Siege windmill set for facelift

The famous 17th century 'Siege' windmill located in the grounds of Lumen Christi College.
The famous 17th century 'Siege' windmill located in the grounds of Lumen Christi College.

One of the most important historic monuments in Derry is getting a facelift.

An approved conservation scheme is now underway on the 17th century windmill located in the grounds of Lumen Christi College at Bishop Street. The project will clear it of damaging plants.

The Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA) has been working with the College on the conservation scheme, removing the ivy and scrub which had almost completely hidden the top half of the windmill.

Work is also underway on the stabilisation and resetting of brickwork corbelling to the top of the tower followed by the re-pointing of the stonework.

The blocked-up entrances to the windmill have been opened up and you can now see inside for the first time in many years. All of this work will be carried out by local building contractors, using traditional techniques and materials, under NIEA guidance.

Rhonda Robinson, Assistant Director in the Historic Monuments Unit, said: “This is a fantastic and rare opportunity for the public to visit this important part of the history of Derry-Londonderry. It’s great to see that Lumen Christi College appreciate the value of this unique historic site in their grounds and they worked with us on this conservation scheme to ensure that the windmill stands for many more years to come.

“On June 22 and 23, as part of the NIEA’s Wonderful Days Out campaign, Jacobite soldiers will be stationed at the Lumen Christi windmill from 1-5pm. These soldiers will tell you about the fierce battles they have fought as part of the 1689 Siege. You can find out what type of weapons they used to fight the opposition and how they were weakened by their meagre food rations.”

Built during the 17th century, it is one of the earliest examples of a tower mill in Northern Ireland. It would have been used for milling flour, a staple ingredient for the population of the city and surrounding countryside.

The site on which it stands became a local landmark, known as ‘Windmill Hill’, and it was here that some of the fiercest fighting occurred during the 1689 Siege of Derry. Considering this, it is remarkable that the windmill survives in such good condition.

In the later part of the 18th century, the windmill was incorporated into Earl Bishop Frederick Hervey’s summer estate during which time it was modified to function as a pigeon house. These pigeon houses, also known as dovecotes, contained nesting boxes for pigeons or doves. The birds were kept for their flesh, feathers and faeces (guano). Guano was, and still is, used in the agricultural industry as a type of fertiliser.

The small building attached to the north of the mill is an ice-house. This was also constructed by the Earl Bishop, probably to store perishable goods but also to help in the production of ice cream, a treat the Earl developed a taste for during his travels to Italy.

The windmill has been little altered since the 18th century and has stood safely within the grounds of, firstly, St Columb’s College and, now, Lumen Christi College.