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07.09.2016

The windmill on the hill: opening up Chesterton for Heritage Open Days

As England celebrates Heritage Open Days 2016, conservator Adam Marriott shares what’s on offer at Grade I listed Chesterton Windmill

Heritage Open Days (HoD) is England's biggest festival of history and culture with over 40,000 volunteers hosting thousands of events across the country.

This year, HoD takes places from 8th to 11th September and Icon members will be on hand to share their latest projects and talk to the public about conservation.

Adam Marriott, restorer of traditional water, wind and steam driven mills, has been busy preparing Chesterton Windmill, one of Warwickshire's most famous landmarks.

The Windmill has stood on a hilltop overlooking the village of Chesterton for nearly 400 years and is open to the public only twice a year: for National Mills Day in May and Heritage Open Days in September. We asked Adam to tell us more.

What’s on offer at Chesterton Windmill for HoD?

The open days usually start with volunteers on site, carrying grain up into the mill, filling the hoppers, setting the sails, operating the brake, talking to visitors, guiding people round the mill and answering questions.

There’s also a tea and cake stall, a hand quern for children to have a go at grinding and some years we have a falconry display.

Every year, we receive really positive feedback. It’s great that folks can see inside the building and actually see it running. We have lots of interest from families and children too. I have two young boys and they love coming to help!

What’s unique about Chesterton Windmill?

The windmill was built in 1632 and has a unique design, certainly the oldest complete and workable tower type windmill in the UK.

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Chesterton Windmill has stood for nearly 400 years and is open to the public only twice a year (Image: Paul Lucas, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Its odd design was for many years attributed to Inigo Jones – who worked for the builder who owned the estate it stood on – and for many years, thought to have been an observatory converted to a windmill but this was disproved following the discovery of a design in one of Edward Peto’s books, now in the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

Edward Peto, the landowner and builder, was a very enlightened chap for his time and did the grand tour. He was very interested in science, architecture and astronomy and quite a formidable character for his time. From a practical point of view, the windmill was very advanced from a gearing and tower design.

Chesterton was derelict from the 30s and restored in the late 50s and 60s by Derek Ogden. It is now in the care of Warwickshire County Council and is opened twice a year and run weather permitting.

The latest drone craze has caused problems with folks flying them into the sails, then climbing the mill to retrieve broken drones

Can you tell us about your role? What’s a typical day if indeed there is one?

Some organisation and maintenance goes on year round. Behind the scenes, the council organises painting, lightning conductors and repairs to the structure. The latest drone craze has caused problems with folks flying them into the sails and then climbing the mill to retrieve the broken drones.

I usually have to do a pre-opening check and any maintenance before the open days but also turn the sails at least four times a year to shake out any water and help keep the sails balanced.

Last year, over 2,000 people signed a petition to save the windmill from development. What role does HoD play in securing this type of public support?

The opening and running of mills helps the public see that not only are they a significant heritage asset both from a social and mechanical history angle, but also a living, working building and a unique combination of building and machine, quite capable of its original purpose after nearly 400 years of use. This in itself can bring about some interesting conservation issues!

We’re very lucky and probably don’t realise the amount of built history in the UK that surrounds us

Finally, what's your favourite listed building?

Oof, where do I start? I live in a listed building, our Georgian farmhouse, which we slowly brought back from the brink of dereliction with no water, electricity and a heavily pregnant wife – but that’s another story!

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Warwick Castle (Image: Haydn Curtis, CC BY-SA 2.0)

I’m extremely lucky to work with listed buildings on a daily basis. Off the top of my head would be Warwick Castle where, again, I’m lucky to look after the portcullis and water mill, but also get to go behind the scenes into non public areas. It’s a truly remarkable building… I could write a book!

We’re very lucky and probably don’t realise the amount of built history in the UK that surrounds us and we all take for granted – myself included.

Will you be at Heritage Open Days? Share your experiences from HoD on Twitter and Facebook with the hashtags #loveconsv and #HODs and you could win a £100 National Trust Gift Card!


Lead image: Chesterton Windmill; Phil Dolby, CC BY-SA 2.0
 

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