The windmill first appeared on Rocque’s map of Surrey published in 1762,
when James Constable owned it. The Constable family, in Charlwood since
records began, was recorded as running a mill on Horsham Common in 1615
and mention is made of a mill being brought from there to Lowfield Heath as
early as 1738. Certainly there is much evidence in the mill to suggest that it
was built partly of re-used timbers – were these the remnants of the 1615 mill?
The date ‘1741’ found on the sack hoist drive pulley adds credence to the
above as well as tying in with the dendro dated timber.
Lowfield Heath is depicted still as open common on a plan of the Manor of
Rowley surveyed in 1819. Shortly after this in 1821 the ‘Lords and Tenants of
the Manor of Charlwood’ signify their consent ‘to an enclosure being made by
James Constable of the wasteland of Lowfield Heath around the mill situate’
This was ratified in a deed dated 18th April 1827.
Rocque’s map of Surrey published in 1762
In working order c1870 (by kind permission of Margaret Connor)
The mill finished work by wind sometime in the early 1880’s due to the
increasing use of steam power. Fortunately one remaining good sail was left
intact allowing the occasional photographer to capture it in detail. Grinding
continued at least until 1890, probably by the use of a set of steam driven
stones in the roundhouse. A receipt dated 20th November 1890 survives from
By 1934 dilapidation had crept in and the Constable family sold it to Edward
Lowes. In 1938 he had the exterior restored and a set of dummy sails fitted.
However, with the onset of war no maintenance took place and by 1957 the
weakened structure was wrecked in a storm.
1906 Lowfield Heath Windmill Post Card
In January 1964 the then Dorking & Horley Rural District Council together
with Surrey County Council paid for emergency work. This included the
fitting of a temporary roof & metal straps to the trestle. Between 1965 &
1971 further work was done with additional help from The Society for the
Protection of Ancient Buildings. This work consisted of a new roof; rear
framing; rear steps and also work on the roundhouse, including new doors
and a concrete floor.
The adjacent property was demolished in the early 1980’s by which time
the mill was becoming derelict once more. In 1984 a group was formed
from representatives of both the Surrey, and Sussex Industrial
Archaeology Societies, and The Charlwood Society. In 1986 this lead to the
formation of the Lowfield Heath Windmill Trust whose stated aim was to
restore the mill to working order.
Access difficulties and concerns over the deterioration of the structure
lead to the decision to move the mill. This would be the first time that a
complete post mill had been moved probably for a hundred years. A new
site was found adjacent to Gatwick Zoo by kind permission of the owner
Terry Thorpe. Thus with funding in place and the employ of millwright
Peter Darby, dismantling began in June 1987.
This started with the removal of the roof after which the remaining
sections were removed in turn until only the trestle remained.
In parallel with the millwrights work, volunteers removed the infill from
within the roundhouse to look for evidence of the original wooden floor.
Finally volunteers dismantled the roundhouse and transported the bricks
to the new site. By September 1987 the mill was gone!
Over the winter of 1987/88 all 10,000 bricks for the roundhouse were
cleaned and stacked, ready for rebuilding the following summer. The post
and trestle were also renovated during this period and erected on the
part-finished roundhouse late in 1988. The restoration of the remaining
timbers continued over the winter of 1988/89, following the philosophy of
preserving as much as possible of the original. The remaining brickwork,
above the piers, was completed during March.
The rebuilding took place over the summer of 1989, commencing in May
with lowering the crowntree onto the post. Each section was erected in
the reverse order of removal and by June the side frames were in place.
The front and rear frames followed, together with the windshaft and its
fine tail wheel casting. Meanwhile the volunteers were busily tarring the
By October the millwrights had completed rebuilding the main frame and
volunteers moved in to start the weatherboarding. During the following
six months the whole of the boarding was completed together with the
door, windows and awnings. We were lucky enough to find a blacksmith
who made replica hinges. Painting followed and by the beginning of April
1990 the volunteers erected the rear steps; this was to be a temporary
measure until a new set could be constructed. The next few days saw the
millwrights’ erect one pair of common sails.
All was completed in time for HRH Princess Alexandra to open the mill in
April 1990. This marked the end of the first phase of restoration - the
completion of the main structure.
The following years saw sterling effort by the volunteers. Timbers for a
new roundhouse roof were machined, and construction took place in
November 1991 followed by doors and windows. Local oak was seasoned
and fashioned into floor joists and floorboards for the roundhouse, spout
and stone floors. A new rear ladder was made and many other smaller
jobs too numerous to mention were completed.
After many months of planning we managed to secure the first Heritage
Lottery Grant awarded to a mill in England and from 1997 work was
started by Dorothea Restorations under the leadership of Anthony Hole.
Over the coming year or so a new bin floor was built and the brake wheel
assembled (previously made by Peter Darby). The stones were installed;
both bed stones were already at the mill, but the peak runner stone was
brought back from Iford near Lewes where it has been taken after the mill
finished work; the French burr runner stone was a rebuilt one originally
salvaged from Winchelsea windmill after the great storm. New stone
furniture was built and a replica sack hoist made based on the existing
one at Reigate Heath. New Patent sails were erected together with a full
complement of shutters and striking gear to match. Finally the
roundhouse was fitted out with display boards and an audio visual
system. On the 26th June 1998 cloth was spread on the sails, the shutters
closed and at 3.30pm the mill ran for the first time since 1880.
The adjacent Gatwick Zoo closed it's doors in 2001 and we braced
ourselves for the expected loss in visitor numbers. However we should not
have worried as since this time our visitor numbers have substantially
increased. I believe this is because we are now considered to be an
attraction in our own right, not just an afterthought for visitors' leaving
the zoo. The zoo closure also brought about the re-development of the
zoo site into housing, but we have benefited from this as we now lease the
entire field around the windmill.
In 2003 following storm damage, new Common sails were fitted together
with a replacement tail pole and the mill repainted. This year also saw the
start of the last major part of the restoration – the Bolter. This is a
machine to grade the flour and is being copied from a similar one in
Keston Mill near Bromley.
In September 2004 and after many years of trying, we finally managed to
secure the rescue of the remains of the machinery from Jolesfield
windmill and have set-up a display within the mill grounds.
The building work on the bolter continues as there is much work involved
in this machine.
c1955 Note the missing ridge boards, which are allowing the weather to
penetrate (W.E.Molyneux Collection)
On the stone floor in 1999 (from a sketch by Barry Smith)
Princess Alexandra at the official opening of Lowfield Heath Windmill following
its successful removal and rebuilding at Charlwood, Surrey, in 1990.