Those of you who come here often will know that Windmill Hill is my home town’s much loved landmark. Lucky for me it is only a five minute walk from the house, and that the walk there is mostly through the Linden Field (with its Linden Walk) where, from the 1850s the Wenlock Olympian Games, devised by William Penny Brookes, the town’s physician, were held every summer. In fact they still are an annual event, and should have been happening any day now, but for the pandemic panic.
Back in the Victorian era there were no large trees around the field as there are today and the slopes of Windmill Hill provided spectators with fine views of contesting hurdlers, hammer throwers and stone putters (featuring only local limestone quarry men and lime burners), football and cricket matches, tilting at the ring (lances wielded on horseback), long and high jumping, sprinting and cricket ball throwing. Needless to say these events did not feature women though there were knitting and sewing competitions for girls. And one year there was an ‘old woman’ race, for which the prize was a pound of tea.
The above photo shows the Wenlock Olympian Games in action in 1867. I could find no copyright notice for it. It appears, source unacknowledged, in Much Wenlock Windmill by M J Norrey.
And here’s a more recent scene with the William Penny Brookes Academy on the left and some of its pupils during soccer practice. The oaks at the foot of Windmill Hill have all been planted to commemorate various events associated with the Olympian Games.
The windmill itself is a bit of mystery. The Windmill Trust who take care of it have done extensive research, and although there are documents from the 1540s onwards relating to successive land owners (i.e. post the 1540 dissolution of Wenlock Priory, the original landowner), there is no information that is absolutely specific to the windmill. Physical surveys of the present tower, however, did uncover two dates of 1655 and 1657 carved within the stone construction layers, but there were no clues as to the kind of milling gear and superstructure that may once have existed here.
Here’s what the inside looks like. These were taken on an ‘open day’ a few years ago:
And here’s a cropped long-shot evening view taken from allotment three summers ago when oil seed rape was flowering in Townsend Meadow.