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Image: Copyright © London Borough of Lambeth/ Lambeth Archives

The working mill

William Ashby, a millwright from Westerham in Kent, kept ledgers describing the works that he undertook on Brixton Windmill in September 1827.

He converted a pair of spring sails into patent sails by adding a striking rod system so that the amount of wind spilled by the shutters could be adjusted without stopping the mill. Soon afterwards, a new wallower wheel was fitted, costing £22, and described as ‘a new Iron Wollar 3ft. 6in. dim. Pitchd & Trimd with Iron face ring for hoisting sacks etc. – geared with wood’.

So from 1827, Brixton Windmill had two types of sail - one pair of common sails and one pair of patent sails. The patent sails were originally operated by means of a striking rod passing through the centre of the cast-iron windshaft, emerging at the rear of the cap. Here, a wheel and chain mechanism let the miller control the sails from a stage that originally encircled the mill on the first floor.

Renovations and repairs continued to be recorded until 1840, when the ledger stops, and it is evident that the mill was kept in good repair by John Ashby.

In 1827 the ‘wind corn mill‘ was valued at £500, with the machinery in the mill valued at an additional £100. The machinery included ‘mill stones, mill machines and dressing mills and turning gears’. Other ‘stock and moveable utensils’ (including cloths and sacks) were valued at £250. 

Interestingly, the mill was said to be adjacent to a ‘small kiln’. When corn or oats were harvested in the variable climate of England, they were often too damp to be successfully processed into flour. Heated drying kilns were introduced to remove the moisture content of the grain.

Nearby was a millwright's shop and various outhouses. Thus by 1827 there were already various buildings on the site, which eventually started to resemble a mix of farmyard and industrial premises.

OS map of 1870

OS Map of 1870

Image: © Ordnance Survey

The layout of the site is clearly depicted in the Ordnance Survey Map of 1870. The circular windmill is shown with the attached buildings, which rise to the first floor, allowing the miller access from the roof to adjust the sails.

Just to the north is the mill cottage within the yard, and a little further away the larger Mill House (a double-fronted Georgian villa) at the end of the lane near Cornwall Road. It was here that the Ashby family lived.

As you can see, the grounds surrounding the mill were a combination of gardens, orchards and allotments.