An Overview Of Outwood Mill
Windmills are among the most majestic buildings to be seen in the countryside.
In sheer beauty they rank among the goodly company of ancient bridges, noble castles, picturesque inns and fine country houses which are so characteristic of the English landscape.
Although the trade of the windmill flourished in England through several centuries, most of the mills have long since become mere picturesque ruins, mute reminders of a vanished past. Records of their building were hardly ever kept; they came into being, served their day and their generation, and then gave up the unequal struggle brought about by the introduction of steam power.
The mill at Outwood, however, is a notable exception. We know when it was built; we know who built it. The original deed and much of the history of the mill and its millers is still in existence. Add to that the fact that it is the oldest working windmill in the country, and we begin to understand some of its appeal.
The village of Outwood acquired its name at a time when many people were leaving the rancid and plague ridden streets of London and heading for cleaner country air. Some of those travelled due south and came to live “Out In The Wood” … which eventually became “Outwood”.
There are a number of reasons why people would have chosen to become “Forest dwellers” and they include the availability of Wood for fuel and shelter, an abundance of plants, berrys, fruits and nuts that could be eaten and some plants that were used in medicine and in the dyeing of clothing.
Additionally the forest and the surrounding areas would have provided plenty of meat in the form of Duck, Pheasant, Quail, Geese, Pidgeon and many other birds. Also there would have been rabbit, Deer and possibly wild boar to be had. Also there was beef and lamb available in the area which in the latter case would have also meant wool for clothing.
The last element that was available was water. Rather than the sewer filled water that they had been used to in London this was good clean river water and one suspects that they would have also collected rainwater from the forest when it rained and in the winter used snow and ice for water.
Finally there was Outwood Mill. The availability of the Mill at Outwood meant that forest dwellers living “Out In The Wood” could acquire flour and perhaps even bread from the miller or local baker and maybe they would have exchanged meats, wool or labour for such things. Therefore the Miller and Outwood Windmill would have been the cornerstone of the community.
Outwood windmill began turning wheat into flour during the early years of the reign of Charles II and when Queen Anne was still a baby, and is still doing so to this day.
Even to the most unimaginative amongst us there is something which stirs the imagination as we look at this windmill, and remind ourselves that it was built while England was in the grip of the Great Plague of 1665 and, a year later, London was devastated by the Great Fire. From the top of the mill, it is said, it was possible to see the glow in the sky as London burnt, some 27 miles away.
Instinctively we find ourselves imagining life in those days; the London of Samuel Pepys, of Nell Gwynn and of the ‘Merry Monarch’. Charles II had some adventures with windmills and millers while he was in hiding – perhaps he even caught a glimpse of Outwood windmill while he was out hunting in the Surrey countryside.
Nor is it any too fanciful to imagine that Pepys himself, who was nothing if not insatiably curious, may have paid a visit to Outwood, and described the mill, in his own colourful way, to his friends.
Outwood Windmill has featured in several films, as well as in many television and radio programmes, including:
- No Hiding Place
- Blue Peter
- Dave Allen and Friends
- Get This
- The Journey
It is also mentioned in the Guinness Book of Records, and has frequently been the subject of photographs and illustrations in national and local newspapers and magazines, as well as on jigsaws, calendars and in many advertising brochures.
Outwood windmill has received numerous awards over the years, including a Civic Trust award in 1980; the Surrey Industrial History Group’s Award of the year in 1984, and yet another from Surrey County Council as a Building of Historic Interest, being no. 16 in their register. Outwood is also one of the very few windmills in Britain which is Listed as Grade 1 by English Heritage.
The Wind and Watermill Section of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings presented the Mill at Outwood with another plaque, citing it as a fine example of mill preservation. This was presented on National Mills Day, May 11th 1997.
Outwood mill is still fascinating adults and children alike to this day and the current guardians have vowed to keep the mill open for visitors and school parties for the foreseeable future.
Additionally the current guardians are working on a documentary film to chart the history of both the local environment and of course this wonderful old windmill who is, in the biased opinion of the guardians … a national treasure.