Although there was an icy wind for the Friends’ second site visit earlier today, at least it wasn’t snowing! So nine intrepid Friends turned up, donned hard hats and hi-vis jackets, and were given a comprehensive tour of Brixton Windmill by Ulrike of Stonewest and David from Dannatt Johnson Architects.
We started by climbing the ladders up the layers of scaffolding, each layer getting narrower and the gaps getting smaller! The black asphalt coating the windmill was covered in chalk circles showing areas where Stonewest will need to repair the brickwork and mortar.
It became obvious, from the stains on the walls, where the pigeons’ favourite locations are! Another surprise, which can’t be seen from the ground, was a painted face on one of the boarded up windows. The Friends speculated on whether this was a long-lost portrait of Joshua Ashby or an early daub by Van Gogh, who used to live in Brixton.
Right at the top, the previous mechanism for turning the cap, complete with lightning conductor, is another popular pigeon roost. The brake wheel and drive shaft are protected by a tent of plastic while the weatherboarding is off, but we got to see up close the cast-iron poll end, where the sails are mounted.
And by poking his camera through a gap in the plastic, Owen was able to take some photos of the view below, showing the children’s playground with the growing Shard in the distance.
Back on the ground, we started climbing again on the inside. On the ground floor, we could see very clearly where Stonewest had repaired the brickwork and inserted Helibars to add extra strength. Some of the rotting joists supporting the first floor will have to be replaced, but the mill does seem to be slowly drying out.
Ventilation will be improved by unblocking one of the doors on the first floor, installing a ‘stable door’ arrangement where the top half opens. Many of the windows, once repaired, will also be able to open inwards.
On the first floor, where the provender mill will be returned, a metal flitch plate will be attached to the ceiling to prevent it sagging due to the weight of the main millstones above. The wooden wall plate, which runs right around the wall at about waist height, had almost entirely rotted away because of sycamore roots pushing through from the outside – so this will have to be replaced.
On the second level, only the lower millstone remains, as it was too heavy to remove, so it will be dressed on site. The other stone furniture is being restored at Owlsworth. On the third level, we could see a test patch of the limewash that Stonewest will be using to paint the interior. It contains casein, a milk protein, so hopefully will not rub off on clothes like old limewash used to.
Finally, we made it to the cap, where it was much lighter and easier to see the mechanisms without the weatherboarding. Ulrike demonstrated how the sack hoist works, and we could see how the brake wheel had been disengaged from the wallower, allowing the sails to turn without linking to the millstones.
After posing for a group photo back on the ground floor, the Friends were uniformly positive and enthusiastic about the work and the tour.
Shaun Wilson, one of the Friends, said, “It was wonderful to go up to the cap. I’ve been inside the windmill before when I was a small child, but seeing it today was very special. Everyone should be able to go up and see it to understand how the windmill works.”
Many thanks to Ulrike and David for such an interesting and comprehensive tour.