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Bill Rowland interview: Windmill Museum


 

What was in the Museum at that time before it was developed?  

The Museum was pretty basic upstairs. There were a few exhibits around but not so many models which I know Norman Plastow has built over the years. It was really just pictures and posters and a few exhibits. Not much else. It was only after it was developed that there has been a lot more donated to it.

Do you know anything about the use of the Museum as a residence before you moved in?

Yes, there was a chap here called David Haldane whom I took over from after a few years here and he was one of the last families. There were four families who lived in there. One of the funny stories about the place was that one of the chaps was called Albert and his wife used to holler from the top window: “Albert, your lunch is on the table. Get yourself home.” It was always a standard joke that.

So how did they get four families into two small rooms?

I’ve no idea. Well that was before the Museum was built so there were two families downstairs and two upstairs so it would have been double floored. I’ve heard there were even more than four families at one time in there. It was a very interesting place to live. I can’t really remember them developing it. There was one family after me who were in there a very short time but I was probably the last person actually living there as a permanent base.

Did the family that replaced you stay long after the exorcism or did the blood continue?

No, it was quite funny. The guy was a newly wedded chap and his wife ran off after six months and left him so I think the ghost frightened her off. She was very young and a bit immature. That was the end of that.

What happened to the residential accommodation after that?

The Windmill closed down then and they just thought that was the chance to develop it into a bigger Museum so they jumped at the chance.

The Museum is very successful now isn’t it?

Yes, very much so. It has really grown. And it is such a marvellous thing to have and it’s our focal point for the Commons. If you think of that Windmill symbol it is everywhere now in Wimbledon, isn’t it.

Do you have any idea how many people visit the Museum every year?

No. If you have never been in the Windmill and you go upstairs you can see carved in on the stairs written all the names of all the guys who worked on there. I couldn’t tell you [the numbers] as it is very seasonal and only open at weekends, weather permitting. But it is very popular. 

In the winter months when it is closed how often is it maintained? Do people go in there regularly to keep it clean?

Yes, it’s cleaned and checked regularly. We all have keys and go round periodically to check it out. When I lived there we used to use it as a lookout for the car park. Many years ago in the early 1980s we used to get a lot of break-ins to vehicles and it was a good  focal point to hide up there with a pair of binoculars and watch the car park. We caught many a thief red-handed from the Windmill. When you think of the old days when the miller was the main security man for the Common there was a good vantage point from there.