21 May 2022

Why Bradwell Windmill is
one of the most distinctive
landmarks in Milton Keynes

Bradwell Windmill, one of the most distinctive landmarks in Milton Keynes, dates from around 1817 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

Last weekend, two of us walked from Wolverton to Bradwell to visit Bradwell Windmill, one of the most distinctive landmarks in Milton Keynes. This is believed to be the second windmill built in the parish, replacing an earlier post mill that once stood on the site of Summerfield School. It is also thought to be the oldest tower mill in Buckinghamshire.

Bradwell Windmill is just off the V6 Grafton Street. It is a stone tower mill built of locally quarried limestone. It has a pair of common sails, on which a sailcloth can be spread, and a pair of spring sails. The wooden cap can be turned so that the sails always face into the wind.

The windmill has three floors above ground level, the stone floor, the bin floor and, at the top, the dust floor. On the stone floor, two pairs of millstones are set in timber vats, one pair of Derbyshire Peak stones, used for grinding animal feed, and one pair of French burrs, for grinding flour for human consumption.

An unusual feature of the windmill is a fireplace on the ground floor. This would have been very risky as flour dust is highly explosive.

Before 1800, the milling needs of the local community were served by the many watermills on the River Ouse and Bradwell Brook. The opening of the Grand Junction Canal, which linked London to the Midlands, opened up the possibility of serving a wider market.

Samuel Holman acquired an acre of land from Henry Wilman, close to the newly opened canal, with the hope of erecting a tower mill. It is not known when the building was completed, but a reference was made to it being ‘newly erected’ in 1817. The cost of the windmill was thought to be around £500, a considerable sum in those days.

Holman operated the windmill until he died in 1825, when it was inherited by his wife and son.

The mill was owned by Elizabeth Curtis by 1846 and was run by William Carr, whose name was carved into a tentering beam in the mill. Over the next few years, the ownership of the mill passed to the children of the Curtis family.

The mill was bought by Robert Adams of Bradwell Abbey in 1857. He planned to set up his ward, John Abbott, in business at the mill. However, Abbott showed no interest in the business. Instead, Robert Adams persuaded his son, also Robert Adams, to move from Manor Farm to the mill cottage to get the business up and running, in the hope that Abbott would take over at a later date.

Robert Adams established a profitable business in farming and milling. He used a steam plough engine at the mill on days when there was little wind in order to provide additional turning power.

John Abbot sold his interest in the business at Boughton Green Fair in 1871. Robert Adams junior then moved to Carr’s watermill in Haversham and a new miller, Robert Saxby, took over the business for a short time.

By this time, large, steam-powered, rolling mills were developing, milling grain that had been imported from America, and the distribution of flour was much more efficient due to the extensive rail network. At the same time, arable farming was in decline in north Buckinghamshire. The windmill could no longer run at a profit, and it ceased operating around 1876.

Bradwell Windmill remains one of the most distinctive landmarks in Milton Keynes. Following a major refurbishment, Bradwell Windmill reopened to visitors on Sundays throughout the summer months, although when we visited last weekend it was fenced off once again and seemed to be undergoing further refurbishments.

One of the millstones at Bradwell Windmill (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

1 comment:

AliceT said...

So glad to see this article today. I've probably told you before that there is a brook behind the house I live in. Recently I did some research about the Fulling Mill Brook here, and found out a lot about what went on along our brook over the years. I'm now learning more about what mills were about. This article is helping to flesh that out some more. Thanks a lot.
Alice Tomlin