Sunday, April 3, 2022

East Wittering, Sussex



Passing through the Witterings, I was prepared to expect West Wittering to be the interesting one and East Wittering to be the preserve merely of modern houses and shops, hardly worth a glance. But I should know by now that nearly everywhere I go, there’s something to make me pause. So I shouldn’t have been surprised when, among the residential streets and get-rich-quick property developments, this popped up: what’s left of East Wittering windmill.

It doesn’t look much on the face of it:  the sails and cap have gone, the rendering that once covered the brickwork has partly peeled away, the stump of the tower mill sits quietly on a piece of private land. But it’s a reminder that once there were mills everywhere, grinding corn to make bread – watermills where there was a river or stream to power them, windmills where the terrain is open enough for the sails to catch the wind and turn. East Wittering is near the sea and the wind, as I soon discovered, can blow strongly there.

It’s not known how old this structure is – probably 18th century. It is known to have been working for most of the 19th century,* until the sails were removed in 1896. Perhaps it soldiered on under another power source (many windmills had oil engines installed), but it seems to have spent much of the 20th century derelict.† Nowadays the flour for our bread is as likely to be imported as to come from local fields. In many countries today, and in Britain in particular, foods such as bread are part of international trade networks and prices will increase as the effects of the war in Ukraine are felt more widely. This old mill is a timely reminder of how much agriculture, industry and trade have changed.§

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* Online sources give 1810 as the date of the first written record of the mill.

† If anyone has further information about the mill’s later history, do please let me know via the ‘comments’ button below.

§ Although Britain imports very little wheat from Uklraine (the UK produces over 80 per cent of the wheat it uses), the war is affecting prices because globally the supply is reduced.


Anonymous said...

A quick look at the press turned up two little mentions:

last worked in 1891 and stopped working because of an "accident to the fan" according to the Portsmouth Evening News of 22 July 1954. They also mentioned mills in agricultural areas going into decline from the mid-19th century because of inexpensive American flour imported in large quantities.

Trinity House used the mill at East Wittering (plus Cackham/Cakeham Tower and a "conspicuous" hotel on Selsey Bill as landmarks for shipping in order to indicate the position of a wreck which they had taken control of (Lloyd's List - Monday 10 October 1910).

Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

The brickwork bears a strong resemblance to that of the Redoubt Fortress and Martello Tower at Eastbourne: the man who caught the brick trade during the Napoleonic War period must have ended up with a fortune. If this windmill was built from scratch, could it represent the boom in milling during the period of the Corn Laws, with more and more land going under cereal cultivation - followed by the inevitable slump with the drop in prices and bread being again within the reach of the poor? The bottle shape is similar to the ex-tower mill at Goole in Yorkshire which now serves as the restaurant in one of the supermarkets. This suggests to me some kind of pattern-book being in use. The technique could have been transferred to the Martello Towers when they were suddenly required? Just some random thoughts.