Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Windmills on Their Minds

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Windmills on Their Minds

Article excerpt


THIS Saturday marks the start of National Mills Weekend - your chance to visit 430 historic windmills and watermills across the UK.

All the mills on show are listed buildings, often Grade I or Grade II*, and many still grind wholemeal flour.

Mildred Cookson is vicechairman of the mills section of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, which has been organising Mills Weekend for the past 15 years. She believes there are about 2,000 recognisable mills still standing in Britain. "Although if they're listed Grade II, they're the responsibility of the local council not SPAB, so we don't always hear about them," she says.

Cookson hopes the weekend will make the public more aware of this heritage and the need to preserve it. There are even windmills in central London - in Brixton and Whitechapel - as well as further afield in Croydon, Wimbledon and Upminster.

Cookson is a watermiller herself, producing and selling flour at Mapledurham Mill, just outside Reading, which was built in 1423 and is the last working watermill on the Thames.

Interest in restoring mills was kindled in the 1950s, but Cookson says they still struggle to survive, particularly in working order. Like other traditional crafts, milling is in danger of disappearing despite the demand for organic flour: "Supermarkets are selling it and undercutting us," Cookson says. And, although mills have attracted Heritage Lottery Fund money (pound sterling790,000 has gone to restore seven mills in Kent) they need to be vigilantly maintained.

The Brixton Mill, which stands in its own gardens next to the Windmill pub and is owned by Lambeth council, was restored in 1987, but has fallen back into disrepair. "Mills decline so quickly if they're not looked after," warns Cookson.

And removing the machinery to convert them into homes is anathema to mill enthusiasts. …

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