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Brixton Windmill in 1950s

Image: Copyright © London Borough of Lambeth/ Lambeth Archives

Saving the mill (1945-62)

In 1945 the National Trust expressed an interest in taking on Brixton Windmill and talked with the Ashby trustees, but nothing came of it.

In 1950 the trustees said they would prefer to sell to "a society or local authority that would preserve the property as was the desire of Joshua Ashby".

At that time the site consisted of "the mill, mill house and garden (the land at present used for an allotment), a cottage in bad repair but let and another cottage also let".1The mill house was built in 1816 at the same time as the mill, while the cottage was said to be earlier. The Ashby trustees were asking £10,000 for the premises.

During the Second World War, the site was used as a timber warehouse and the ground as allotments.The one storey outbuilding at the base of the mill had been damaged when bombs fell just 50 feet away, and had received a Dangerous Structure notice. 

Listed but not saved yet

The windmill was listed Grade II* in 1951, but despite that recognition it was almost demolished in the early 1950s, when an application was made to build flats on the site. The Evening Standard asked in 1954: ‘Must a London windmill make way for flats?’

In 1951 the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) campaigned for Lambeth to make the mill the centrepiece of a new public garden. The Lambeth Civic Society was also active in campaigning to save the windmill during the 1950s.

The creation of Windmill Gardens

In 1957, the London County Council (LCC) bought the land, the windmill and the associated buildings for £7,845. For a further £11,000, it also acquired Mill House, Mill Cottage and 47 Blenheim Gardens, along with150 square feet of land from the Metropolitan Water Board.2

The LCC decided to turn the 2.5 acres of land into a public open space. At first just three-quarters of an acre of gardens around the mill were laid out, but then the gardens were extended to cover the entire 2.5 acres.

At the time there was debate as to whether it should be called Old Mill Gardens or Ashby Gardens. Eventually Windmill Gardens was chosen.

Image: Copyright © London Borough of Lambeth/ Lambeth Archives

Buildings demolished

In 1962 The Builder magazine expressed regret that the LCC was planning to "demolish the original Mill House, a simple, but elegant, rural Regency cottage of good proportions, and with eaves projecting a good eighteen inches from the walls". It was hoped that it could be retained and furnished appropriately and kept as a museum of 19th-century domestic life, on the same lines as the Geffrye Museum in Shoreditch’.3

In fact what they were talking about was the Mill Cottage, shown right. The Mill House was actually a double-fronted plain brick villa, solidly built and located at the entrance to the complex, slightly detached from the industrial buildings.

Unfortunately in the early 1960s the outbuildings, bakery, Mill Cottage and Mill House were all demolished when the site was laid out as public open space.

References

  1. SPAB, Brixton Windmill File
  2. Lambeth Archives IV/120/44
  3. The Builder, 16th March 1963, p. 550