History

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The windmill first appeared on Rocque’s map of Surrey published in 1762, when a James Constable owned it. The Constable family was recorded as running a mill on Horsham Common in 1615 and mention is made of a mill being brought from there to Lowfield Heath as early as 1738. Certainly there is much evidence in the mill to suggest that it was built partly of re-used timbers – were these the remnants of the 1615 mill? The date ‘1741’ found on the sack hoist drive pulley adds credence to the above.

 

Lowfield Heath is depicted still as open common on a plan of the Manor of Rowley surveyed in 1819. Shortly after this in 1821 the ‘Lords and Tenants of the Manor of Charlwood’ signify their consent ‘to an enclosure being made by James Constable of the wasteland of Lowfield Heath around the mill situate’ This was ratified in a deed dated 18th April 1827.

 

The mill finished work by wind sometime in the early 1880’s, maybe due to one of the sails being damaged. Subsequently this damaged sail was removed and the good pair probably sold to another mill. Fortunately the remaining good sail was left intact allowing the occasional photographer to capture it in detail. Grinding continued at least until 1890, probably by the use of a set of steam driven stones in the roundhouse. A receipt dated 20th November 1890 survives from this period.

 

By 1934 dilapidation had crept in, but in 1938 Mr. Edward Lowes the then landowner had the exterior restored and a set of dummy sails fitted. However, with the onset of war no maintenance took place and by 1957 the weakened structure was wrecked in a storm.

 

In January 1964 the then Dorking & Horley Rural District Council together with Surrey County Council paid for emergency work. This included the fitting of a temporary roof & metal straps to the trestle. Between 1965 & 1971 further work was done with additional help from The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. This work consisted of a new roof; rear framing; rear steps and also work on the roundhouse, including new doors and a concrete floor.

 

The adjacent property was demolished in the early 1980’s by which time the mill was becoming derelict once more. In 1984 a group was formed from representatives of both the Surrey, and Sussex Industrial Archaeology Societies, and The Charlwood Society. In 1986 this lead to the formation of the Lowfield Heath Windmill Trust whose stated aim was to restore the mill to working order.

 

Access difficulties & concerns over the deterioration of the structure lead to the decision to move the mill. This would be the first time that a complete post mill had been moved probably for a hundred years. A new site was found adjacent to Gatwick Zoo by kind permission of the owner Terry Thorpe. Thus with funding in place and the employ of millwright Peter Darby, dismantling began in June 1987.

 

This started with the removal of the roof after which the remaining sections were removed in turn until only the trestle remained.

 

In parallel with the millwrights work, volunteers removed the infill from within the roundhouse to look for evidence of the original wooden floor. Finally volunteers dismantled the roundhouse and transported the bricks to the new site. By September 1987 the mill was gone!

 

Over the winter of 1987/88 all 10,000 bricks for the roundhouse were cleaned and stacked, ready for the rebuild the following summer. The post and trestle were also restored during this period and erected on the part-finished roundhouse late in 1988. The restoration of the remaining timbers continued over the winter of 1988/89, following the philosophy of preserving as much as possible of the original. The remaining brickwork, above the piers, was completed during March.

 

The rebuild proper took place over the summer of 1989, commencing in May with the lowering of the crowntree onto the post. Each section was erected in the reverse order of removal and by June the side frames were in place. The front and rear frames followed, together with the windshaft and its fine tail wheel casting. Meanwhile the volunteers were busily tarring the roundhouse.

 

By October the millwrights had completed rebuilding the main frame and volunteers moved in to start the weatherboarding. During the following six months the whole of the boarding was completed together with the door, windows and awnings. We were lucky enough to find a source of contemporary blacksmith made hinges for all this work. Painting followed in parallel and by the beginning of April 1990 the volunteers erected the rear steps; this was to be a temporary measure until a new set could be constructed. The next few days saw the millwrights’ erect one pair of common sails.

 

All was completed in time for HRH Princess Alexandra to open the mill on April 10th 1990. This marked the end of the first phase of restoration - the completion of the main structure.

 

The following years saw sterling effort by the volunteers. Timbers for a new roundhouse roof were machined, and construction took place in November 1991 followed by doors and windows. Local oak was seasoned and fashioned into floor joists and floorboards for the roundhouse, spout and stone floors. A new rear ladder was made and many other smaller jobs too numerous to mention were completed.

 

After many months of planning we managed to secure the first Heritage Lottery Grant awarded to a mill in England and from 1997 work was started by Dorothea Restorations under the leadership of Anthony Hole. Over the coming year or so a new bin floor was built and the brake wheel assembled (previously made by Peter Darby). The stones were installed; both bed stones were already at the mill, but the peak runner stone was brought back from Iford near Lewes where it has been taken after the mill finished work; the French burr runner stone was a rebuilt one originally salvaged from Winchelsea windmill after the great storm. New stone furniture was built and a replica sack hoist made based on the existing one at Reigate Heath. New Patent sails were erected together with a full complement of shutters and striking gear to match. Finally the roundhouse was fitted out with display boards and an audio visual system. On the 26th June 1998 cloth was spread on the sails, the shutters closed and at 3.30pm the mill ran for the first time since 1880.

 

The adjacent Gatwick Zoo closed it's doors in 2001and we braced ourselves for the expected loss in visitor numbers. However we should not have worried as since this time our visitor numbers have substantially increased. I believe this is because we are now considered to be an attraction in our own right, not just an afterthought for visitors' leaving the zoo. The zoo closure also brought about the re-development of the zoo site into housing, but we have benefited from this as we now lease the entire field around the windmill.

 

In 2003 following storm damage, new Common sails were fitted together with a replacement tail pole and the mill repainted. This year also saw the start of the last major part of the restoration – the Bolter. This is a machine to grade the flour and is being copied from a similar one in Keston Mill near Bromley.

 

In September 2004 and after many years of trying, we finally managed to secure the rescue of the remains of the machinery from Jolesfield windmill and have set-up a display within the mill grounds.

 

The building work on the bolter continues as there is much work involved in this machine, but we are hoping to finish it in 1996. back to top of page or return to Home page