View from the inside; looking out from the top of the steps (photo HHH)
Brill Windmill at blossom time (photo HHH)
A sunny Sunday afternoon. Happy families scattered across the common, red kites riding the thermals, scent of May blossom and warm grass; can you think of anywhere you'd rather be doing than welcoming visitors to our beautiful Grade 2 star landmark?
There's something special about opening the windmill to the public, especially those few minutes at the beginning and the end of the afternoon when you have the place to yourself. Unlock the roundhouse door and let the sunlight in. Climb the steps, breath in the smell of old timbers and enjoy the silence. Open the little windows and peer out; you're only - what? - only twenty feet up - but it feels so much higher. And then, at five o'clock, sit for a few moments in the upper doorway looking out over the Vale of Aylesbury, watching the cyclists freewheeling down the hill and the families packing up, feeling the old mill settling around you, and allow yourself a few moments of smug righteousness that you've done your bit to keep her going in her fourth century.
As a volunteer you can choose the level of interaction you want with visitors. Some volunteers are content to fetch a pint from the Pheasant (or bring a flask of tea from home), make themselves comfortable in a deck chair with the Sunday papers, and just collect the ticket money. The more gregarious answer questions and tell people more about the history and workings of our windmill (with sneaky looks at the windmill crib sheet between punters). A few will elaborate on reality and when asked (for example) how the windmill lost her sail, will launch into a story of hurricane winds lifting one of Dexters and hurling her into the sail! Some volunteers love kids and will go full Windy Miller; others will converse in hushed tones with geeks. We really don't mind! The windmill belongs to all of us - and we desperately need new volunteers - so do it your way. All we ask is you make people welcome and you keep them safe.
Learned or frivolous, one thing will stand out; the affection and respect - sometimes approaching awe - visitors feel towards our windmill. I remember two young men who visited one Sunday when I was on duty. They were (unusually) extremely interested in the mechanics of the windmill, crawling around the upper floor, peering at cogs and gears. We got chatting and they revealed they were engineers at the atomic energy research establishment at Harwell - and completely in awe of the skills and ingenuity of their 17th century counterparts. (Don't worry; most visitors are quite happy with the sails-drive-the-windshaft-which-turns-the-millstones explanation - and, if they're not, sell them a copy of Luke Bonwick's highly technical Brill Windmill.)
If you’d like to volunteer - or just find out more - please contact me, Jules Newman; call 01844 237517 or email me. Volunteering is not onerous - we only ask you to do a one-and-a -half hour shift and you'll always be paired with an experienced volunteer - but you'll be making a real contribution to maintaining our idiosyncratic windmill.
Iconic : A person or thing regarded as a representative symbol or as worthy of veneration
"Brill Windmill is an iconic building in a breathtaking location..." The words are from the forward of Tim Andrew's stunning photographic study of Brill Windmill but they are not original. Read any description of Brill Windmill and, sooner or later, the word 'iconic' will appear. It's a big ask of a small, rather plain, utilitarian building on the edge of a business-like village within sight of the M40 (not a thatched cottage or duck pond in sight!) I mean, look at Holgate Windmill with her FIVE sails* or some of the MASSIVE Dutch mills on Instagram - or even nearby Quainton Windmill, six storeys tall with a fancy fantail! How can dumpy little Brill Windmill even compete? Yet, somehow, she does.
A few of the comments on our Facebook and Just Giving pages:
I love this place, so many happy memories... Lovely place, great memories... We live in Greece but my partner used to play here as a child... I remember tobogganing down those hills... Used to come to Brill as a child...
So, nostalgia; rose-tinted memories of happier times when the snow lay deep, sheep roamed free, and children played unsupervised. But it's more than that, surely?
My family are from here... My family live here... My mother was born here... In loving memory of R who grew up in Brill... In memory of my dad...
There's a longing to belong, of making for a connection (if we had ten pounds from every descendent of the last miller..!), of being part of a story that has already been going 350 years*, quietly, unsensationally; a tale of drudgery and dust, hard work and hard times, sentiment and tenacity.
We've just got engaged by the windmill... Stopped off at Brill Windmill to take some wedding pictures... Lovely day with my daughter... One of my favourite places as a kid; got take my own kid there recently... Cycled up to Brill Windmill with my boys...
It's not just the past; it's the present - and the future. A desire to imbibe the continuity and stability - maybe even security? - represented by the windmill. Unchanging and stoic; face to the wind, eyes on the horizon. Maybe it helps that Brill Windmill is on the edge of the village; unobserved, uncontrolled, a place of safe solitude and distant views. Refuge for migrating birds, goal for the adventurous, home coming for the traveller.
All things to all people. Iconic.
Jill Lepores, January 2022
* Then there's Heckington Windmill with her CRAZY eight sails. ** Get that, Quainton! 200 years! Ha!
Wedding couple at Brill Windmill (photo Sam & Steve Photography, Aug 2017)
Family at Brill Windmill, possibly 1970s
Jumping for joy at Brill Windmill (photo Emma Canham, Oct 2017)
Air Cadets finishing an exercise at Brill Windmill (photographer unknown, Aug 2018)
Moments after the sail snapped; click to watch the video (Sarah Duffy)
The wind seemed to come from nowhere. Nine o'clock on a Sunday morning; one moment just, well, windy (we're used to that up on the hill), the next a raging storm. The trees on The Walks swayed alarmingly and the cows grazing Brill Common, um, cowered. There was excited chatter on Facebook of rotating clouds and tornados, flying trampolines and blocked roads and then -
Worrying about the windmill in strong winds is a Brill Thing. People lucky enough to live overlooking the windmill open their curtains with trepidation the morning after and there's a palpable sense of relief when word goes round that, yes, she's survived another storm - but her luck ran out at 9.40 am on October 31st 2021. The unusual southerly wind struck the four fixed sails square-on and maybe something had to give - and it did. The four-o'clock sail snapped almost in half and the remnant tumbled across the grass and came to rest on the edge of the big Hollow on Brill Common. Thanks goodness no-one was underneath at the time.
Facebook went into overdrive: do something! tell someone! but who? The Brill Society, that's who; guardians of the windmill since time immemorial (well, 30 years or so). The wind dropped and a crowd gathered (ok, twelve people - but that's a crowd round here). Photos were taken, opinions aired, nervous jokes cracked (anyone got a tube of woodglue?). We picked up the broken fragments and stored them carefully in the roundhouse.