Following the recent news about the potential redevelopment of Halnaker Mill, it is interesting to reflect on our county’s long running fascination with Sussex windmills.
Sussex has had windmills since they were first introduced to England, and may have the earliest positive reference to one in the country, dating back to 1155.
Sussex’s windmills were commemorated in a 1979 study of the structures, highlighting their importance in the industrial past of the county. Author Martin Brunnarius, a self described ‘confirmed Sussex windmillian’, was completely fascinated with the subject of Sussex Windmills and published his book ‘The Windmills of Sussex’ as a result.
In this book, the basic types of Sussex windmill - post, smock, and tower - were examined, and so were some of the more curious examples from the past, such as horizontal mills, hoisting mills, pumping mills, and saw mills.
The book also gives particular attention to Sussex millwrights who were famous for their skill and ingenuity.
Martin Brunnarius suggested that around 1820, Sussex had half a dozen windmills for every one standing today.
The oldest now standing is perhaps High Salvington post mill, which dated back to the early 18th century - however, Halnaker tower mill, near Chichester was built around the same time in 1750.
Halnaker Mill has been left closed off and without sails since 2013, but restoration work could start this summer once planning permission has been given for the sails to be reinstalled.
At the other end of the scale, Patcham tower mill is the youngest mill in Sussex, starting life in 1885.
In the early part of the 19th century, the windmill population of the country reached a peak, and of the mills which stood in 1979, more than half were built during the first 30 years of that century.
In the 1920s, there were about 20 professional millwrights at work, but by the 1870s, their number had dwindled to a mere half dozen.
Interestly, in the same year as this book was published, the famous ‘Jack’ windmill at Clayton, one of a pair known as ‘Jack’ and ‘Jill’, went up for sale along with the nearby house.
The house was built in 1963 for the late Mr Henry Longhurst, the broadcaster and journalist, and it stood in the site of the former mill house.
‘Jack’ was first worked as a mill in 1873, and immediately adjoining it was the round house of a much older mill known as Duncton Gate, which was in use in 1780. A Saxon burial was also discovered on the site in 1938.
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