TRCH The Merry Widow

Street Tales: The Forest Windmills

23 June 16 words: Street Tales
"It's reported that seven of the Forest Mills turned clockwise and six anticlockwise, giving rise to the joke that they were 'grinding' and 'ungrinding'"
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illustration: Eva Brudenell

Green’s Windmill isn't the only set of sails Nottingham has seen, the Forest once had thirteen windmills standing on its ridge, and the bad luck associated with that number certainly seemed to hang around these striking buildings. During the time they stood in the Forest there were multiple fires, a riot and even a couple of deaths.

The number of windmills on the site fluctuated due to them being post mills, which were easy to dismantle and move – some were brought in from elsewhere, some were moved away. It’s reported that seven of the Forest Mills turned clockwise and six anticlockwise, giving rise to the joke that they were ‘grinding’ and ‘ungrinding‘.

The Mayor and Council, as Lord of the Manor, tried to control the mills and the encroachment of their gardens and houses on the Forest. They insisted in 1797 that the fences were to be removed and the gardens laid open to the Forest. This did not apply to the fences around the mills themselves, “for the purpose of preventing anyone’s approach within the Range of the Mill Sails.”

It appears that this precaution was not always taken, with one unfortunate kid finding out the hard way. “As we used to play about these mills, not preventing the danger we were in as the sails whirled round, until one struck a playmate and killed him, much to our grief and dismay” (Weekly Guardian, 1928).

It was when the Forest ridge was made part of the allotted recreation ground by the 1845 Enclosure Act that all of the windmills had to be removed, with the exception of a sole brick one that was on the other side of the road on private land. This tower-mill, positioned in a field on the south side of the road at the top end of Larkdale, was owned by a series of bakers. The first baker was Richard Annibal of Long Row, and the second was Mr Smith, who jazzed the place up by converting it to steam power. It burned down in 1858, in what was possibly a baking-related fire.

Dame Moss’ Mill had a house within its enclosure and was owned by William Brewill, who let it to Mr Sharp and William Smith. It was pulled down and moved to Kegworth. Another mill was near the south west corner of Mount Hooton Road was demolished and moved to Redmile, Vale of Belvoir - a 45-minute drive away. The windmills didn’t seem to have a nice time of it.

Opposite the post office on Forest Road was a particularly murderous mill – Bailey’s Mill. There was a house in the ground of the mill, and one of the occupants met a grisly end when his clothes got caught up in the machinery. The mill house is still there if you fancy a bit of ghost hunting. Taking the fight back to the windmills, rioters attacked another of the mills in 1831 and did quite a bit of damage. After the Enclosure Act it was moved to Farndon, where it became known as the Nottingham Mill.

Finally, on the site of the now Church Rock Cemetery, there was a mill owned by another baker called Samuel Toyne who worked on Back Lane (now Wollaton Street). His mill was moved to Kimberley, but it burned down in 1862. You get the feeling that they could have been looked after a bit better.

The natural hill that the Forest rises to gave a unique and ideal location to place the mills. Eventually with the Enclosure Act of 1845, the Forest as we know it today was created and the windmills became a bygone memory of yesteryear. What a sight it would have been.

For more on Nottingham history, check out the Nottingham Hidden History website.

Nottingham Hidden History website

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