What's so special about Brill Windmill?
Well, apart its beautiful surroundings and stunning views, Brill Windmill is also historically important for being one of the earliest and best preserved examples of a "post mill" in the UK. A post mill is the earliest type of European windmill, so-called because the body of the mill (or 'buck'; the wooden part of today's windmill) is mounted on a single massive post, around which the windmill can be rotated to bring the sails to face the wind. But there's more to Brill Windmill than that! For many people she is Brill - especially for those who grew up here or now live far away. The comments left on our Facebook page and Instagram feed are full of love and happy memories.
Is Brill Windmill open today?
We try to open to the public 2-5pm every Sunday afternoon from Easter through to the end of September. Local volunteers are on hand to welcome you and make sure your visit is interesting and enjoyable. It costs £3 for adults and £1 for children and we take cash or electronic payments. Sometimes we don't have any volunteers so the windmill can't be opened as planned. This is happening more often than we would like; our team is dwindling and there are so many other demands on people's time at the weekends. If you live in Brill and would like to help, please fill in the contact form today!
How old is the windmill?
We think some of the internal timbers date back to 1686, so we suppose you could say the windmill is nearly 340 years old! This wouldn't be strictly accurate though, because the whole thing has been rebuilt at least three times; in the 1750s, 1948 and 2009. Even so, just imagine; when the original Brill Windmill was built, King Charles II had only just died, James II was on the throne, Samuel Pepys was in his prime, and New York had just been recognised as a city. There's an old timber inside the mill carved with the initials JA and the date, 1853; the year smallpox vaccination was made compulsory for children.
Who owns Brill Windmill?
Brill Windmill is owned by Brill Parish Council, on behalf of the people of Brill. The Parish Council bought it from Bucks County Council for £1 on May 5th 2015; a mixed blessing, perhaps, given the cost of subsequent repairs and ongoing maintenance. BCC was gifted the mill in 1948 by the Aubrey-Fletcher family, the titular lords of the manor, who themselves bought the mill at auction for £37 back in 1927, a few years after she fell into disuse.
When was the windmill last in use?
Brill Windmill last ground grain in the 1920s. The flour was used for animal feed because it wasn't considered good enough for humans. The windmill had been working for nearly 250 years by the time the First World War ended and needed a lot of skilled and costly repairs to keep it in working order. Furthermore, many farmers were now processing their own grain using small belt-driven grinding engines. The last miller was Mr Albert Nixey, who died in 1939. Some of his descendants still live in Brill.
Does the windmill still work?
Sadly, no. The internal machinery and supporting structures are all in place (come and see one day!) but the whole building is fixed by four vertical steel girders so the buck can no longer be turned to face the wind. These girders were put in in 1967 because the wooden structure was so badly deteriorated there was a real danger the whole thing would just fall down. Some people hoped that the mill would be restored to full working use when it was rebuilt in 2008 but that was never the plan; that was a historical restoration, not a mechanical functioning restoration. We leave grain grinding and flour selling to other windmills!!
Has the windmill ever blown down?
Windmills, by their nature, are situated in exposed places, at the mercy of the weather - and although today's mill looks pretty sturdy, even a working mill was quite vulnerable. When the sails were turning for real, swooping round and round at speed, the whole structure would creak and sway - more like a sailing ship than an earth-bound building. The mill needed constant attention to keep it safe; adding and removing canvas, moving the mill according to the wind, applying the brake when necessary. Even then, there were accidents. We know the windmill blow down in the 1750s and had to be rebuilt, and it became pretty unstable when is fell into disuse in the 1920s. Two sails blew off in a gale in 1947 and the structure needed to be reinforced in 1967. All-in-all, the windmill was in a pretty bad condition when she was surveyed in 2006.
Do the sails still turn?
The sails are locked stationary by a massive brake lever; without this they would turn uncontrollably and quickly cause a lot of damage, especially if the wind was in the wrong direction. But they do still move! Every 3-4 months, on a nice still day, a team of volunteers release the brake and manually turn the sails so each sail finishes in a new position. This helps stop uneven weathering and distortion of the sails. Watch a short video of the sails being turned.
How long are the sails?
Each sail is 15.45 metres long - which is actually a metre shorter than they would have been when it was a working mill, when they almost reached to the ground wen turning. The pre-2008 "sails" (added in the 1970s) were much shorter; more like bits of garden trellis than the wonderful structures you see today. Look closely and see the slight twist in the woodwork to help catch the wind - like a toy plastic windmill. Now imagine them covered in thick canvas in a strong wind. Think of the unstoppable power transmitted through the shaft to the machinery and millstones inside!