Members visit to wimbledon windmill

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Nicholas Hart and Norman
Plastow, fronting< the tableau
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A select band of W.I.M. members meet at 7.30 on Wednesday 21st June outside the Windmill on a fine Summers evening. We are warmly greeted by our host the Curator Norman Plastow who ushers us in along with a stranger who decided to join the party.

We were very keen to view the new windmill as it had recently received a 87,000 facelift with work that had recently been paid for by Lottery funding. As we are in the process of seeking lottery funds for our future move to Ravensbury Mill we were hoping to pick up a few tips!

We learnt that Visitor figures had a 40% increase since the opening at Easter weekend when they had attracted several hundred visitors during the bank holiday weekend which we found very encouraging.

They now have a display about the history of the windmill on 2 floors. Previously there was a side entrance that went directly up to the 1st floor. With the improvement the existing un-used ground floor had been restored with new displays and a brand new ground floor entrance had been created.

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Part of the extensive array of
models ofWindmills through
the ages
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We started the visit by entering through. the new entrance which was a major improvement. There was a new reception area and a massive new pictorial tableau of how the common, used to be with a display in front giving a 3D effect and it took centre stage. This had been specially commissioned to start the tour and the rare skills to commission it came as far away as Scotland.

In the back of house there was there was an amazing display of many different types of windmills and these were essentially working models which kept us all occupied. What caught our eyes, though was a model of a waterwheel (see inset) with the legend "No-one ever built a windmill if he could build a water mill")

The Tool room, with its magnificent display of old tools was an attraction for us as well. We then went upstairs to the older part of the windmill which told the story of windmills and milling and we saw the machinery and tools of the trade.

We finished off the tour by going up some very old steps that are normally out of bounds and ascending into the heavens of the windmill amongst all the huge cogs that are connected to the arms of the windmill. This was very exciting especially as you feel you are having an extra privilege. You could feel that this area was not often used and hence the atmosphere of a beautiful old building had been preserved.

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Norman is a qualified Architect and it was obvious he had employed all his skills to deliver this project. Without his specialist (and free) skills, the complying with the funding requirements of the HLF would not have been possible, and, even when granted, could not be run efficiently like a normal contract - payments were always in delay and the paperwork unnecessarily detailed - but they managed to control the cash flow for most of the contract despite the difficulties this generated, which imposed the need for strict controls. We did learn that if we registered ourselves for VAT to assist for the development of our new site at Ravensbury, we could then suffer the burden of business rates. Something to think about.

Although the Wimbledon Windmill project has been an undeniable success I don't think Norman would want to go through these hoops again! However he can now rest on this fine achievement. We finished our visit in the bookshop and gave our thanks. This visit had been very thirsty work and we voted to stop at the Crooked Billett on the way home and have a drink. Now don't you wish you had come?

Ray Leyden. 11/08/2000.

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