As a native of Lancashire, I always return to my hometown of Preston to visit my family at Christmas, and one bright Sunday morning I visited the nearby village of Ribchester, probably best known as an old Roman fort. I often visited this place as a child, as there was (and still is) an excellent children’s playground there. We would also inevitably visit the ruins of the Roman bath house, which were not fenced off and to a small child presented an exciting labyrinth of tumbled stones and low walls to clamber over. In Roman times, Ribchester was called Bremetenacum Veteranorum – a possible translation of this is “the hilltop settlement of the veterans.” Some ruins of the fort, including the bath house and granaries, can still be seen today, and many buildings in the village are built with reused Roman stones and columns.
The Surrey Hills – an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – isn’t the first place that you’d associate with heavy industry. Today, thousands of people are drawn to the picturesque hills and the lush green countryside. However, hidden away in the valley close to the village of Chilworth, near Guildford, are the ruins of an industry that dominated the area for almost 300 years – the manufacturing of gunpowder.
When I mentioned to friends that I’d visited Ashby’s Mill, their universal response was “I had no idea there was a windmill in Brixton!” And it’s true enough that the south London district of Brixton isn’t somewhere that one immediately associates with windmills and rural life – it’s a built-up area that’s more likely to attract comments about crime or gentrification. But in a little park by an ordinary housing estate is an extraordinary survivor from the days when Brixton was just an open space a few miles from London. Today, the Brixton Windmill has been carefully restored and provides a wonderful opportunity for local people to get in touch with their area’s history.