Gone with the Windmill: Visiting one of Herts most intriguing homes
PUBLISHED: 10:30 17 April 2016
I’ve visited properties that have come with waterwheels, turrets, private lakes, water towers and forests; homes built entirely of glass, or without a single dab of paint in them; haunted houses even (ghost sighting included). My latest junket has taken me to Windmill House, in Arkley, Hertfordshire.
This home does what it says on the tin - it comes with a windmill. A tall, stunning piece of architecture that stands proudly across the lawn from the main house. And in this age of turbines, one might expect a windmill to be a battered old thing, wooden and creaking in the...well, wind. The kind of thing a mob of angry villagers would chase the local witch into before setting alight to it in the 18th century.
But not this one. Arkley Windmill is in impeccable condition and is a sight to behold.
Also referred to as Barnet Gate Mill, it was built in 1826 and is one of the oldest in the south of England. The First World War brought about the end of its ‘career’ as a working mill, but did not leave it derelict. It’s actually been bestowed with a lot of tender attention, and been through two renovation projects in its time.
Perhaps it has helped that the late Bernard McNicholas, known well in the construction industry, had been in ownership of Windmill House up until his death. Before him, it was taken under the wing of a man named William Booth.
Originally in the place of Windmill House stood the mill house which Booth tore down in 1929 and replaced with the current structure. This was built in the Arts and Crafts style, and the windmill’s renovation was concurrently executed as well. This was conducted by Thomas Hunt, a millwright from Soham who gave it a new cap, fitted a new fantail and built the present gallery. At some point around this period, the number of sails were reduced from four to just two. Perhaps this was spurred by the fact that steam was added as a secondary power source for the sails in 1895, meaning that it didn’t rely solely on the wind.
By the 1970s it was owned by the McNicholas family who re-added the missing sails and refreshed the interior.
Despite the care that has been given to the windmill, it’s not actually part of the living quarters. If anything, it’s more of an over-dramatic garden ornament or something for the kids to play in.
Inside the main house you’ll find all you need for rather luxuriant living: an enclosed swimming pool with accompanying gym, jacuzzi, steam room and twin changing rooms, a triple aspect living room and a wine room. There’s also a detached cottage in the grounds.
Windmill House is on the market through Statons (with a guide price of £9m) who declare it to be “one of the most iconic country houses located on the South Hertfordshire border”. The windmill itself is Grade II listed, as is the timber-framed barn, also set in the property’s 6 acres. The grounds also include two lakes with water fountains, a rose garden and a tennis court.
Having such a relic of architecture in your possession is a pretty nifty thing - especially if it’s in the vintage style that Arkley is. For starters, windmills are a rarity. While the total number of wind-powered mills in Europe is estimated to have been around 200,000 at its peak, there were 500,000 waterwheels in comparison.
The purpose of the windmill was to generate power in areas lacking in water sources, or where rivers would freeze in the winter. The industrial revolution saw water and wind power decline in place of steam and internal combustion engines. Windmills were still erected throughout the 19th century, but that’s where it stopped. Today, they are commonly preserved for their historic value, much like Arkley has been.
And now, Arkley Windmill is on the lookout for someone new to care for it.
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