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Rising From The Ashes: More Than Run-Of-The-Mill Restoration

Jul 26, 2023 | General, Lifestyle | 1 comment

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For many, Mostert’s Mill is a novel roadside attraction – a standout piece of architecture alongside an otherwise unremarkable stretch of highway. For John Hammer, the only working windmill on the African continent is so much more: a lifelong passion, a cause worth championing, and a spring of potential. After spending much of his life in proximity to the building, he has come to its rescue in a time of need, and sees a vision for its future that few would have had the courage or imagination to implement.

As Friends of Mostert’s Mill (FoMM) restoration committee chairman, John mustered the community’s will to save an iconic landmark after the mill was devastated by a wildfire that did extensive damage to many historic buildings in the area on April 18, 2021. His stewardship of the mill began many years before: as a student at the University of Cape Town in 1981 and a lifelong resident of Mowbray, he often walked past the mill and even had a few visits. It was on these trips that his curiosity blossomed into a passion.

In 1995, John became officially associated with the mill when a meeting to form Friends of Mostert’s Mill was held in the Mowbray town hall, and he has been serving ever since. 1995 was also when the first restoration took place – a process that involved transforming a then-aesthetic piece of architecture into a working mill under the tutelage of a Dutch miller. Unbeknownst to John, he was becoming the lynchpin of a tradition that keeps the utility of the mill at the heart of its existence.

After the fire in 2021, there were considerable challenges in getting the mill back in working condition – the principle of which was the size of the timbers that would be necessary to allow for the mechanical operation of the mill. Luckily another Jon, this time with the surname Stevens, could assist and provide the backbone of the mill in the form of suitable timber.

John is adamant that functionality must be a key factor considered while getting the mill back up and running, as he believes that a machine that doesn’t work is no good to anybody. With that in mind, he plans to open the mill more frequently than during its pre-fire schedule. Previously the mill was open to the public once a month, but John hopes to expand on that in order to “mill for the sake of milling”. The ambition is to begin selling the mill’s product to local bakers.

Microbreweries have also shown a keen interest in getting in on the action. An outfit out of Noordhoek has approached John to mill barley and eventually incorporate Mostert’s Mill into the brewing process.

The effect of John’s and the team’s efforts are not localised. The outpouring of support from individuals and organisations has shown others that reaching out for help can pay dividends, and the restoration of Mostert’s Mill has inspired many watermill owners to seek out the expertise of the FoMM in the restoration of their watermills (which are far more numerous than windmills). Andy Self, the man responsible for the technical restoration of the mill, has even been enlisted to build a water mill from scratch at Babylonstoren.

The windmill at Alexandra Hospital is another potential project even bigger than Mostert’s. In its current state, the building is a chapel, and FoMM has committed to restoring it, at least cosmetically, to its former glory. Hopefully, they will be able to restore the machinery and add another functioning windmill to the Cape.

After the devastating fire, the remarkable restoration efforts have breathed new life into this cherished historical landmark. The dedicated team of architects, craftsmen, and historians worked tirelessly to honour the mill’s rich heritage while incorporating modern innovations to ensure its resilience for generations to come.

Life’s lessons

For John, two key life lessons also emerge from the ashes. “Through this most recent project with the Mill I’ve learnt and been reminded that when one is faced with any sort of crisis, the best way to move forward is to pick oneself up and get on with it.

“And while scientists and studies have proven for years that people who volunteer not only feel stronger and mentally and physically healthier, they also report higher levels of happiness and life satisfaction and that I can completely attest to.  You may already be volunteering your time but if you are not, consider the charities you support. Think about the skills you might be able to offer them, and consider involving friends and family. You will be so glad you did, that I promise.”

John Hammer (left) and Andy Selfe



1 Comment

  1. Amanda Walker

    Thank you John for stepping up to this challenge. What an exciting future the mill now has, your vision, determination, strength are testimony to that.


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