Clifton Windmill stands on a high spot in the landscape on Church Lane, close to the church of St John the Evangelist. Originally built in the late 1700s on land owned by the locally powerful Clifton family (of Lytham Hall fame), it stayed in their possession for all of its active life.

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Clifton Windmill, near Preston

It is a brick built circular tower mill that tapers as it rises upwards. The structure has four floors and a basement, the floors easily being counted due to the curved headed windows on each one. The north east side has four windows set vertically above one another (the top one now is blocked) and the south west side has four windows slightly off set. What was presumably a large doorway is on the first floor (the opening appears to have a lintel and a doorstep) but this has now been converted to a window.

A snapshot description of the mill is given in 1914 in a Preston Guardian article which stated that it was tenanted by the Compton family. The main grinding machinery was on the second floor, while the floor above was used for drying the produce. The sails were said to be very large, some 80 feet from ‘point to point’. The miller had fixed a ‘wooden fish’ to act as a weather vane close to the fan tail. (The fan tail is a small windmill set at right angles to the large sails, which turns the cap to face the main sails into the wind).

When Allen Clark visited Clifton, while doing research for his 1916 book Windmill Land, he noted a circular platform surrounding it. He stated that a drying kiln was attached to  the back of mill and looked like a barn. Clark was seeing the mill in its final active years as by 1929 the Bolton Journal and Guardian stated that the mill was no longer in use.

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A wartime view of the disused windmill. Copyright Victoria and Albert Museum, used with permission

Just after the outbreak of the second world war, the Committee for the Employment of Artists in Wartime was set up by the National Gallery. The artists were tasked with capturing ‘typically English’ scenes. The idea was to boost the nation’s morale by showing the works in exhibitions and record places that were potentially under threat from imminent bomb damage. Byron Dawson painted Clifton windmill in 1940 and the picture shows lots of interesting detail (see above). The structure of the main sails and fan tail are clearly displayed. The low building connected to the mill is probably the grain drying kiln. White render is flaking away showing the red bricks beneath and there is possibly the horizontal mark of the now missing platform noted by Allen between the first and second floor windows.

In the next few years it must have been sold off by Harry Clifton of Lytham Hall. (For a history of Lytham Hall and how Harry’s finances led to his downfall see our page here) . In 1959, local Sea Cadets were trying to get permission to use it as their headquarters. When the council rejected the bid, former owners Harry and his mother Violet were reported to be very disappointed.

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The buildings connected to the side of Clifton Mill look similar to those shown in the wartime picture

During the 1960s it was owned by Edward Nicholl, a local farmer. Photographs from this decade and the next show it to be in a very derelict state, with just three sails remaining. Demolition looked very likely in 1974 when owner Ted Nicholl had his proposal to turn the windmill into a house rejected. The Nicholl family persisted in trying to sell the mill with planning permission to convert it into a residence and by 1978 this had happened. The repairs were done and the building assumed the character that we see today,  with a boat like cap on top of it and  a small metal cross where the sails once were.

Its current incarnation is as the Mill Tavern. It’s possible that some of the brick buildings shown in the 1940s painting still stand, and these form part of the main public house.

Site visited by A. and S. Bowden 2018

Access

The Mill Tavern has a large car park, or there is parking at the entrance way to St John the Evangelist Church on Church Lane which is just minutes walk away. At the time of writing the Mill Tavern is temporarily closed, but the car park remains open.

References

Return to Windmill Land, Michelle Harris and Brian Hughes, (2015) Harris & Hughes (book available from Fleetwood’s Maritime Museum shop)

https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1317931

https://catalogue.millsarchive.org/tower-mill-clifton-lancashire. This site contains quite a few pictures of the windmill taken during the 20th century.

https://amounderness.co.uk/clifton_windmill_1914.html

http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O596773/clifton-mill-near-preston-watercolour-dawson-byron/