legal document of 1706 to do with transfer of land, as one of the parties involved was a John Emblin(8).

 Sometime in the eighteenth or early nineteenth century a smock mill was built on or near the site of the mill standing in 1622. In 1801 it was held along with the mill house and part of the surrounding land by Robert Nunn. Isaac Adams was both owner and miller in 1823-4. By 1841 it was the property of Ann Adams who as well as the mill and house had a smallholding of about ten acres which included an orchard. She employed Joseph Franklin as miller. Ten years later it was being operated by William Harding(9), who lived in the mill house with his wife and two young daughters. Latterly the mill was leased from a wealthy local family named Billington.

 The mill is shown on the Enclosure Commissioners’ Map of 1859, but appears to have gone by 1865 for it is absent from the Ordnance Survey map published in that year. Any surviving traces were probably obliterated around 1877 when the Goldsmith’s Company, who had by then acquired the land, began to build upon it.

 The mill would have survived long enough to be a subject for the camera, if by a fairly small margin, but so far no photograph has materialised. However it is featured in several watercolour paintings, of which the best is by John Varley and dated 1835. From this we see that it stood on a shallow brick base without a stage and had a hemispherical cap, winded by a lofty fantail, and four common sails. A comparison between this view and the painting by J Gudet is interesting as it shows how two artists can differ in their representation of the same mill – not as markedly in this case as in certain others – and allows us to contrast a reliable illustration with an unreliable one. Gudet makes the sides of the smock tower more or less vertical, whereas most smock mills known to have existed in this country had tapered sides, and the sails project much further forward of the mill than would have been the case in reality.

The name Mill Hill Park, known in 1810 as Windmill Hill(10), suggests the existence at some time of a fourth Acton windmill.

(1)   Guildhall MS 10833

(2)   NA, IR 29/21/1

(3)   Per VCH

(4)   LMA Acc.0617/001 (1661)

(5)   Ibid 

(6)   LMA Acc.0617/007

(7)   LMA Acc.0617/019

(8)   LMA Acc.0617/013

(9)   NA, HO107/1699

(10) Guildhall Library, Pr V/ACT (Plan of Featherstonehaugh Estate)

(27) Acton smock mill, by J Gudet (Reproduced by permission of Ealing Local History Centre)


Early mill

A mill is recorded here in 1277 and on a number of occasions subsequently. It appears to have gone out of use after 1309, in which year it was described as “broken” and lacking a millstone(1).

(1) Document in custody of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster, Chest D no. 26655-97


Standing 1696-1748  324808 (approx.)

John Visscher’s Panorama of 1616 shows a windmill close to the river at Queenhithe, south of Old St Paul’s Cathedral. A post mill body rests on a pyramidal tower which in turn stands on the roof of a large square building. The overall appearance of the windmill proper recalls a Dutch polder mill or “wipmolen”, which is used for drainage, and strongly suggests the hand of a millwright from the Netherlands – highlighting the cosmopolitan, then as now, nature of London. The weatherboarding of the buck is laid vertically, the lower breast is extended into a bargeboard and the tailpole rests near its outer end between two vertical struts. What is probably a brake lever, with rope, projects through the tail near the top. Farries and Mason believed the mill to have been a windpump of hollow-post type and state that it formed part of the Broken Wharf Waterworks, which along with an installation at London Bridge supplied much of the City. They place it a few yards above Queenhithe Upper Stairs and a little south of the church of St Mary Somerset(1). The supporting structure was probably used for storing the water and indeed is described both in 1616 and on a print of 1666 as a “Waterhouse”. Hollar’s panorama of 1647 shows it without the mill, so at some stage the latter must have been removed or destroyed by the elements. The 1666 illustration shows the Waterhouse enveloped in the flames of the Great Fire.(2) The windmill had been rebuilt, perhaps in a different form, by 1696 when Lea and Morden show a post mill-type superstructure on the roof of the Waterhouse, which has a gallery around it(3). Kipp in 1720 and 1748(4) has clearly amalgamated the Waterhouse with the mill, so that the latter appears to be square in section, with a gallery around the eaves of the high, curved, flat-topped roof, while Sutton Nicholls in 1724(5) does something similar. As an extreme case of different artists portraying the same mill in different ways, sometimes without much regard for accuracy, another 1724 view, by Hoffner, depicts the mill in a very odd manner as four sails on a tall mast standing on the river bank(6). The 1696 and 1710(7) views are probably the most reliable. The mill is also shown by John Bowles in 1732(8).  

(1) Windmills of Surrey and London, p235-6

(2) “A View of London and Southwark looking to the east from the Temple and Christchurch”, CC Folio 2 Sheet 24

(3) “A Long View of London and Westminster taken from Southwark”, by Philip Lea and Robert Morden, British Museum Crace Collection Folio 2 Sheet 26

(4) Kipp, Crace Collection Folio 3 Sheet 1

(5) Sutton Nicholls, “East Front of London Bridge, looking towards Westminster”, Crace Collection Folio 2 Sheet 23; “A View of London and Southwark looking to the east from the Temple and Christchurch”, CC Folio 2 Sheet 24 

(46 Crace Collection, Folio 2 Sheet 27

(7) Van Hove, “A View of London from St James’ Park”, Crace Collection Folio 2 Sheet 18

(8) So far I have not traced the whereabouts of this view.

(28) Windmill at Queenhithe, 1696 (PB)

(29) Queenhithe windmill by Kipp, 1748 (PB)


(1) Old Ford New Town, standing 1844 365835

(2) Near Wrexham Road, standing 1844  375832

Two windmills are shown at Bow on the 1844 Ordnance Survey map.  The first stood in Old Ford New Town, somewhere near the top of the present St Stephens Road and between Roman Road and the Old Ford Road. The second was in the vicinity of Wrexham Road, possibly on the site of the later trolley bus depot.

 Directories list J S Ward (1823-4), Edward Long (1845), William Cooke (1848) and W Bonwick (1851-2) as millers under Bow, but it is not known which of the two mills each worked.

 The following advertisement appeared in the Chelmsford Chronicle of 30th March 1838:

“WINDMILL TO BE SOLD. A powerful post windmill with one pair of very good 5ft French Burr millstones, cast iron windshaft and cross, hung on ditto, for sails, a very good 9ft 6in. brakewheel and brake; 4 good sails, from centre to point 35 ft 8 inches. The whole with roundhouse, post etc. in good working condition and will be sold a bargain. Further particulars apply to Messrs. Hunter and English, millwrights, Bow, Middx.”

 Whether this mill was one of the two mentioned above we cannot say. It may not in fact have stood at Bow, or in Middlesex at all, since a millwrighting firm’s catchment area often transcended county boundaries. It could for example have been an Essex mill, perhaps one of those at Stratford.

 In a contemporary sketch of the demolition of Bow Bridge in 1835 a tower or smock mill with a domed cap, which there is no reason to suppose is not that in Wrexham Road, appears in the background(1).

 In 1802 a firm based in Bow and with premises in Limehouse and Poplar advertised a new brand of windmill sail which they had patented. The description of it as a “patent sail” is thought merely to refer to the fact that a licence had been obtained for it. It does not seem to have caught on, and Mr Baker never became a serious rival to William Cubitt. The notice in the Morning Star newspaper (exact date of edition unknown) reads:

 “To windmillers and others – by the King’s Royal Letters Patent – T C Baker’s New Invented Sails for windmills driving more powerful and steady then those ever before invented, not complicated, are to be prepared to receive a strong wind much sooner than the original sails. The first on this principle are completed and accepted by the proprietors of the mill, given them greater satisfaction, finding the patent sails will drive two pairs of wheat stones, when the original, with the same power of wind, drive but one. Signed by the poprietors, K Houlditch and G Hope, Bow, Middlesex. The patentee recommends them for mills in the Fen Countries, or those who wish to enlarge their trade or manufactory. Further particulars may be known by applying to the patentee, millwright, no.2 St Ann’s Street Limehouse, or no.49 Penny Fields, Poplar. Mills altered with a little experience. Steady men sent to any part of England to execute the above business.”(2)

(1) LMA, Maps and Prints Section

(2) B Reynolds, “Windmill Hoppers” website 14th October 2013


(1)  Early mill, near Boston Manor Road; gone during 18th century  172786 (approx.)

(2)  Smock mill, Old Brentford; probably gone during first half of 19th century  186779

In 1696 Edward Rogers was admitted to land in New Brentford Field, close to Boston Manor Road, near where a windmill used to stand(1). The mill was evidently rebuilt shortly afterwards, for there are references to one as in existence in 1698 and 1703(2). The mill gave its name to Windmill Road in what is now Little Ealing. Exactly when it disappeared is not known, but a late eighteenth century legal document concerning a boundary dispute between copyhold and freehold land, which it was attempted to settle by establishing the site where the by then vanished mill had stood and using it as a reference point, states that the mill had been gone for so long that no satisfactory evidence of its location could be had(3). Martin Mason claimed in the 1950s that it survived into the late nineteenth century and was featured on a playing card in the “Happy Families” series, popular at that time; however there is no other evidence that a windmill stood here at such a late date and I have not been able to trace the card. Mr Mason adds that the picture seems to place the mill just below the gate of the open space known as the Ride(4). The site of the original mill may have been Windmill Field, which name had been given to a corner of New Brentford Field by 1670(5).

 By the late eighteenth century Brentford had become an important centre for flour milling; its mills were mostly water-driven, the Thames and Brent providing them with an abundant source of power, but at some date a windmill was built on the south side of the road running beside the Thames, on approximately the spot later occupied by a gasworks. It first appears on a plan of Ealing parish drawn up in 1777(5). The best surviving illustration of the mill, a pencil sketch by S H Grimm dated c1780(6), shows it to have been a large smock of the kind beginning to appear in England at this time, with a stage braced to what we know from the view of 1830 mentioned below to have been a substantial brick base – a feature which distinguishes it markedly from most other Middlesex smock mills of which we know – by diagonal supports. The hemispherical cap is winded by hand and there are four common sails on which the canvas is shown furled, indicating that the mill is at rest. An interesting feature is the squarish structure beneath the stage, from which appear to hang a number of ropes or chains; although its purpose is not clear, it was probably a lucam such as is more usually found on watermills. A note on the sketch indicates the mill was painted white.

 The mill probably did not remain in use long enough to receive modifications such as a fantail and shuttered sails.

 In 1784 the mill was owned by Joseph Shaw, a malt distiller, and tenanted by David Roberts(7). Whether one or both of these gentlemen had any part in the actual running of the mill, or employed a third person as miller we do not know. By 1789 Roberts appeared to be the owner of the property, with Thomas Smith and Thomas Harrington as tenants(8). Later it was operated jointly by Richard Kidd and Richard Bax but the partnership was dissolved in March 1801, after which James Kidd, presumably a relative of Richard, ran the mill on his own(9). It had ceased work by 1830; a view of the Thames from London to Richmond published in that year shows it without sails, noting its use as a basket factory(10). There is no evidence of its survival after this date.

 The mill may have been preceded by another on roughly the same site, which appears to be shown in a mid-eighteenth century oil painting by Joseph Nicholls, and may have been a hollow-post mill. The buck, which has a pent roof whose rear gable sports a short flagstaff, rests on a pyramidal structure that in turn stands on a large brick building; a stage is provided, on vertical supports. At the rear of the buck are what seem to be a ladder and tailpole. The sails are of indeterminate type. From a comparison between the picture and local maps the mill occupied more or less the same position as the later smock, which replaced it probably not long after Nicholls painted the scene (he depicts St George’s Church, which was not built until the 1760s); it looks as if the brick building was retained to serve as the base for the timber tower. Alternatively, it could be artistic licence was operating and Nicholls misrepresented the appearance of an existing structure.

 On the other side of the river in the painting is the smock mill at Kew, Surrey.(11)

 A post mill features in a geographical card game, common in the second half of the nineteenth century, entitled “Counties Of England”. The card on which it appears depicts the industries of Brentford. It has a roundhouse, sails of indeterminate type and a ladder braced to the body of the mill by a rope or chain. It stands on a hill with several industrial buildings, whose chimneys belch forth smoke, in the background. There is no indication that it represents an actual mill, and it was probably included by the artist purely as a symbol of the flour milling element in the local economy.(12)

(1)   LMA Acc.0526/8

(2)   Guildhall MS.10312/106

(3)   Simmons Collection, Science Museum Library

(4)   LMA Acc.891/2/6/806

(5)   British Library Map Library, K.Top.

(6)   British Museum Print Room,

(7)   Sun FIP no. 495670, 14th August 1784

(8)   Sun FIP no. 556349, 14th April 1789

(9)   London Gazette 17th-21st March 1801

(10) Leigh’s Panorama of the Thames 1830, copy in Treaty Centre Library, Hounslow

(11) Brentford and Chiswick Local History Society website

(12) The card is in the Mill Museum, Hatfield, Herts. I am grateful to Ms Sue Kirby, the Museum’s Curator, for supplying the information

(30) The smock mill at Brentford, from a pencil sketch by S H Grimm, late C18 (SB)

(31) Brentford smock mill, 1830 (Hounslow Libraries)


(1)   Tothill Fields, smock mill; possibly same as(4)

(2)   Tothill Fields, post mill

(3)   Smock mill at 287780

(4)   Smock mill at or near 287780

(5)   Chelsea Waterworks, pumping mill

(6+) Various other apparent windmills, probably identifiable with nos. 1-4

More than one windmill is known to have existed in the Chelsea area around the beginning of the nineteenth century. There are a number of pencil sketches which show a smock or tower mill at Tothill Fields, near Willow Walk (as the present Warwick Way was once known). The earliest is by W Capon and dated 1799. Another, by the same artist and executed at about the same time, shows the mill in greater detail. It has a dome cap with a decorative finial, winded by a chain and wheel, and common sails. In 1806 Capon sketched a post mill which apparently stood in the area. A note on the drawing reads “Where the horses are killed”; it states that the view is of Tothill Fields from Marsham Street, looking west.(1)

 In the same year a windmill was standing at a white lead factory, where it was presumably used in connection with the production process, beside the river on the opposite side of the latter to the eastern end of Battersea Fields, and near the Chelsea waterworks. The premises, which were being advertised for sale by private contract, were on a lease ten years of which remained unexpired and whose terms permitted the purchaser to remove the buildings if desired. They included horse mills as well as the windmill. The owners were Messrs Bentley and Company.(2) The site along with the mill is shown according to Farries and Mason on an 1828 panorama of the Thames. The authors thought it “possible, but unlikely”, that the mill was that shown in Capon’s drawing. It also features in one by Augustin Rischgitz, dated 1815 and now held at the Chelsea Library, along with another which stands among trees at the point where the Grosvenor Canal joins the river. In 1820 a windmill near the premises of Forest & Co., who are described as Colour Manufacturers, suggesting the mill may have been used in the production of dyes, was in the occupation of Charles Lipscombe and Isaac William Rogers, Thames Bank, millers(3). 

 Concerning known illustrations of this mill, the best is an unfinished pencil sketch of c1800 by the Dutch artist Hendrick de Court (see under section on Westminster). It depicts a smock mill, called “The White Lead Mill, Millbank”, situated close by the water’s edge, with common sails and a domed cap winded by hand. It is noteworthy that the weatherbeam and the front ends of the sheers protrude beyond the circle of the cap roof – a feature usually associated with mills in Lincolnshire and the North-West – as do the horizontal members of the cap frame.(4) This may be the same mill as that featured in an engraving entitled “View on Millbank”, at one time in the possession of a Mr Eric Bean(5). It is clearly identifiable with that in an 1827 view by J Cullum, “Pimlico at Thames Bank”.(6) 

 Curiously, none of the above mills are to be found on the various contemporary maps of the area. It is possible that one or more of them was the product of artistic licence, but that all should be omitted from the cartographic record seems rather odd. With one exception the mills had probably disappeared by 1830, when the district was being rapidly developed. The surviving mill, that at the white lead factory, was standing in 1832 in the Thames Bank area north of the river. A newspaper cutting from that year, also at Chelsea Library, includes the following advertisement:

“Thames Bank Windmill: The Inhabitants of Chelsea and its vicinity are respectfully informed they may be supplied with BREAD & FLOUR of the very best quality and free from any Adulteration, at the lowest possible Price, for Ready Money at the above Mill.


 The two smock or tower mills shown on an engraving entitled “Don Salter’s Walk” (Don Saltero’s being a coffee house in the area) and on one of the Royal Hospital based on Kipp’s view from the northwest, and the smock mill at Chelsea Reach in a watercolour at the Library stood on the south bank. One of the mills in the engravings was probably Randall’s tower mill at Battersea.(7) 

 A windmill for pumping water stood for a time at Chelsea Waterworks in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century.  In April 1775 the Court of Directors of the water company (appointed at the Annual General Court of the shareholders) was considering building a windpump for the works, and inspected a model of one in order to assist itself in its deliberations. No decision was reached, and three months later it was resolved to consult Yeoman, an outstanding engineer of the time whose advice was much in demand, for his opinion. In August it was decided to proceed with the project, with Yeoman supervising the erection of the pump. However on the 23rd of the month the matter was referred back to a bye-law of 1729 which required at least nine Directors to be present and in agreement for decisions on such matters to be taken. A final decision was deferred until October at the earliest.

 Early in 1775 Yeoman was called in to answer questions about the advantages of a windpump. His replies satisfied the Court, which nevertheless decided to delay going ahead after hearing of the difficulties experienced by the New River Company with their windpump at Clerkenwell.

 At the Court of 1776 it was reported that the New River had ceased using their windmill. The Chelsea project was abandoned, but revived at a Court Meeting in December 1784. Reviewing the future needs of the works Simpson, its wheelwright and a leading waterworks engineer, displayed a model of a wind engine and recommended one as a way of supplementing the existing power sources and to save money for fuel, while avoiding wear and tear, on the works fire engine which it seems was also used for general pumping purposes. Simpson stated that considerable costly alterations would be needed at the works over the following two to three years. It would be necessary to rebuild the two waterwheels on the eastern side of the works, converting them into one large wheel at a cost of £1400, and one of the lock gates. The Court minutes were to be searched to review the details of the previous, abortive windpump project. In January 1785 the Court decided that a “wind machine” would be useful, but took no firm decision as to whether to proceed with it, their attention being occupied by the other works. The General Court was left to decide the matter, which they did in March 1785, finally authorising the windpump’s construction. The work took seven months to complete, it being reported on 3rd November that the engine, which worked three 10″ pumps, would be ready on the following Wednesday. However problems were very soon experienced with it; at the beginning of December it was being described as “too vigorous”. But the benefits it gave were apparent already; there was surplus water available and an extension of the supply to the area known as Long Acre could be contemplated if the inhabitants desired it. However in the spring of 1786 the windshaft broke and the sails fell off. The stage was also reported to be broken (probably having been damaged by the sails as they fell). Simpson was ordered to repair the damage and to “take care that it did not happen again”. Three days later (and not before time, or so it must have seemed), the pump was insured for £500 with the Sun Fire Office. Shortly afterwards a workman who was repairing it in a high wind fell from it and was injured.

 In the spring of 1794 the cogs on the gearing were replaced. At the beginning of 1795 the weather deteriorated and several weeks of severe frost followed. The works’ three waterwheels were forced to stop. The windpump made up most of the deficiency thus caused; however the fire engine, when needed, proved adequate on its own. After iron water pipes were laid in Green Park in 1801 the windpump was deemed unnecessary. The Court decided that the useful parts of the engine, valued at £530, should be kept and the rest disposed of unless an offer was received for the windpump as a whole. None was, and it was decided to remove the valuable items, but at the end of October Simpson advised trying again to find a purchaser, and failing one emerging to take the pump down and auction the materials, because it would take some years to use all the wood and bricks. A decision was postponed. Eventually William Threadgold of Butsbury Mill, Ingatestone, Essex, applied to buy the windmill and was asked for £380 for the cost of removal. He offered £250 and was refused. It was eventually sold to a local lead manufacturer for £330.(8)

 The above appears to disprove the belief that the tower-like structure standing at the waterworks in 1752 and shown in a view by J Boydell(9) was the base of the windpump with the superstructure removed. It is more likely to be a water storage tower.

 There is an undated illustration of what is probably the windpump in the British Museum. It shows an odd-looking structure consisting of the body of a post mill mounted on a substantial brick tower with which it is small and narrow by comparison. This tower has two stages, one about halfway up and another at the top which presumably serviced the sails.(10)

 A structure shown in an early nineteenth-century print in the London Metropolitan Archives which was once thought to be the base of a former windmill is in fact a pug mill of the kind used in brickmaking(11).

(1)  All the above views are in the British Museum, Crace Collection, Folio 14 Sheet 2

(2)  Middlesex Chronicle 8/7/1806

(3)  MS 11936/483/972675, 16/11/1820  

(4)  G Hughes, “Windmill Hoppers” July 2016

(5)  LMA Maps and Prints Section HE 5948

(6)  Farries & Mason, as elsewhere, p239-40 reference (14)

(7)  As (4)

(8)  Paraphrase of information kindly supplied by Mr Geoff Saul in letter of 27th February 1997 from the Chelsea Waterworks Minutes Books (London Archives Acc.2558)

(9)  “A View of Chelsea Water Works” by J Boydell, 1752, Museum of London Ref 49 34/5 Box 24C

(10) A Benoist, “View of the road and water-works of Chelsea with a prospect of London, drawn from the life”, British Museum Print Room, Crowle’s Pennant vol 2 no.166

(11) Note on the index card. The reference is HE27464.

(32)  The Chelsea waterworks windpump from Benoist’s print (SB)


(1) North of High Road; standing 1675  211786

(2) Between High Road and river; standing 1675 224784 (approx.)

Two windmills are shown at Chiswick in Ogilby’s Britannia, a road map of the British Isles published in 1675. One is situated to the north of the High Road, and is probably that which stood along with a cottage on the waste of the prebend manor at Turnham Green around 1650(1).

 The second is located to the east of the road near the river.  Both mills have vanished without trace, but the former is commemorated by the names Windmill Road and Windmill Passage, and by the Windmill public house whose sign depicts a Dutch drainage mill from which it was probably far removed in appearance. There whoever has been searching in vain for some remnant of a Chiswick windmill may drown their sorrows.

(1) St Paul’s Cathedral MSS, box A 57

(33) The windmills at Chiswick, from Ogilby’s Britannia, 1675 (PB)


Cripplegate; blown down 1601

In 1598 a windmill and a tenement on land known as Mountmill, in the parish of St Giles at Cripplegate, featured in the will of Richard Devenish. In a legal case concerning the latter the mill was described as “hidden by the City of London.” It was added, “these proceedings are much delayed.”(1) Three years later, in 1601, the mill came to grief in a storm. It does not appear to have been rebuilt; in 1733 its site may have been indicated by Windmill Hill, stated to be the recorded address of a bankrupt in an edition of the London Gazette(2).

 A windmill at Rusper in Sussex, now no longer standing, was known as Cripplegate Mill on account of its having allegedly been moved from that place in 1810. The name was later given to a smock mill at Southwater, near Horsham in the same county. The story is not in fact impossible especially in the light of legal action taken against various individuals in 1814 for having illegally sold windmills in the area among other things(3). If the mill did exist here it may have been that standing on the eastern side of the City which is reported as destroyed by fire in the Liverpool Daily Post of 17th October 1866, as no other windmill appears to have survived in the vicinity as late as this.

 According to Farries and Mason a windmill standing on another building is shown just to the west of the Monument on a couple of illustrations of the Frost Fair on the Thames in 1684(4).

 A post mill appears on a seventeenth-century print by Wenceslaus Hollar, standing a little to the north-west of the Tower of London(5). The view is from Bankside. It is probably the same mill which is shown in the background in a sketch of the Tower executed in 1737 and now in the Layton Collection at the Treaty Centre Library, Hounslow.

(1) Cal. of P in C Temp. Eliz. Ww6 no 40 (per VCH)

(2) Simmons Collection, Science Museum Library

(3) LMA Acc.1037/115, 5/8/1814

(4) Windmills of Surrey and London, p236

(5) British Museum, Crace Collection, Folio 2 Sheet 28; Arthur M Hind, Wenceslaus Hollar (J Lane 1922), Plate 20 Sheet 6  


(1)         Possible early mill

(2)         Early mill, East Smithfield

(3)         Early mill, 315827

(4)         Early mill, 317825

(5)         Pumping mill, New River Head; base remains today 312827

(6-8)      At least three mills at Mountmill, C16-C17, 319826

(10-15)  Finsbury Fields, near Moorgate; six mills altogether in C16 and C17 327822

According to the sixteenth-century antiquarian John Stow, in his History of London (1598), when Jordan Briset founded the priory of Clerkenwell in c1100 he gave to the nuns a piece of land on which to build a windmill. If this is correct, it would be the earliest example to so far be recorded in England. However Stow was wrong about the date of the foundation of the priory, which actually took place in 1144, and so could have been wrong about other things too. In fact the Latin term “molendinum” was sometimes used interchangeably to mean either a windmill or a watermill, so the documentary evidence is inconclusive. Neither the Charter recording Jordan’s grant nor the copies of its confirmations specifically mention a windmill. Then there is the general absence of evidence for the existence of one in the country before the 1180s. With respect to him E J Kealey, in Harvesting The Air: Windmill Pioneers In Twelfth-Century England, appears to conclude that the mill was wind-driven merely because there is no firm evidence that it was not. Various old deeds mention a mill-stream, which leaves little doubt that it was a watermill(1). The weir by means of which the water was diverted to the mill was actually discovered in the nineteenth century(2).  

 There is no doubt that the nunnery owned windmills in the neighbourhood at a later date. A map showing the Charterhouse water supply marks two, one in the Commandary Martels and one on the other side of the road from Islington, then a country village, to London, in a field called Farncroft or the Nun’s Field. The latter mill was built c1358 on land demised for the purpose by the Prioress for 99 years at a rent of 12d a year. The lessee was one Roger de Stowe, which suggests the mill was the same as that called variously Stowell mill, Stowelymyll or Stowesmylle, which is described in a document of 1399 as being situated five perches from Farncroft and lying beside the road from Edmonton to Westminster. A map(3) of the estate of the Carthusian monastery which the Priory later became, drawn in 1430, shows the mill in the Commandery Martels and the site of the other, commenting that the mound on which the latter stood has now been levelled. The surviving mill appears as an open-trestle post, standing on a mound with a semicircular ditch describing part of the turning circle, and a short flagstaff above the rear gable of the pitched roof, whose eaves overhang the tail of the mill slightly. The present Windmill Inn in St John’s Street perpetuates the mills’ memory.

 In the sixteenth century a third windmill was standing to the north-west of the nunnery, but there is no indication as to whether it actually belonged to the nuns(4).

 The appearance of the first two mills on a map of the nunnery’s water supply, which wrongly depicts them as tower mills, has led some to conclude that they were used for pumping water. There is no firm evidence for this, other than that on the map the mill in the Commandery Mantle stands close to a conduit, and it is unlikely anyway to have been the case since mills for this purpose were a later invention. However in the eighteenth century a pumping windmill did actually exist in Clerkenwell, at the New River Head waterworks, and the remains of it are still to be seen today.

 The original proposal by the Reverend John Lowthorp, a fellow of the Royal Society, for raising the water of the New River to a convenient height for distribution to neighbouring homes – the aim being to pump water to the highest level of the Upper Pond, now the Claremont Reservoir – was to build a waterwheel. Lowthorp considered windmills unsuitable because of the fickleness of the power source. Horse mills, although very efficient, were too expensive on account of the money needed to feed and otherwise maintain the horses and to pay the servants who attended them, and should be a last resort.(5) In considering the matter, the Committee of the New River Head Company reported that the cost of building a windmill would be £1,000, with subsequent running costs of £80 a year. An “engine without a windmill” – meaning probably a horse mill – would cost only £550 to build but the running expenses would be higher, amounting to around £160 annually.(6)

 In 1707 the engineer George Sorocold proposed to dig an “out” pond, holding about 6000 tons of water, to service the Upper Pond with a windmill at its head, the cost of building which would not exceed £470. During calm periods when the mill was out of action the amount of water in the Upper Pond was thought sufficient to supply the two mains serving each walk (street of houses) for ten days, although a horse mill would supplement it when necessary.(7) The mill was in effect a combined wind- and horse mill, something otherwise unknown in England. We have no details of how the wind drive was disconnected when not required, and the exact manner by which the horses drove the machinery remains likewise something of a mystery. Horse mills usually worked by the horse walking round in a circle while harnessed to the vertical shaft of a circular gearwheel. The late J Kenneth Major agreed with me that the animal would have been housed within the circular building, shown in mid- and late eighteenth century illustrations, which enclosed the base of the windmill, its roof serving as a stage for attending to the sails, and that there was a mechanism within this structure which transmitted the drive to the pump.

 The horse gear probably did not work the pump via the windmill machinery, but by a separate system. If the former was in fact the case the connection between the wind- and horse drives obviously could not have been direct, because shafting would have had to pass through the wall of the mill tower proper and this would have been impossible if the horse was describing a circle. Most likely there was intermediary gearing. Even without the latter, however, it must have been difficult to accommodate the horse gear within the roundel unless the latter abutted rather than encircled the windmill base, which does not seem to have been the case judging from illustrations, and indeed one engineer’s report (see below) suggests it was not quite wide enough for the horse to do its work comfortably, although the problem seems to have been overcome somehow.

 The mill was completed within a relatively short time; a deed of 6th November dealing with the right to lay pipes between the windmill and the pond refers to the former as having been “lately erected”. The pond was still under construction in the summer of 1708. Sorocold’s correspondence shows that the final estimate for building the windmill came to £1,073 9s 11d, considerably higher than that originally given by him.(8) The mill worked four “engines” (see below).

 Apart from its being employed for a purpose other than the usual one of grinding corn, the mill was of interest in several  respects. It was one of the few tower mills existing in England at this time, and a print of c1712, the first illustration to depict it, shows that it had six sails – a rarity, and especially so in the early eighteenth century. Generally mills with more than four sails did not appear in England until well after 1750.(9)

 Given its comparative technical novelty, it is regrettable that the structure’s life as a windmill was to be a very short one. It was repaired after being “blown down” around 1714 but six years later, on 20th November 1720, an exceptionally severe gale ripped off the sails, and perhaps otherwise damaged the mill for a man who was in it at the time is said to have been killed(10).

 After this the horse mill took over and the pump was never again worked by wind. The windmill does not in fact appear to have been a great success as such, perhaps due to its occupying a sheltered site below the summit of Islington Hill. The six sails may have been an attempt to compensate for this by increasing the power. A report the Reverend Lowthorp wrote for the Company on 16th July 1711 hints at problems, of an unspecified nature, with the mill and one of a series of documents relating to the Company’s business between 1700 and 1713 refers to it as defective. John Yarnold and John Preston proposed to build a new horse-driven pump and also to “alter the Windwork soe as to make it goe much easier than it does, and raise more water.”

Some notes on the mill were made by Thomas Coke, for whom Sorocold designed garden fountains. After dealing with the cost of the “Windmill Engine att Islington which works 4 Engines that raise the water to a Pond 24 feet higher than where the Mill stands”, he records “This Mill is a foot too narrow at the bottom in the circumference to work well with Horses when the wind fails, as it was intended it should.” It may be that Sorocold’s unfamiliarity with windmills, all his previous experience having related to waterwheels, had caused him to make a mistake and also resulted in problems which added to the cost of the mill. Yarnold and Preston’s new horse mill, an attempt to address this issue, does not appear to have materialised, but one was built after the sails of the windmill were blown off and entirely superseded the latter(11). It is the square structure shown standing to the left of the mill tower in subsequent views of the site. In 1742 the Committee decided to restore the sails and resume working by wind, but nothing came of this.(12) It appears the windmill was actually recommissioned for a brief period in the 1770s (see section on the Chelsea windpump) but soon abandoned again.

 The mill having had its wings clipped at such an early stage in its career, it is not surprising that most old illustrations show it sailless. Gradually, it was reduced to the stump we see today. Mid-eighteenth century prints (including one by Canaletto in 1746) depict the tower standing to full height and still possessing its ogee cap. An annotated view by Thomas Bowles dated 5th August 1730 describes the buildings as “The Mill from whence the Water is forced up by Horses to the House which supplies the New Pond”. The cap is vertically boarded with a decorative ball finial and a square aperture, which appears to have been boarded over, where the poll end or cross on which the sails were mounted had been. The windows in the mill tower are round with a resemblance to ships’ portholes.(13) A pen-and-ink sketch of c1775 shows that by then the cap had been removed and the tower  given a battlemented top. The roundel also disappeared at some point. The mill had been reduced to its present height by c1815, when it appears in a view of part of London from Pentonville by George Hollis(14).

 This surviving remnant stands to a height of 7 feet 10 inches. It is of red brick – English bond, hand-made with alternative courses of “headers” (i.e. bricks laid end on) and “stretchers” (laid side on). The irregularity of the batter, which is mostly very steep, almost vertical in fact, but on one side tapers noticeably towards the eaves of the present conical roof – marks this out as an early tower mill; millwrights accustomed to building wooden post (and occasionally smock) mills had not at this time developed the skill with bricks which characterises nineteenth-century tower mills. Of note is the lower half of one of the windows seen in the eighteenth-century illustrations, now blocked up; this appears to have been oval in shape rather than circular as the prints suggest.

 A recent request for permission for an internal inspection of the stump was refused.

 The remain has been much knocked about and altered over the years, as areas of brickwork which are clearly modern testify. Early in the twentieth century it survived a collision with a van, after which a bust of Sir Hugh Myddleton, eighteenth-century founder of the New River Head scheme, which had been accidentally broken at the same time is said to have been carefully buried in the repaired brickwork to remove the evidence from the scene of the crime. 

 The New River Head site is now owned by Thames Water. What remains of the mill is not substantial, and is visually unremarkable, but its status as a Listed Building is understandable considering that it constitutes probably the only surviving physical remains of a windmill in all the former county of Middlesex.

A windmill also stood in the district which came to be known as Mountmill, at the west end of what is now Seward Street. It was erected early in the sixteenth century on a mound of unusually large proportions which was possibly a natural feature. It was later blown down during a furious gale and in its place Catherine of Aragon, the first of Henry VIII’s six wives, built a chapel which she named the Mount of Calvary. At the end of Henry’s reign, in 1547, this was pulled down and another windmill erected in its stead.(15) The new mill is shown on Ralph Agas’ map of London, surveyed in 1562-3, as a conventional open-trestle post mill of the period. It was owned by Sir George Barne (see below) and left in his will as “My Windemyll sett and being uppon the Mounte beyond Saint Johnes.”

 In 1643, during the Civil War, it or a successor became part of one of the fortifications built around London by the Parliamentarians who controlled the city. A resolution of the Common Council sanctioning the work referred to the mill as standing in Islington Way. The elevated site would have been excellent for military surveillance, though why the mill was retained is not clear. A broadsheet of 18th August 1643, commemorating the failure of a “Treacherous And Bloody Plot” by royalists to seize the capital, in which the fortifications would obviously have figured, depicts the mill without sails or rear steps, indicating it was no longer grinding, and standing within a walled enclosure(16). At a guess it served as a sentry box or look-out post. Of note are the two decorative finials to the roof ridge, one on each gable; such features were often found on seventeenth or early eighteenth -century post mills – the Millwall mills appear to have had them, as does a surviving example at Outwood in Surrey – which exhibited a greater degree of ornamentation than the more purely utilitarian structures of later times. The fortifications were never actually used and the mill probably survived the war. Faithorne’s map of 1658 depicts it but this was surveyed between 1643 and 1647 and in any case does not show fortifications and thus would probably have omitted the mill since it had been incorporated within one. The site had been built upon by c1680, obliterating all traces of the mill, but the name Mountmill still survives, being applied to a nearby road.

 A painting by Hogarth dated c1745 shows a tower mill in Moorfields on the edge of Peerless Pool, a popular spot for bathing and for skating in the winter in the eighteenth century. The mill has four common sails and is similar in appearance to the windpump at Clerkenwell, with the same ogee cap, at least one circular window and a circular building apparently enclosing the base of the tower; in view of its situation my feeling is that it was used for the same purpose, maintaining the water in the pool at the right level. It is not evident how the cap was winded. The painting, which was at one time in the collection of the architect Professor Sir Albert Richardson, was to be auctioned at Christies in September 2013.(17)

 The windmills which stood in Finsbury Fields during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were the best-known in London in their time, as is suggested by their mention in two plays of the period. In Chapman’s Sir Giles Goosecap, first performed in 1606, the lead character tells us, “I love daylight, and run after it into Finsbury Fields in the evening to see the windmills go”, while in c1617 Middleton, in A Fair Quarrel, Act 4 Scene 1, writes “I have heard ’em roar from the six windmills to Islington.” A windmill is first recorded at the site in 1556/57; it was shortly joined by another. In 1557-8 the two mills were owned by a former Mayor of London, Sir George Barne, who left them in his will, in which they are called the East mill “standing at Fyndesburey uppon the dung hill” and the West mill. The former had been built on a mound composed of human bones taken according to one source from a local charnel-house and to another the churchyard of Old St Paul’s, together with human excrement and rubbish collected from the streets.(18) In the same year Thomas Wells was granted a licence to erect a third mill “upon the Cytyes Ferme Grounde at the Leystowe {laystall, the name given in those days to a rubbish dump} in Fynnesburey Felde on the easte syde of one of Barnes’ mills lately erected.” Wells was granted a lease of what was probably the same mill in November 1562. 

 The reclaimed marshland site was ideal for wind, and over the years the number of mills slowly increased. In late March 1561 four are mentioned in the Repertory of the Court Of Aldermen.  Shortly after this one seems to have gone, for a survey of the area in 1567 refers to “the High Field or meadow ground where the three windmills stand, commonly called Finsbury Field.” Another was blown down in 1599 or 1600 but it was agreed that it should be rebuilt. Attempts to suppress the mills to avoid spoiling the view were unsuccessful, and they continued to flourish; by c1617 the number had risen to six, as the extract from Middleton’s play tells us. After this date the number remains constant, and from the middle of the century begins to decline. There were six mills in 1658 and 1666, but in 1669 only five. Mr Stephen Buckland states that all the mills had gone probably by 1676, and definitely by 1682, but according to Farries and Mason the last was not pulled down until about 1750 when St Luke’s Hospital was built on the site.

 The needs of the millers might sometimes conflict with those of local developers, but they were usually able to get their way judging by the outcome of a case in the Court Of Common Pleas, in which a nearby house which had been built so tall that it cut off the wind from the mills was ordered to be pulled down.

 A technical analysis of the Finsbury mills from the illustrations in which they appear is to be found in an article by Stephen Buckland in Newcomen Society Transactions Volume 60 1988-89 (see Bibliography). Permision is currently being sought to include it here in full.   

 A windmill in East Smithfield was held by Thomas de Moose during the reign of Edward I (1272-1307).

(1)  Faustina (The Nun’s Cartulary), BM 3.3 folios 27v. & 32

(2)  W O Hassall, The Conventual Buildings of St Mary, Clerkenwell  (reprinted from Transactions of LAMAS New Series vol 8 pt 2, p256-259)

(3)  Reproduced in Bennett & Elton vol 2 p252

(4)  As (2)

(5)  Robert Ward, London’s New River (Historical Publications 2003)

(6)  Ibid

(7)  Ibid

(8)  Ibid

(9)  Topographical engraving of the buildings in Red Lion Square by Sutton Nicholls, in Crowle’s Pennant vol 7 no.73, British Museum Print Room. The mill is a minor detail and the sails can only be made out with a magnifying glass. An early map by Morden and Lee c1720 which is reproduced on p136 of Ward’s book also shows six sails.

(10) Stamford Gazette 26/11/1720, per B Reynolds, “Windmill Hoppers” 29/9/2013

(11) The Builder’s Dictionary, or Gentleman’s and Architect’s Companion (1734)

(12) Ward, from LMA ACC 2558/NR 13/7 folder 4, p266

(13) In “A New Prospect of London”, British Museum Print Room, Crace Collection Folio 32

(14) Reproduced in Ward

(15) Stowe (1598)  

(16) London Topographical Record, vol XIV 1928

(17) Gareth Hughes, Windmill Hoppers 19th August 2013; Farries and Mason, Windmills of Surrey and London, p238

(18) Stowe (1598)

(34) Two of the post mills at Finsbury; detail of a map of 1560 (Museum of London)

(35) Post mill at Mountmill, Clerkenwell, 1643 (SB)

(36) Clerkenwell windpump from Crowle’s Pennant, c1712 (SB)

(37) Clerkenwell windpump, 1730 (Museum of London)

(38) The stump of the Clerkenwell windpump, December 1994 (Guy Blythman)

(39) Plan of the Clerkenwell windpump base, from a survey carried out by the author and Mr Stephen Buckland, December 1994 (SB)


C17 mill 102774 (approx.)

In 1604 a windmill was included in the conveyance of the manors to Sir Roger Aston(1), and it was still standing in 1619 when  part of the manor was conveyed to Lady Berkeley(2). It seems likely to have been demolished by 1625(3), and there is no subsequent evidence for any windmill in the area. The position of the mill is believed to have been on the west bank of the river, close to Cranford Lane and near a gate leading to the common land there(4).

(1) Chanc.66/1632, mm.26-27

(2) LMA Acc.530/2

(3) LMA Acc.530/2, m.9

(4) Ibid