Traversing the small yet diverse island of Barbados, one will find millwalls located in both remote and  central locations. Millwalls are an important part of the landscape of Barbados as these structures  stand as a reminder that until the middle decades of the 19th century, along with the labour of  enslaved Africans, the vital sugarcane crop was processed by the windmill and boiling house system. 

After settlement in 1627, the principal crops produced in Barbados were tobacco and cotton. Both  crops were not particularly profitable. Tobacco was highly taxed in Europe and cotton did not thrive  well at higher elevations on the island. It was understood that a piece of land could produce three  times the volume of sugar as tobacco could. With farmers seeing the need to switch to a more  profitable crop, coupled with the European demand for sugar, a socio-economic revolution was  created in Barbados where the production of sugar flourished.

Arnold’s Mill, St. Peter, built by one of the island’s first settlers, William Arnold, who arrived on the ‘William and John’ at Holetown in 1627. One of the first and oldest mills in Barbados, it is built of rubble stone and mortar.

Although sugar cane was grown in the early years of settlement for its juice and the consumption of  alcoholic spirits through distillation, the first person to plant sugar cane for the primary production of  sugar was Colonel Holdip of Locust Hall Plantation in St. George. This occurred as far back as 1640.

Locust Hall Water Mill, St. George. Locust Hall was the first place in Barbados to produce cane for sugar. A water tank was later repurposed at the top of the mill.

In the initial years of sugar production, cattle mills were used. This type of mill, driven by horses, was  used to power and turn rollers of the mill to crush the cane for its juice. Later on, cattle-like oxen were  used, but this prolonged method of using animals for such a heavy workload proved to be  uneconomical due to care and maintenance costs, and in some cases their premature death. To that  end, planters also used rudimentary methods for growing sugar cane; for example, the crop was  reaped in 12 months rather than the ideal 15 months. It wasn’t until between the years 1645 to 1647  that Colonel James Drax of Drax Hall Plantation, St. George travelled to Brazil to seek out the proper  method of producing Muscovado sugar. 

River Plantation Sugar Mill and Cattle Mill, St. Philip. The metal contraption (foreground) is the last remnant of a cattle mill in Barbados. The sugar mill (background) was built in 1721.

The Charter of Barbados signed at the Mermaid Tavern in Oistins in 1651 played a significant role in the  introduction of the windmill in Barbados. Within that Charter permitted the practice of Freedom of  Religion. This allowed the Jews, who were driven out of Brazil by the Portuguese, to finance the  budding sugar industry and the Dutch, with their technology and shipping industry, to start the sugar  revolution in Barbados. It was around 1655, with the finance of the Jews and the technology of the  Dutch, that the windmill was introduced into Barbados.

Windmills would normally be constructed on higher ground and on areas with as much open land as  possible, to maximize the power of the trade winds needed to turn the sails of the mill. Except for a  few windmills that were made of rubble stone and mortar packed together, the first mills were made  of wood, remarkably similar to the ones we see today in the Netherlands. Back then, the mill operated  with 3 vertical rollers. The rollers were made of wood and covered in an iron cast. Next to the mill  would be the Boiling House, which would normally be situated at a lower elevation to the mill to allow  the juice to flow into the house by means of gravity, as there was no appropriate machinery then.

Indian Ground, St. Peter. Old sugar mill built of rubble stone and mortar.

In these early years, every time a major storm or hurricane passed, except for the few stone mills,  almost all of the wooden dwellings and sugar works, such as the wooden mills and boiling houses, were destroyed. This destruction would be more pronounced in the Scotland district. It was only after  the great hurricane of 1675 that all the windmills were built with stone or coral blocks to withstand the  weather. 

The booming industry of sugar production took hold of the island at such a rapid rate, that when the  island was surveyed by William Mayo in 1721, his map had locations of 870 sugar estates and 320  windmills. Robert H. Schomburg notes in his book, “The History of Barbados”, written in 1848, that  Sugar Estates numbered 491 with 506 windmills and 1 steam mill. It was said at that time that 

Barbados was second only to Holland as the country with the most windmills per square mile. With a  minimum of three windmills per every square mile, one could well imagine what the landscape looked  like on this small island. This presumably marked the peak of the windmill presence on the Barbadian landscape.  

Alleynedale Mill, St. Peter. Built in 1861, it is one of the tallest mills in Barbados, standing at over 50 feet tall.
Rock Hall, St. Peter. An example of two mills close to each other. A sugar mill (left) and a water mill (right). Seven such locations can be found throughout Barbados.

Morgan Lewis Mill, St. Andrew. Erected in the 1700’s, Morgan Lewis Mill is the only complete and working windmill in Barbados. The mill before its sails were damaged by a storm in 2018 (left); the mill with its horizontal  roller mechanism still visible on the side in 2017 (right). The mill is owned and managed by the Barbados  National Trust. 

With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, along with the abolition of slavery in 1838, the use of  windmills slowly diminished to be soon dominated by the use of steam-driven mills to produce sugar.  The compensation money given to the planters from the abolition of slavery was invested in the steam  mill. From around 1850, the steam mill started to slowly take hold in sugar production. Although there  is no definite proof, it is thought that the Newcastle factory in St. John was the first factory to have steam works.

Newcastle Sugar Factory, St. John. The first steam works factory to produce sugar (Photo Credit: Nunez Siza, c.1895).
Heywoods Mills, St.Peter. An example of a working windmill and steam mill next to each other. The millwall still stands today on the property of the former Heywoods resort (Photo source unknown).

In 1866, there were approximately 30 steam-driven mills, and by 1895 there were 102 steam- driven  mills and around 338 windmills still in operation. The majority of estates operated with both a windmill  and a steam mill. Another type of mill that was used on estates was the water mill, which was smaller  but also operated by the power of the wind. Another crop that utilized the windmill was Arrowroot,  which was mostly grown in the area of Chalky Mount, St. Andrew. 

It wasn’t until 1946 that the remaining windmills ceased operations commercially. The last two were  Morgan Lewis in St. Andrew and at Colleton Plantation in St. Peter. The remnants of the windmills  were later used by plantations primarily to hold water tanks. The span of the use of the windmill for  over 300 years in Barbados (1646 – 1946) thus came to an end. 

At present, except for the only fully operational and intact windmill at Morgan Lewis in St. Andrew,  whatever has remained of the windmill, now termed millwalls, has been maintained by plantation  owners, converted as dwellings, or left to ruin.

Newcastle Mill, St. John. A classic example of a sugar mill modified as a residence
Glenburnie Millwall Remnants, St. John. Demolished in the 1980’s, remnants of the Glenburnie Sugar Mill is seen in the foreground. The church in the background is where the Boiling House used to be located. Some of the material of the boiling house was used in its construction, giving the church its unique appearance. It was built in 1862 by J.A.Haynes of Newcastle Plantation (right).
Dawlish Water Mill, St. Philip. A small mill, the most easterly located
Enterprise Mill, Christ Church. The most southern millwall recently converted to an office studio
Cluffs Mill, St. Lucy. The northernmost of mills, split in half by a lightning strike in the 1990’s.

Standing like sentinels on the Barbadian landscape, the windmills bear testimony to the hard labor in the wicked sun, the struggle, and the blood, sweat and tears of the enslaved. With the exception of  plantation houses, these remaining millwalls are the only structures with us today, that were they  brought back to life would evoke: “the enslaved and the indentured touched us, lived and died amongst us; we are witnesses to their pain.” For this and many other reasons, they should be  preserved. 

Maynards, St. Peter. This sugar mill is unique in that it is one of only three that has a fireplace built inside so the enslaved could also work at night.

In 1963, the late Captain Maurice. B. Hutt and his wife conducted a survey wherein they recorded 130  millwalls and 12 watermills. Since then, some millwalls have been demolished, and year by year their  numbers are slowly decreasing due to the lack of their preservation. These include the ones at Martins  Bay, the Bay Plantation, Fairy Valley, and more recently at Holders Hill, St. James. With the use of  emerging technologies, I have found to date about 145 such millwalls. 

Mohammed Patel, Barbados 2023 


Personal communication with historian, Dr. Lennox Honeychurch  

Badley, G. 2008. Barbados: The Sugar Story. Herbert Publishing, Barbados.

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