Portland Windmills

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Northern windmill
Southern windmill

The Portland Windmills are two historic, presumed medieval, stone towers which were once windmills. The disused windmills are located nearby south of Easton village and the east of Weston village. Both towers are found within close proximity to one another, (135 metres), within an area of rolling fields and old quarries. The northern one is found at Cottonfields and the southern one at Top Growlands. They are relatively short mills with conical caps.[1] Both windmills have been separate Grade II Listed monuments since September 1978,[2][3] and are the only historic windmill remains to survive in Dorset.[4]

The northern mill is often called Angel Mill whilst the southern mill is named South Mill.[5] Otherwise the windmills have, in the past, been known to be named after their area of land; Cottonfields Mill and Top Growlands Mill respectively.[6]


Both windmills were first recorded in the Land Revenue Accounts of 1608, although the exact date of creation remains unclear. A reference of the land holding the windmills by Dorothie Kames of Wakeham in The Rentals and Survey of Portland dated 15 September 1608 is the earliest dating known. Both windmills were later featured on the 1626 map by William Simplon and on all maps and charts afterwards, including the Hutchins map of 1710, where the windmills were highlighted as prominent landmarks, and were used for sea navigation. Although there had been similar windmills in Brittany, the Channel Islands and other parts of England, the Portland windmills are said to be amongst the earliest of their type in the United Kingdom. As with the Portland Lerret, a boat designed purposely for fishing off Chesil Beach, the technology was possibly introduced or gained via the numerous trade links with the Mediterranean area. Having kept the same primitive form throughout their 400-year existence, the windmills were probably built and maintained by island craftsmen and millers.[4]

Traditionally the two windmills were operated by the Pearce family from the 1600s to the 1899. Throughout this period, they remained as small, primitive windmills to serve their local isolated area on a communal basis. The tower mills were an important part of the island's once-thriving agricultural system. The mills would grind grain both for bigger commercial enterprises and for the women who gleaned what they could from the fields after the crops had been harvested. The flour gained from the gleanings would have helped to supplement food supplies in winter when fishing was poor. During the Naploeonic Wars, between 1803–1815, both mills were used as look-out posts, to spot any attempt of a French invasion.

The windmills were ceased to operate in the late 1890s due to cheap mass-produced flour and bread being readily available via Portland's first modern rail and road links.[4] As part of the Second World War anti-invasion measures, the Home Guard inserted a concrete floor slab on corrugated shuttering in the south mill to form an observation post during 1940-41. By the 1960s, no preservation of the windmills had been made. During the 20th century, a rapid destruction of the timber components was seen and the final removal of the north windmill's windshaft and sailstock was transferred and placed in the outside part of the museum in November 1983, leaving just the stone tower shells on the site.[4][7] These still remain in the garden of the museum to date.

In the late 1980s, a local quarry company had announced their plans to demolish the southern windmill in order to gain access to stone in the area. This caused public outcry amongst Portland's population, which caused the local quarry owners to withdraw the demolishing plan and more severe planning restrictions were imposed on them. In the end, the field was quarried right up to the foundation of the old windmill, and the hole was filled in with quarrying waste shortly after in 1990. The south tower was renovated by ARC Ltd in 1991, shortly after the close quarrying.[8] In 2000, a small amount of care was given to the windmills, in attempt to preserve them, but this did not last. Until recent times, the quarried area was covered in scrub, giving no hint of its origin.[9] In recent times further quarrying in the area has come within close range of the windmills, but both remain untouched, as does the public footpath coiling around them.

In 1986 the BBC launched a project to record a snapshot of everyday life across the UK for future generations.[10] A million volunteers took part and the Portland Windmills were featured as one site that would be of interest in another 1000 years.[11]

Design and current condition[edit]

Both windmills are roofless and are of rough coursed rubble. The small parallel sided towers are of typical southern Mediterranean form.[4] The northern windmill has a plain cylindrical shaft to flush dressed coping, approximately having a 4m diameter and being 5.5m high. The interior has various putlog holes three metres from ground level, and various internal dressed slots. The shaft has undressed openings to former doors. It is suggested that the northern windmill is of earlier origin than the other.[2] The southern windmill also has a cylindrical shaft which is slightly tapered. The shaft approximately has a 4 diameter and stands 7m high. There are sundry openings at three levels, and a blocked door to south-east side, whilst the clear door opening of the north-east has a slight basket-arch head.[3]

Both windmills have become overgrown and are prone to vandalism as entering the inside of both shells is easily possible and both remain damaged by vandalism and littering, including fires being lit inside.[7] This is especially the case in the south tower. As the south tower was renovated by ARC Ltd in 1991 after the new quarry was dug near, the north tower did not receive the same attention and is therefore is not in such good condition internally, although there is less littering.[4]

In recent years attempts have been made to form a trust to preserve both windmills. The quarrying company Stone Firms, who own the South Mill, have expressed interest in handing the windmill to a trust. There is an independent, private owner of the North Mill.


  1. ^ http://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=868143&sort=2&type=&rational=a&class1=None&period=None&county=93347&district=93625&parish=93626&place=&recordsperpage=10&source=text&rtype=&rnumber=&p=14&move=n&nor=294&recfc=0
  2. ^ a b "The National Heritage List for England | English Heritage". List.english-heritage.org.uk. Retrieved 2013-01-23. 
  3. ^ a b "The National Heritage List for England | English Heritage". List.english-heritage.org.uk. Retrieved 2013-01-23. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f "PORTLAND EASTON WINDMILLS - Dorset Windmills". Sites.google.com. Retrieved 2013-01-23. 
  5. ^ http://www.portlandbill.co.uk/windmills.htm
  6. ^ Legg, Rodney (1999). Portland Encyclopaedia. Dorset Publishing Company. ISBN 978-0948699566. 
  7. ^ a b "Windmills, Portland, Dorset". Geoffkirby.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-01-23. 
  8. ^ "PORTLAND EASTON WINDMILLS - Dorset Windmills". Sites.google.com. Retrieved 2012-09-16. 
  9. ^ "Windmills, Portland, Dorset". Geoffkirby.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-09-16. 
  10. ^ "Domesday Reloaded: Explore, compare and share the Domesday Reloaded archive". BBC. 1970-01-01. Retrieved 2012-09-16. 
  11. ^ "Domesday Reloaded: Portland Windmills". BBC. 1970-01-01. Retrieved 2012-09-16. 

Coordinates: 50°32′28″N 2°26′13″W / 50.5410°N 2.4370°W / 50.5410; -2.4370