Etching by E W Oldham based on the Reverend le Grice photo
According to an article on the Engineering Timelines website, "Gransden Windmill  dates from some time prior to 1694. Its date has been reported as 1612 by one author but this possibly refers to a predecessor on the same site. It was last worked in around 1890, when it had two common and two spring sails, which it retained until at least 1914, though it was last wind worked in 1911. The mill was derelict by 1925, and was later bought by Wallis Mills, who waterproofed the body. The mill was given to the County Council in 1950. By the 1970s, the sails had long gone but the stocks remained. The buck was twisted and had to be supported with scaffolding. Restoration took place 1982-4. Two common and two patent clockwise sails were installed."

The 1612 date is repeated in a number of articles, including both the Wikipedia article on Great Gransden and Arthur C Smith's "Windmills in Huntingdon and Peterborough" (1977) - both of which also add that the flour dressing machine on the second floor is inscribed 1774. The Wikipedia entry says that it retained its sails, but photographs prior to the 1982-84 restoration clearly show that the original sails were lost some time ago. However, many of the internal workings were still in the mill when it was last restored, and left in there for safekeeping.

A local legend tells that in 1867 a book of black magic entitled An Infidel's Bible was hidden in the mill, causing it to stop working. When the book was removed, the mill at once began to work again.

Ownership of the mill

The mill was part of the Great Gransden Estate when it was broken up by auction on 8th October 1927, with lot 11 consisting of "a Very Desirable Small Holding known as Windmill Holding", and lot 12 being "The valuable Fabric of Gransden Windmill situate on Lot 11. The fabric only of the old Windmill down to the ground level is included in the sale of this lot with full rights to be taken down and remove same at any time before June 24th 1928." Fortunately both lots were bought by the same person, Mr. A. Wallis Mills, who was looking for a weekend retreat and wanted to preserve the charm of the old windmill. He was a contributor to Punch, and a cartoon published there in 1929 has a suspiciously-familiar silhouette of a windmill in the corner! He made the body of the mill weatherproof to help reserve it, and tore down the outbuilding that stood in front of the miller's cottage in which the miller used to grind corn with a petrol engine after the mill had become unworkable. (He also substantially extended and improved the derelict cottage, including the addition of indoor plumbing complete with pump, and electric lighting with its own electric light plant.)

Royal connections

The Wallis Mills' sold up in 1938, and the house and land (including the windmill) were bought by Rosemary Cresswell on behalf of a school friend, Queen Maria (also known as Queen Marie), to whom she was a Lady in Waiting. Queens Maria's husband King Alexander I  of Yugoslavia had been assassinated in 1934; their eldest son, King Peter II of Yugoslavia, was only 11 at the time as so was deemed too young to rule, and an uncle was appointed as regent. Peter came to power for a brief period in 1941, just prior to the invasion of Yugoslavia by Germany; while in exile, he went to Clare College, Cambridge, and then joined the RAF, so spent little time in Gransden. However, Queen Maria was in residence during the war years, along with her younger sons, Tomislav and Andrej, and there is a Pathe News clip of them outside the Mill House taken shortly after the invasion.
Queen Maria with her two younger children, Tomislav and Andrej

Wartime use of the mill

During the war some of the land between Great Gransden and Longstowe was taken over for use as an airfield, and various places around the Gransdens were requisitioned for auxiliary purposes. This included part of the field along the east of the windmill holding, and it was fenced off and used for a hospital. The windmill was included in the fenced-off portion, and was apparently used for a while as a look-out point, with hatches being cut into it to allow for this purpose! It was not until well after the war that the requisition orders were cancelled.

Into Public Hands

Mr & Mrs Rogers in front of Gransden Mill
Queen Maria bought the Mill House and the land from Mrs. Cresswell in 1942, and sold it in 1946 to Thomas Percy Rogers. The particulars of sale mentions that part of the land was still fenced off and "under requisition and occupied by a Government Department at a Compensation Rental". (It also mentioned that the house now had mains electricity and water, central heating, and even telephones in many rooms, with the number Great Gransden 29.) The photograph to the left (taken in the late 40's it is believed) shows Mr Rogers and his wife standing in front of the mill, behind which two Nissen huts can be made out.

At this time, though, the mill started to become a burden, as the Town and Country Planning Act of 1947 imposed on the owner of an ancient monument a duty to maintain it - but not the funds to do so. Public bodies, however, could get hold of some funds from the Ministry of Works, due to the provisions of the earlier Ancient Monument Acts (which also enabled them to receive ancient monuments as a gift). After much debate, Huntingdonshire County Council agreed to take over responsibility for the mill, so in July 1950 Mr Rogers gifted the mill, along with the 78 foot by 54 foot 8 inches (or thereabouts) plot of land on which it stood, to Huntingdonshire CC in order that the windmill, which was "of public interest by reason of its historic and architectural character", "may be preserved in the public interest."

The mill and the plot remain in public hands. However, due to local government reorganisations it is now the property of Cambridgeshire County Council, and it is that council who has inherited the responsibility for the upkeep of the mill.