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Portland's Windmills And The Jubilee Hall Saga

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69071009LRAlthough most of this area is rather bland - fields and quarries - it contains a couple of Portland's finest gems; its two medieval windmills.

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PORTLAND’S WINDMILLS

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QUARRYING ACTIVITIES

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QUARRY RAILWAYS

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PERRYFIELDS ESTATE

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THE RAILWAY TRACK SOUTH OF WESTON

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THE SAGA OF WEYMOUTH’S JUBILEE HALL

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PORTLAND'S WINDMILLS

Portland's windmills are the two great remaining ancient buildings in the Royal Manor. These windmills were first recorded in the Land Revenue Accounts of 1608 but they may have been over a century old by then.

They were owned by the Pearce family from the 1600s to the late 1800s.

According the historian Richard Crumbleholme relief was given to the millers in the early 1700s for earthquake damage - please see his very informative article here as well as the article here.

Richard writes “The small parallel sided towers at Easton are of typical southern Mediterranean form. They remained as small, primitive windmills to serve their local isolated area on a communal basis. The writer found windmills on the island of Rhodes which, being almost identical in size, have proved invaluable in conjectural reconstructions.”

There is a Facebook Group here devoted to the windmills as well as an informative website here.

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The above picture shows the windmill towers in 1990. In the foreground is the northern tower with the southern tower in the distance. The picture below shows an old view of the same scene.

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The windmills probably ceased to operate in the late 1890's due to cheap mass produced flour and bread being readily available via the Island's rail and road links. The Home Guard inserted a concrete floor in the southern mill to form a pillbox during the 1939-45 War.

During the 20th century there was a steady destruction of the timber components culminating with the final  removal of the north mill's shaft. This was placed in the local museum (unfortunately outside) in November 1983 leaving just the stone towers on the site.

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The above picture shows the northern windmill with the main axle still in place.

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Looking up the northern windmill showing it open to the wind and rain. Below we see the extensive damage to the wall adjacent to a window. Picture taken in April 2015.

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I doubt that vandals intent on further damaging this windmill will not be put off by this sign especially as no effort has been made to make it difficult to get inside.

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The amount of vegetation cover has varied greatly over the decades. When this was cut back in the 1990s some locals argued that this exposed the walls to faster erosion.

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The southern windmill in 2006. Below we see the rubbish and evidence of fires inside the southern windmill. A large block of stone has been placed against the entrance but it is easy to squeeze around it as I did.

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The corrugated sheeting halfway up the southern windmill.

An observing post was built above this in World War 2 .

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A deep quarry existed close to the northern windmill. I captured the above picture in 1989 by climbing into this quarry at dusk and capturing this image with a 200 mm lens. This quarry was in-filled soon afterwards, as shown below, and it is now a rough area of brambles and stone waste. The point from which I took the above picture has  been buried by rubble.

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 By 2010 this area was a fairly large hill covered in scrub and giving no hint of its origin. The houses in Park Road can be seen in the background.

LOCAL QUARRYING ACTIVITY

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In the late 1980s a local stone company stated that they intended to demolish the ancient southern windmill - see above - to get at the stone beneath it. The stone and quarrying industries had been given almost unlimited rights just after World War 2 to help rebuild the war damaged buildings.

They were allowed to dig up National Parks, destroy Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs), block public footpaths and generally do what they wanted free from almost the planning restrictions imposed on the rest of the population.

These powers were largely removed in the 1990s.

However, in March 2008 a local quarry company stated that it intended to revive planning permission granted in 1951 to open up a large area south of Southwell to quarrying.

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The picture taken in April 2015 shows a new quarry being opened up just to the west of the southern windmill.

QUARRY RAILWAYS

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The stump of a crane used to load stone blocks on to railway trucks at Perryfields Works opposite Pennsylvania Castle. This lonely pillar pictured in the early 1990s but was soon hidden behind stone blocks.

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By April 2015 the old crane stump has reappeared and is in the middle of this picture showing stone blocks being loaded onto lorries on the track of the old railway line.

The quarry branch railway track used to run from the main line at Easton across the road by the present caravan park next to the Pennsylvania Castle and then along the seaward side of the road towards Southwell for a short distance as shown on the old map seen here.

During very wet weather in 1995 a length of railway track became visible in a deep rut in the area pictured above - clearly some of the track still exists buried under stone waste and dust.

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This late 1990s picture is looking north and shows the houses in Park Road in the distance.

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Quarry tramways formed a huge, frequently-changing network over Tophill. There is now very little evidence left apart from pathways where the rails were one laid and bridges associated with the Merchants Railway.

However, after severe storms artefacts come briefly to light like this lever used to switch the points of a tramway that ran about 50 metres to the east of the northern windmill.

PERRYFIELDS ESTATE

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Perryfields is the area on the opposite side of the main road from the Pennsylvania Castle. Until a decade or two ago there was huge masonry industry based here. It contained the largest stone cutting diamond edged saw in the world.

As with the rest of the stone industry on Portland, the requirements for quality stone as a building material dwindled and the site was taken over by Cosens boat builders.

This seemed a curious place to build and service large boats as they could only reach the sea by being transported down through Fortuneswell by way of a steep and narrow street.

Every time a huge boat was moved down to the sea all traffic was disrupted on and off the island.

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Eventually  the Cosens boat company moved to a more convenient location and the land was cleared for housing. The above picture shows the industrial buildings being dismantled in 2008.

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Eventually only this house remained on the site and in April 2015 it was boarded up and still standing despite being surrounded by an extensive new housing site.

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The Perryfields site cleared and ready for development.

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Building underway in April 2015.

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RAILWAY TRACK AND BRIDGE

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Trains leaving Easton Station would pass south alongside where TESCO superstore now stands and go along this sunken track towards a bridge taking the main road over the railway close to the Portland Museum.

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As the train headed south gathering speed, the track veered to the left and dipped to pass under the main road.

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There is always deep mud under this bridge.

THE WEYMOUTH JUBILEE HALL SAGA

Weymouth and Portland Borough Council pursued a grandiose scheme in the 1980s for a huge new shopping centre in the heart of Weymouth. Nothing wrong with that except that, having demolished many old and interesting buildings, the site lay unused - Weymouth's infamous 'bombsite' - for over a decade.

One of the buildings demolished was the Victorian Jubilee Hall - one of the finest surviving iron-framed buildings in the country - which had served as a cinema in St Thomas Street.

In response to a huge public outcry, the Council agreed to dismantle the Jubilee Hall and store it safely until it could be re-erected to house a worthy project, possibly a museum on Portland celebrating the stone industry.

What actually happened was that the Jubilee Hall was smashed up into small pieces and a part of the wreckage was dumped in Perryfields quarry where it was allowed to rot away into a pile of junk.

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The scale and wonder of this unique Victorian building is difficult to grasp now as few photographs of it in its prime survive. The above architectural drawings give an impression of its grandeur. Note the cast iron pillar marked. Only four of these pillars survived the Weymouth and Portland Council’s absurd ‘conservation’ and these pathetic remnants are now standing in a building at Poundbury, painted bright blue and totally insignificant.

A long campaign was fought by local residents, ‘The Theatres Trust’, ‘The Victorian Society’ and many others. The interest in preserving this fine building was very great with the matter being raised in Parliament - please see here - and the scandal was exposed nationally in ‘Private Eye’ magazine.

Despite all this attention, the only submissions to destroy this building were from the Council and Carters Ltd. who were the developers.  The building was demolished in 1989.

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The above picture shows the original laminated wooden roof beams being removed. These were sawn into small pieces for loading onto lorries. This destroyed their future use as the laminations had lost all their strength.

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The above picture shows the remains of the old cinema being destroyed with the balcony seating still visible. A description of the building’s life as a cinema can be read here.

What happened to the overwhelming part of the building is not known but it certainly was not preserved as the developer and the council had promised.

A small number of parts were secretly stacked up in Perryfields Quarry where I found them in 1990 during one of my explorations of the ‘out of bounds’ quarry areas on Portland.

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The above picture shows a carved stone dumped in Perryfields Quarry as damaged by the demolition workers and the picture below shows the Weymouth Council coat of arms.

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The above picture shows the steel girders and cast iron pillars left exposed to rain and salt-laden wind. The mock Egyptian decorations on the pillars was still visible in the early 1990s.

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The same scene recorded about ten years later. All the iron work is rusted and the intricate decorations have gone. Remember - the Council had undertaken to preserve the entire building so that it could be re-erected for use as a museum or market house. And yet scarcely one-tenth of the original Jubilee Hall was ever dumped in Perryfields Quarry to rot away.

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The above photograph show the state of this 'preserved antiquity' in October 2002 - the iron is rusted, the carved stone fittings smashed and the superb Victorian paintings gone from the pillars. No attempt had ever been made to preserve this building.

What a disaster!

This is what Weymouth and Portland Borough Council called “Preserving our heritage”.

In 2006 it was announced - please click here - that the old Jubilee Hall was to be taken from Perryfield Quarry and re-erected in the Poundbury Estate. To quote from the Dorset Echo article

“It was hoped that the new hall would be built just off the Queen Mother Square, intended as the heart of the community."

These high hopes were quickly dashed when the pile of junk arrived at Poundbury! I tried to locate the remains on the Poundbury building site but to no avail. What eventually happened was that four of the cast iron columns were cleaned of their rust, painted blue and erected inside an existing building.

A very sad end to what could have been a dramatic building reborn in Poundbury.

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Keywords Windmills Perryfields Weymouth Jubilee Hall Quarry Portland Dorset