It's International Women’s Day and to mark this we're sharing the story of Phoebe Langtry, a woman relatively unknown to those living in Hampshire, despite her intriguing story.
Phoebe Langtry took on a surprising role back in the 1800s. She was the tenant miller at Bursledon Windmill, between 1791 – 1820, taking on the role from her husband when he disappeared from records. The tenancy agreement was signed over to Phoebe, who was left as a single mother with the three year-old William, to run the business. Phoebe worked the mill on her own, while training her son in the craft of milling flour.
Alongside being left to raise a young child on her own, Phoebe saw many hardships throughout her time at Bursledon Windmill. In 1809, the windmill was beginning to wear out and in 1812 the economic depression began in the UK. This caused problems in Hampshire farming, with many farmers going bankrupt, directly affecting the grain and milling industry. By 1814, the windmill’s structure was almost beyond repair and may have led to its closure if it had not been for the actions taken by Phoebe.
Rarely done by many women during this period, and whilst still in the midst of an economic depression, Phoebe took the significant risk of taking out a mortgage on the windmill of £800 for six years (that’s almost 20 years’ worth of an average annual wage for a farmer in those days!). Phoebe then asked the Bishop of Winchester for a grant of 30 poles of land (approximately 750 metres sq.) ‘on top of the free hill in Bursledon upon which lately stood a windmill,’ in order to build a five-story brick tower mill. This was a project that saw papers drawn-up stating that this was, ‘independent of any husband’ and her son William become the new miller.
Phoebe recycled many of the original mill’s features, such as the distinctive boat-shaped cap on the top, but this proved to be its undoing when other mills installed Victorian designed cast-iron machinery. As a result, Bursledon Windmill's full-time revival lasted less than 70 years.
When the mortgage repayment became due, she did not redeem it. In May 1820 the mill, house, piggeries and other outbuildings were offered for sale and records suggest that for most of the rest of the century, the five-storey windmill remained unchanged. However, by 1872, Bursledon was to see its last miller arrive in the village, when George Gosling, originally from Upham, together with his wife and two children, moved to the mill.
Today Bursledon Windmill remains a lasting memorial to Phoebe’s determined spirit, a symbol of local pride among Bursledon residents and Phoebe remains one of Hampshire’s most fascinating women.
If you have enjoyed Culture on Call and you are able to make a donation, please click the link below. Any support you can give will help us keep communities connected to culture in these difficult times.