There used to be several windmills on the Heath – John Roque’s map of 1745 seemed to show a couple. There were also a pair that stood on what is now Talbot Place, which were built in the 1770s (1). There is a hint to their location in the name of the house that is now on their site – Mill House.
Given the elevated position of the Heath, it is perhaps not surprising to find windmills. Rhind suggests that their exact location was probably predicated on the semi-industrial use of the land adjoining it – there was a large sand pit, which was eventually to become Blackheath Vale (2).
The windmills lasted about 60 years on the site, they were probably demolished in the late 1830s and the land was enclosed amidst wider concerns of enclosure and usage of land on the Heath. Rhind notes that at the time that
Uncontrolled riding and military activity spoiled the cricket and horse grounds; the ponds were full of rubbish, dead dogs and worse. Holiday crowds and donkey men were all contributing to the ruin of a once pleasant, if somewhat (after dark) dangerous facility for all to enjoy (3)
Mill House, behind its high wall, is an impressive building and has had some interesting occupants over the years. There was an interesting piece on the Transpontine blog about Joan Littlewood and her time at Mill House in the 1950s and 1960s, and the somewhat higher wall she put up to protect her privacy.
The windmills have been depicted by artists several time. Later in the year Running Past will probably return to an etching of them when the Heath was used as a military encampment. The painting below was by Edward Cooke (see notes below re copyright etc.)
Cooke was born in Pentonville in 1811 and was a precocious talent – at nine he was illustrating a plant encyclopaedia. He studied architecture for a while under Pugin, but decided to concentrate on painting. He is best known for his seascapes travelling extensively both in Britain, Europe and North Africa. He exhibited well over two hundred paintings, including 129 at the Royal Academy – which he was elected a member of in 1864. Latterly, he lived at Groombridge in Kent, where he died in 1880.
The picture was painted in 1835, probably just before the windmills were demolished, the picture is owned by the Victoria and Albert Museum, although not on display – see notes at bottom of page about copyright.
Apart from the lack of windmills, the view across the Heath towards Shooters Hill is not that different – apart, obviously, from the small football goals remaining from Saturday morning Lewisham inter-schools football – a distant tower is visible in both, although in the painting that would have been Sevendroog Castle, as the currently visible water tower was not built until 1910.
- Rhind, Neil (1987) The Heath – a companion volume to Blackheath Village & Environs p59
- ibid p59
- ibid p32
Notes About Painting
The painting is owned by, although not on display at, the Victoria and Albert Museum, it was made available via the BBC’s Your Paintings Project, which in turn allows reproduction in non-commercial research – this includes blogs (page explaining this only works intermittently).