Old Exmouth: The ‘ill-fated’ decision to build a windmill at The Point

PUBLISHED: 07:00 10 January 2018

The windmill on The Point was much more remote than this illustration, sketched in the early 1800s, suggests. The windmill had been built among the dunes and the town of Exmouth was much further in the distance. Picture: Contributed.

The windmill on The Point was much more remote than this illustration, sketched in the early 1800s, suggests. The windmill had been built among the dunes and the town of Exmouth was much further in the distance. Picture: Contributed.

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Journalist and author Ian Dowell shares with Journal readers his ‘Lost Treasures’ – one of his ‘Great stories of old Exmouth’

Artist Francis Danby’s sketch in 1826 from the higher ground of the Beacon, was much more realistic. In the foreground is the Temple of Theseus, which was built in 1824 and remains in the grounds of the Imperial Hotel. The windmill stood 100 yards due west of the sail loft in Camperdown Terrace. Picture: Contributed. Artist Francis Danby’s sketch in 1826 from the higher ground of the Beacon, was much more realistic. In the foreground is the Temple of Theseus, which was built in 1824 and remains in the grounds of the Imperial Hotel. The windmill stood 100 yards due west of the sail loft in Camperdown Terrace. Picture: Contributed.

The decision to build a windmill at The Point to grind corn for local millers was ill-fated.

A man was killed by one of its huge vanes soon after it was constructed in 1797, and some years later a fire seriously damaged the upper structure. The windmill went out of business after only 30 years after local farm owners had decided it was easier to travel to other mills in the area.

Exmouth historian Bill Sleeman told the author it was simply built in the wrong place.

“Siting the windmill among the dunes on The Point ensured there was plenty of wind, but it was too far away,” he said. “Farmers had great difficulty getting their carts to it through the narrow lanes, and preferred other mills which were closer and more accessible.”

The windmill stood about 100 yards due west of the sail loft in Camperdown Terrace, between what later became the dock basin, Point Terrace and Trinity Road.

The men behind the project were Lord Rolle, Charles Webber, Francis Pearse and William Marchant. It was built on a 99-year lease at a cost of £300.

In 1799, a man named Champling, who had been helping to erect it, was hit by one of the vanes and killed.

This was how Trewman’s Exeter Flying Post reported the tragedy: “A melancholy accident happened to Mr Champling. He went too near the vanes whilst the mill was working when suddenly he received so severe a wound that he languished about an hour-and-a-half and then expired, leaving two young orphan sons to lament their loss of a tender father and a good member of society.”

In 1818, the vanes were said to have moved so fast in a severe gale that the friction triggered a serious fire. Trewman’s Flying Post reported: “The violence of the gale carried round the vanes with such velocity as to cause the works to catch fire and consume all the upper part of the building.”

There was a gruesome discovery in 1821 when a human skull and bones were found at the windmill. These appeared to have been buried in the sand for a long time, although the teeth were in perfect condition. The discovery remained a mystery.

The sail loft was built in 1810. In the Rate Book of 1825, the windmill was still owned by Webber and Co., but was said to be empty. In 1829, it was described by historian Eric Delderfield as being in fair repair, not self-turning, but regulated from the inside, with the boat-building premises of Walters, Wishart and George Hook adjoining it.

In 1831, after the windmill was no longer useable, Mr Webber was said to be ‘desirous to build several dwellings on the site’ and Messrs Marchant and Pearse agreed to sell him their shares for £50. The windmill was demolished and its stones used on various buildings in the vicinity.

Taken from ‘Lost Treasures’, one of a series of books featuring ‘Great stories of old Exmouth’, by Ian Dowell.

The books are priced £4.95, available at Best Books on The Parade, Just Cards /Celebrations in Exmouth Indoor Market, Harbour News at Exmouth Marina, Porky Down on Chapel Street (Magnolia Centre) and Hairport on Chapel Hill. All proceeds donated to Exmouth and Lympstone Hospiscare.

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