Above: The windmill standing beside Windmill Gardens.
The land that we now call Inner London was at one time full of windmills. Dulwich had two, Upper Norwood had at least two. There was one in the village of Lambeth and another across the Thames near the Strand. Millbank was so-called because a windmill stood there and Millwall, on the Isle of Dogs, had no less than eleven. There is even the remains of one with a pub built onto the side in Plumstead. The brief list is by no means complete.
Of course, those mills have all been removed well over a century ago, in some cases even two centuries ago – and more. In a curious way, we regard the windmill as a quaint machine from our past but a wind-turbine, which are another form of windmill, is all to evident across London. Even Rotherhithe has one!
To come to the point, there is a surviving windmill in Brixton. Not only surviving – it is fully functional. It was built in 1816 on the north side of Brixton Hill and known as Ashby’s Mill. It should be explained that Brixton Hill is a hill that gently slopes up from the centre of Brixton and then gently slopes down again, on its southern side, as it reaches Streatham. The road along the Brixton side of that hill is also known as Brixton Hill.
Above: From the right angle, you could almost think the windmill was standing in the middle of country fields.
By 1864 the mill had fallen into disuse and it was never to be used again for the traditional purpose of grinding corn. Under normal circumstances such a mill would either have been taken down or fallen down and never heard of again. In this case, the round brick tower remained until the 1960s although the sails and the internal mechanism had crumbled away. The Greater London Council (GLC) decided that the mill could be saved and put back into working order by using the parts from a similar mill at Alford, in Lincolnshire. All the work was completed and the mill was restored but nobody wanted to look after it and the London Borough of Lambeth, in which it stood, certainly did not want to spend any money on it or on a keeper to open the door and let the public have a look around. All the good work had almost come to nothing but in 2011, after falling into disrepair once more, the mill was rescued a second time and an electric-powered mill was installed.
The mill, complete with sails, stands in a little park called Windmill Gardens, beside a short road known as Blenheim Gardens which run off the road called Brixton Hill. It is now the only complete windmill in Inner London to be left standing.