02 August 2016

West Blatchington Windmill, Hove

Judy Middleton 2003 (revised 2016)

 copyright © J.Middleton
This photograph was taken on 18 July 2010 during a well-attended fete

Date of Construction

There used to be some confusion about when the windmill was erected with the date varying from the 1720s to the 1830s according to your source. However, the consensus today appears to be that it was built between 1820 and 1823. It was most certainly in situ in 1825 when the celebrated artist John Constable made a pen and ink watercolour sketch of it and dated it 5 November 1825.

A private collector in the United States owns this unique work; in 1993 it was flown over especially so that it could appear in a splendid exhibition entitled The Romantic Windmill organised by curator Tim Wilcox at Hove Museum.

John Constable knew a thing or two about windmills because he was the son of a miller. He may have walked over from his lodgings in Brighton especially to view this curiosity of a windmill at West Blatchington.

Smock Mill with a Difference

The West Blatchington windmill is identified as a smock mill, which is ordinary enough, but it is hexagonal (six-sided) instead of the more usual octagonal (eight-sided).

Then there is the presence of the barns. The mill used to give the impression that it was sitting on top of the barns. It is something of a chicken and egg question; in other words, which was there first – the mill or the barns, or were they built at the same time?

The writer Thurston Hopkins was of the opinion that the barns were a later addition. But more recent research reveals one of the original barn trusses is still located within the base of the mill.

On the other hand, people often recycled old timbers and bricks and, for instance, some thin 16th century bricks were included in the barn walls.

As regards documentary evidence, the 1839 Tithe Map depicted barns north and south of the mill but there was no sign of a barn on the west side. But the west barn is shown in the revision of the 1877 Ordnance Survey Map 6-inch map.

The west barn apparently started life as an open yard and later on the walls were raised and a roof added.

It is interesting to note that in Arthur Foord Hughes’s beautiful painting the barn roofs were shown with clay tiles, whereas at the time of demolition the material was definitely Welsh slates.

  copyright © Royal Pavilion and Museums, Brighton & Hove
Arthur Foord Hughes (1856-1934) painted this view of mill and barns. It seems like an evening scene with horses trudging wearily home.

A Working Mill

West Blatchington had a reputation of being a fast and efficient mill. A threshing machine stood in one barn and there were two chaff cutters in the other barn. The mill also powered these machines, which meant that all the work necessary for processing grain was done in one place.

The mill rested on a sure foundation of flint and red bricks that also contained the first three stages of the mill; then came the six-sided wooden mill building tapering to a cap at the top.

The stages consisted of the following:

Ground Floor – this space served as a store-room. The un-ground grain remained here until it dealt with while the finished product awaited collection. This floor and the next were considered spacious for a mill because there was headroom of seven feet.

First Floor – this was where the mill’s central shaft transferred its power to a wheel, which in turn powered the threshing machine and chaff cutters.

Second Floor – there are two huge curved beams here of a mellow, red colour containing an A-frame. It is thought the wood might once have been ship’s timbers and certainly the longitudinal beam at the top has been identified as a ship’s inner keel.

Third Floor – this was where grinding took place, using two pairs of four-foot diameter stones. Outside a stage was built around the mill that was flush with the ridge of the barns’ roofs.

Fourth Floor – the grain bins were kept here.

Fifth Floor – this was the last stage below the cap and was around six feet below the wallower, a horizontal gear wheel.
 copyright © Judges Ltd.
When this photograph was taken of the mill, 
it was already a relic of the past. 
Note the two sweeps and the two bare stocks.

Cap – When it was a working mill, the sweeps could be faced into the wind by the action of the fantail. The cap at West Blatchington mill was the only part to rotate; this is in contrast to a post mill where the whole body could be moved around the post. There was an elaborate system of iron wheels, an iron wind-shaft and a rack and pinion for the shuttered sweeps.


When John Constable sketched West Blatchington windmill he saw common sweeps, that is canvas spread over a framework. Later on, patent sweeps were in use controlled by weight and chains.

In the 20th century after the mill fell into disuse, old photographs show it had two sweeps and two stocks. Gurney Wilson was of the opinion that that two of the sweeps may have been the old cloth sort and being older, were removed for safety’s sake.

However, Simmons reported that two sweeps were blown off in 1897.

Tarring the Mill

When Thurston Hopkins visited the mill in around 1930, he found the old mill cradle, complete with ropes and tackle, still hanging outside. This contraption was used when the mill was tarred to preserve the wood.

Tarring the mill was quite an occasion for the neighbourhood and people would arrive from a distance of twenty miles just for the pleasure of watching the operation. It was not just the tarring but also the hint of amusement that old Rounderby who tarred the mills and barns in the area might afford them. Although Rounderby cut a substantial figure, he was somewhat hen-pecked and hardly dared venture an opinion in his wife’s presence. But once he was aloft in the mill’s cradle, his courage returned and he was known to conduct loud arguments with his wife who was left standing on the ground below. He knew he was safe for a few hours because he refused to descend during the day’s work and instead food and a demijohn of ale were hoisted up to him by rope and pulley. 

Another Unusual Feature

At West Blatchington the stocks were bolted to a large cross on the wind-shaft. This is unique in Sussex and reminiscent of multi-sweep mills of Lincolnshire. In fact the mill’s many unusual features lead to the supposition that a local millwright was not given the task of constructing it.

A Lucky Stone

 copyright © J.Middleton
"Lucky Stones"

Thurston Hopkins was pleased to find there was still a perforated stone hung by a piece of string in the cap. It had no functional use of course but a holed stone also know as witch stone or lucky stone was an age-old specific to bring good luck. Such stones go right back into the mists of time and Sussex folk used them as a charm against fairies – not the benign, dancing sort but the malignant ones that liked to ride horses at night and leave them to be discovered in the morning covered with sweat and foam. You could say a lucky stone was used as an early kind of insurance policy.


On the subject of local tradition, it ought to be mentioned that there was a strong association between smuggling and West Blatchington windmill. Naturally, the windmill was a good seamark to guide smugglers arriving from France and there was a well-known landing beach at the foot of Hove Street. Tradition has it that brandy and tobacco were conveyed to the mill in carts loaded with fishermen’s tackle; this included those bulky, fibrous fenders normally placed between boats and landing stage, which could be hollowed out to hide contraband. Smuggling stories were also associated with nearby Hangleton Manor and indeed smuggling was endemic in the area. It even continued after Hove Coastguard Station was established in 1831 to get a grip on a situation that deprived the Government of useful tax revenues.

Mill Operators

Drawn from the original by copyright © J.Middleton
In J.Edward's revised map of 1819. The position of Blatchington Farm is shown, to the west is Portslade's Easthill  and Copperas Gap (south Portslade) windmills. 

It is difficult to trace the names of those who worked the mill because it was so much part of the farm and was not owned individually as was the case with Copperas Gap windmill and Easthill windmill, both in Portslade.

Edward Ledgerton was the first known miller and Albert Whittington was the last one.

Gurney Wilson recorded that Whittington took over from the previous miller Mr Strudwick who must have enjoyed excellent health because he was still going strong at the age of eighty-five. Indeed he was quite prepared to carry on with his work and it was his employer who considered it was too hazardous for a man of such advanced years. During the memorable snow storm of 1881 Strudwick had to clamber outside the mill to clear away a huge accumulation of snow from the fantail; the revolving cap was unable to function and the mill itself was in danger of being wrecked.

All the apprenticeship into the mysteries of working the windmill that Whittington received was one day in the company of Strudwick. It was no wonder that Whittington was such a cautious operator. He did not like to take the decision to start West Blatchington windmill working unless he had the reassurance that fellow millers thought the wind was favourable enough. All he had to do was to look west to Easthill Windmill, Portslade and east to Dyke Road Mill (Black Mill) Brighton. If their sweeps were going round, then it was time to get things going at West Blatchington too. Then he had the satisfaction of seeing three mills working at the same time. Whittington was miller for around fifteen years.

  copyright © Royal Pavilion and Museums, Brighton & Hove
Clem Lambert (1855-1925) painted this charming watercolour. Brighton-born Lambert was a prolific and popular artist and in this scene the mill is depicted with other farm buildings while St Peter’s Church is in the foreground and the sea is in the distance.

Storm, Fire and Possible Loss

In December 1934 there was a fierce gale that was so strong the fantail broke loose from the chains that had held it secure for years. This caused the cap to rotate and a farm labourer had to scramble hastily into the cap and stop it moving by jamming a crowbar in the works.

In April 1936 a rumour spread around the town that the mill was under threat because the land on which it stood was about to be sold to a well-known firm of Brighton builders. But Mr Paul, who had held the tenancy for the previous ten years, knew nothing about the proposal. However, the rumour turned out to be true although the unfortunate tenant was the last person to know.

The very next month there was a more imminent danger when fire broke out on 3 May 1936 in the barn on the south side. The fire originated in two wagons to the south east, which were full of straw; it was thought children might have been smoking cigarettes there. It was fortunate that the wind was from the north east at the time because had it been blowing from the south west, nothing could have saved the mill from destruction.

The flames were first noticed around 8.30 p.m. but it was not until 9 p.m. that the Fire Brigade was summoned. The man who raised the alarm was Councillor Andrews who saw the flames from a distance and hurried to the telephone; he was to become Mayor of Hove in the 1940s.

By the time Hove Fire Brigade under Captain Dumbrell arrived on the scene, the barn was an inferno. Albert Whittington was not surprised the barn burned so fiercely because the beams were very old, having been salvaged from a sailing ship wrecked at Newhaven.

Firemen directed five jets of water at the mill and managed to save the sweeps. At the height of the blaze Auxiliary Fireman Gilbert was injured by falling slates and needed three stitches in his lip.

The following morning the mill was a sorry sight with nothing to show for the south barn except charred rafters.

Acquired by Hove Corporation

copyright © J.Middleton
A drawing by J. Middleton
On 27 September 1937 Hove Corporation acquired West Blatchington Windmill plus five acres of land from the Abergavenny Estate for £3,400. A condition of the sale was that the mill was restored, the barns left as they were and the adjacent land was kept as a public open space. Provision was made for the damaged south barn to be demolished.

But then it was discovered that the fire had also damaged the north barn as well. Hove officials were obliged to write to the Marquess of Abregavenny for permission to demolish that barn too because they could not afford the expense of a full restoration of the barn.

The windmill itself was restored and Neves of Heathfield undertook the necessary work and covered the sides with unpainted cedar weather-boarding. It was also Neves that fitted new sweeps in August 1939.     

More Gales and Repairs

Since the Second World War a great deal of time, effort and money have been expended on the upkeep of the mill.

In May 1966 a gale visibly damaged one of the sweeps and upon closer inspection it was discovered the three other sweeps had also suffered. Some £500 was spent on repairs.

In October 1967 a further gale damaged the sweeps.

In 1979 Hove Council provided £1,400 from its lottery funds to renovate the mill plus £200 from its repair fund. The restoration was completed in 1980 when a giant new steel cross to which the sweeps were attached, was hoisted aloft. The cross weighed two tons and cost £5,000. The Government also awarded Hove Council a grant of £2,000 towards the restoration.

In 1982 a crane removed the cap in order that the main beam could be repaired and the sweeps were again restored.

In 1999 the mill’s top, fantail, and sweeps were removed and transported to Carlton Pilbeam Joinery, Southwick, where the rotted oak beams where replaced by new pieces created from Douglas fir and Normandy oak by specialists. For five months the mill presented a rather forlorn, truncated appearance. But on 28 October 1999 two giant cranes lifted the top, fantail, and sweeps back into position.

Open to the Public

On 14 July 1979 West Blatchington windmill was opened to the public and visitor numbers were good.

January 1993 it was stated that during the winter a better display was to be mounted on the ground floor. The Friends of West Blatchington Windmill would cover the cost of £1,250.    

In May 1995 it was revealed that Hove Council was looking into the idea of rebuilding the north barn to provide an educational centre for school visits. In October 1995 Hove Council applied to the Department of the Environment for planning approval to build the 100-square foot extension. The extension was designed to resemble the old north barn and the project was discussed with Friends of West Blatchington Windmill. In 1998 the extension was finished, a little earlier than had been expected. It housed a hall, kitchen, study area and toilet.

Site Visit 29 August 1999

The stocks were laid out on the ground north of the mill because the sweeps had been sent away for repair.

The entrance fee to the mill was 70p and the volunteers were most anxious that you should not bump your head on low beams, and to take care on the many ladders. You could visit all floors and the most rickety ladder was the one at the top between the dust floor and the cap. Near the top you could peer through a small window and see the traffic coming down King George VI Avenue.

A windmill looks such a simple structure from the outside and it is a revelation to see the complex workings inside, the giant machinery and the heavy beams. The only thing missing is the noise and vibration of a working mill and perhaps the daunting sound of a gale from the south west in the creaking sweeps.

There were some excellent photographs of the mill in its heyday including a most interesting postcard dating from around 1920 taken looking out from the mill stage onto the old farm buildings. Another photograph depicts a large pond north of the mill where Holmes Avenue is today. You could also buy prints of Constable’s celebrated sketch of the mill.

copyright © J.Middleton
A souvenir pebble painted with an 
image of West Blatchington windmill.
Just inside the door a glass case contained some articles retrieved when West Blatchington Manor (the old farmhouse) was demolished. They included fragments of pottery, long nails from the roof timbers, a German Jetton used for calculating, some Victorian glass marbles and a humble thimble.

When entering the main ground floor room the eye was drawn to the beam where there were some tools on display, which Alfred Gorringe once used at Court Farm; his daughter Miss E. Gorringe donated the items..

Like a rural museum exhibits included information about other mills, country ways and old farming implements and tools for sheep shearing plus some wheelwright’s tools from Park Mill, Burwash

There were models of the windmills at Shipley and High Salvington and there was also a model of West Blatchington windmill with its barns as it was in around 1888 created by two Brighton Polytechnic students.

There was a large French burr stone from Kemp Town Steam Mills.

There was a genuine old smock with smocking on the sleeves and below the collar, which was once worn at Vine Farm, near Lewes in around 1880.

At one side of the new hall there stood an enormous dough trough still bearing tool marks and it is thought the trough that must have come from an institution or a baker.

In a glass case there was a collection of 22 clay pipes collected by H.E.S. Simmons and donated by F.W. Gregory. Clay pipes are very fragile and broken pieces often turn up on old sites but it is unusual to see them in such pristine condition. Simmons was a mill enthusiast and compiled volumes of notes. Also in the case there were a selection of apple-wood and hornbeam cogs including one from West Blatchington. Another item of interest rejoiced in the name ‘damsel’ and was the tool used to activate the bran between the stones.

Recent Times

In April 2012 it was stated that Friends of West Blatchington Windmill had raised the astonishing amount of £50,000; this money paid for a new set of sweeps, which volunteers fervently hoped would last for at least 25 years. Some people were so passionately interested in the mill that they left money for the purpose in their wills. Another source of income was the annual summer fete.

In May 2014 Councillor Denise Cobb, Mayor of Brighton and Hove, opened the 35th season at the mill; opening times were on Sundays and Bank Holidays 2.30 p.m. to 5 p.m. and the modest attendance fee was £2 for adults and £1 for children. The Mayor purchased a wholemeal cook-book from the gift shop and she also tried out a stone grinder.

  copyright © J.Middleton
Another scene from the fete on 18 July 2010.


Batten, I. English Windmills Volume I (1930)
Brunnarius, Martin Windmills of Sussex (1979)
Dawes, H.J. Windmills and Millers of Brighton (1988)
Encyclopaedia of Hove and Portslade
Hayden, Roger West Blatchington Windmill (1982)
Hopkins, R. Thurston Old Watermills and Windmills (1933)
Simmons, H.E.S. Sussex Windmills. Three quarto volumes of newspaper and magazines cuttings. (Brighton Local Studies Library) 
Wilcox, Timothy The Romantic Windmill (1993)
Wilson, Gurney Notebooks Manuscript books about windmills (Hove Reference Library)
Copyright © J.Middleton 2016
page layout by D.Sharp