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This octagonal smock mill was variously known as Elmer’s Windmill or Almer's Mill; the foreknowledge that his name was to be coupled with an ingenious device for the grinding of grain by wind would have caused Almer himself no small wonder, for his tenure of the land on which Ockley mill was eventually built fell within the reign of Edward the Confessor.
The mill was erected in 1803 for Robert Harrison of Harley Street, London, by Thomas Coldman, who then rented the land described as `part of Almer's'. By good fortune the detailed bill for the work, totalling £735 5s 9¼d, has been preserved, enabling the actual and relative costs of mill equipment at the time to be studied.
There is no reason to suppose that a windmill had previously stood on the knoll where the sweeps of this graceful nineteenth-century mill circled briskly over duck pond, farm buildings and cornfields; the misleading inscriptions 1532 and 17-- on the lintel of the main door testified merely to the grafting in of old timbers from an ancient barn which had stood at Hatch Farm at the top of Ockley Green. In the brickwork over the doorway are four smaller inscriptions arranged symmetrically, consisting of the initials JB, WC, WL and DN, followed in each case by 1803; commemorative, no doubt, of the builders.
The mill is absent from the first edition of the one-inch Ordnance Survey map, despite its initial alluring coat of olive green paint, but it is shown by Bryant and Greenwood on their maps of 1823, and on later maps, and even – posthumously - on the Ordnance Survey New Popular Edition one-inch sheet of `London S.W.' published in 1945.
The Coldman family steered their mill through calm and tempest with a steadfastness which would seem incongruous among the sophisticated and inscrutable machines of today; it was under Edward Coldman that the veteran finally ran her course shortly before the First World War. Thomas Coldman, presumably the builder of the mill, still achieved mention in 1832 in the Land Tax returns, though there was no allusion to the mill. Edward Coldman was given as miller in 1845 and 1855, followed by Jonathan in 1874 and 1882, and by Mrs. Jonathan Coldman in 1891. Edward Coldman, the last miller, `showed his steel' by walking from Crawley to Brighton at the age of seventy.
After the mill had ceased working, perhaps from 1912, it was left to resist the weather as best it might; its rapid deterioration provoked strenuous attempts as early as 1924 by Ernest Christie, the artist, to save it, but the movement to preserve windmills lying out of sight and mind in the seclusion of the countryside, was then in its infancy, and aid for Ockley mill was not forthcoming. By 1930, when the owner of the property had applied for assistance to the newly formed Windmill Section of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, the first floor of the mill had collapsed, and rot was creeping upwards from the sills. Two sails fell at about this time, and lay for years about the base. The cap was incapable of turning, and weatherboarding and timbers forming the stage peeled off like scree from a cliff face. It was too late to intervene. Obstinately the mill stood on, confounding many gloomy prophecies, until it collapsed suddenly-allegedly in a dead calm-on 23rd November, 1944.
After the mill collapsed and the debris was removed (the metalwork went to the war effort), the base was roofed over using the old upright shaft as a ridge piece; fowls were housed within. Eventually this use even ceased and dereliction set in once again until I arrived on the scene...............
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