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Sir Norman Foster backs campaign to save Bourn Windmill as final push made for £10,000 in public donations



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By Siobhan Middleton

Renowned architect Sir Norman Foster has backed a campaign to raise the money needed to prevent the collapse of one of the UK’s oldest windmills

He described Bourn Windmill as “not only a significant national heritage building” but “one which holds particular personal significance”.

Bourn Mill turned by Great Chishill windmill cycle club. Picture: Brian Connellan
Bourn Mill turned by Great Chishill windmill cycle club. Picture: Brian Connellan

Historic England announced £54,000 towards the funds required to preserve it, adding to earlier donations, but a further £10,000 of public money is save the mill, which is at risk due to rotting in its central supporting beams.

Sir Norman - famed for his work on London City Hall, the Gherkin and Millennium Bridge - said: “As a student, I was drawn to Bourn Mill and chose it as the subject of a set of measured drawings required for my architectural studies.

“My choice was not only because of my fascination with the ingenuity of its construction but also the sheer beauty of the design.

“The original drawings I made of Bourn Mill are at my Norman Foster Foundation and remain one of the most viewed items from the archive, by students and researchers from around the world.”

Heritage at Risk 2021. Bourn Mill, off Caxton Road, View showing stocks with sails removed
Heritage at Risk 2021. Bourn Mill, off Caxton Road, View showing stocks with sails removed

After the windmill was found to be at risk of collapse in 2020, a fundraising campaign was launched by charity Cambridge Past, Present & Future, and the money raised paid for scaffolding to prevent its collapse.

Since then, the scaffolded mill has been closed to protect public safety, while fundraising by the charity, the community and other supporters has focused on covering the costs of repair work.

The National Lottery Heritage Fund gave £148,456, while prior to its latest grant Historic England donated £22,902 for investigation work into the mill’s condition and emergency propping to save it from immediate collapse.

Nearly £20,000 has been donated by the public, while SPAB Mills gave £500.

Heritage at Risk 2021: Bourn Mill, off Caxton Road, Bourn, Cambridgeshire. View showing tail pole
Heritage at Risk 2021: Bourn Mill, off Caxton Road, Bourn, Cambridgeshire. View showing tail pole

Cambridge PPF hopes the public will now step up to raise the remaining £10,000 needed so that repairs can begin in the spring.

It is a key deadline as the work will take six months, and it needs to be completed before the first autumn frosts to achieve the best results.

James Littlewood, CEO of Cambridge PPF, said: “When we first discovered a small area of rot, we could not have imagined that the whole structure of the mill was at risk of collapsing.

“It is not just a building that looks nice, it’s an ancient machine with lots of moving parts. Due to its relatively small size, people can have a go at turning the mill themselves or being inside whilst it is turning.

“It is such a special building that we are determined to preserve it for future generations.”

Norman Foster's work as a student, looking at a cross section through Post Mill at Bourn
Norman Foster's work as a student, looking at a cross section through Post Mill at Bourn

Sarah Morrison, Historic England Heritage risk architect and surveyor, is “delighted” at the progression of the campaign to save the windmill.

“Rescuing this very special building is a labour of love for volunteers, staff, funders and the local community,” she said.”‘I’m looking forward to seeing visitors enjoy the mill in all its working glory once again.”

Bourn Windmill is designated as an ancient monument. There are around 50 windmills of its type – trestle post windmills – left in the UK, five of which are in Cambridgeshire.

Heritage at Risk 2021. Bourn Mill, off Caxton Road, Bourn. The stone floor looking away from the mill stone
Heritage at Risk 2021. Bourn Mill, off Caxton Road, Bourn. The stone floor looking away from the mill stone

The whole weight of the windmill’s body is supported on a central post, which is then supported by a trestle. Its sails must face squarely into the wind, and the entire mill is rotated around the central post to achieve this. People have tried this task themselves during open days.

Recent Historic England research showed the main post of Bourn Mill came from a tree felled in the first half of the 16th century, making this the earliest main post of a mill yet dated.

Donate at www.cambridgeppf.org/Appeal/save-bourn-windmill-appeal.

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