Bill Rowland interview: Living in a windmill


Can you tell us what it was like living in the Windmill?

Well after doing three months probation period and commuting to Teddington and back and having to be at work at 6am in the morning you can imagine that it was quite an exciting time to move in. But we didn’t have any furniture at the time as the flat I was in was fully furnished. We turned up with a double mattress on our shoulders and put it in the Windmill. We couldn’t believe it, it was such a unique place to live. We moved in on the Thursday and had a party on the Saturday night. We lit the Windmill up and invited everyone to this huge building in the middle of Wimbledon Common. It was an interesting place. We didn’t have any furniture and we lived there with the Museum upstairs. On the weekend everybody visited the Museum. One of the rooms we painted and there was red stain that kept coming through. We asked around and rumour had it that the miller many years ago had cut his throat and hung himself and that these were droplets of blood which started a bit of a story going. We kept painting this wall and it kept appearing again. Just a quick footnote on that: the people who moved in briefly after me had a priest in there and [they had an] exorcism. It was quite funny. We all crept round – all the keepers – and looked through the window and we could see this young couple on their knees with the priest going round with sacred water. Whether that did the trick I don’t know.

So how long were you living in the Windmill?

I lived there for just under a year but it was interesting. No-one had done much work in there. Because I am a very keen gardener I had vegetables growing outside. A quick funny story. One Sunday afternoon it was very warm and we were sat in the garden outside and my wife decided to do some ironing with just her underwear on. I looked up at the window and saw four men’s faces looking down. I jumped to my feet and all you could hear was this bang, bang, bang bang with the guys running down the staircase and their wives wondering where they were going.  It was an interesting place to live. When people used to tell me that there were four families living there at one stage it was amazing.

So how many rooms did you have?

It was a two-bedroom flat, just the ground floor. The top floor was a Museum still but there was a nice, kitchen, bathroom and two bedrooms.  Slowly we built our furniture up with bits and pieces and we were very happy there but it was only the chance that a bigger cottage became available that I moved out. It was pretty unique. All the windows had net curtains. When we went to the haberdashery store and said these were the measurements for the Windmill everyone thought it was pretty fantastic.

At that time did the sails go round at all?

The sails did go round. We used to have to turn the brakes on and off. That was one of our jobs. One of my jobs also was to man the Windmill Museum at weekends because I lived there. But the sails at one time, I remember, they couldn’t get the brake on and it was a windy day during the wintertime and the actual sails were going round like a propeller and the whole thing started to shake. The whole building moved with these sails and we couldn’t stop them until the Monday morning.

Was it extremely noisy?

Very noisy. A very creaky building. It was pretty bizarre at times in there.

What did your wife think of it?

Well, we were both so grateful to have this accommodation by the Common. The ghost bit we just exaggerated to make a story of that. It’s followed on and there are actually booklets now about the ghost of Wimbledon Windmill.