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Captain Zeppos -- Museum at the Mill

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Museum at the Mill Pages:

The Museum

Mill History

The Restoration

Originally built to grind corn in the 14th Century, the Hertboom Mill has a long and fascinating history. It is a wooden postmill situated at a crossroads dividing four areas of pastureland in the Pajottenland area, south-west of Brussels, Belgium. The name of the mill was taken from that of the land adjacent to it. It lies a short distance outside and to the west of the town of Onze-Lieve-Vrouw-Lombeek, a small but prosperous town in the Middle Ages, which was a centre for pilgrimage and the heart of a thriving trade in agriculture. Pajottenland - which literally means 'land of square farms and mills' - was once reknowned for its abundance of watermills and windmills. At one time, its many windmills completely dominated the skyline of the town and its surrounding area.

The earliest written record noting the existence of a windmill on the site dates back to 1391, although it is thought to have been built at some point in time between 1300 and 1345 by Diederik van Walcourt, liege lord of Lombeek. In 1381, the mill and its pastures came into the ownership of the Sirs of Gaasbeek, feudal lords who would own the property and lands until 1655. The last Sir of Gaasbeek to own the mill, Alexander de Renesse, commissioned a new mill in 1655 but was compelled to sell it later that year to settle his father's gambling debts. The new owner was Gabriλl Le Febvre, Sir of Tiercelet. There is some suspicion that shortly after changing hands, the newly-completed windmill burned to the ground as Le Febvre is reputed to have built another new windmill on the site in 1657, although historians have been unable to confirm this thus far. The mill suffered further crisis in the late 17th Century: just one year after the public prosecutor of the Council of Brabant, Jan Dors, purchased the Hertboom Mill in 1689, the farmlands were set alight and the mill burned to the ground by soldiers of King Louis XVI of France. The reason cited for the destruction was unpaid or insufficient war taxes, and a similar fate befell many other buildings and lands in the locality. For twenty-five years, the mill site laid abandoned until, in 1716, a Brussels aristocrat, Egidius De Mesmaeker acquired the site and commissioned a new mill. The mill he constructed is the one that stands today and was built between 1723 to 1727 with the miller's house at its base being completed in 1732. In 1772, the mill passed into the ownership of Carolus de Man and then details become sketchy until 1835, when the mill came into the hands of Jan-Baptist Van De Velde, a miller by trade. After centuries of being owned by noblemen and aristocrats, finally the Hertboom was owned by a simple miller. He would remain at the mill until 1859, when the Walraevens purchased the mill. They would keep the mill in the family for nigh on a century.

Windmill partsAfter the Industrial Revolution, the importance of windmills to farming began to wane. This situation worsened considerably at the end of the 19th Century when the local agricultural land was turned over to cattle farming. There are varying accounts of actual numbers, but there were somewhere between forty and seventy windmills in the Pajottenland area in the year 1900. Just five decade later there were just a handful left, and none of these were working mills - the Hertboom was decommissioned as a working mill in 1940, it having been rendered redundant due to the increased industrialisation of agriculture. Four years later it was granted protection as a national monument by the Royal Commission for Monuments and Landscapes. Local enthusiasts, under the tutelage of miller Henri Van Nuffel, got the mill working once again from 1954, turning the sails in Spring and Summer. This lead to the owners, the Rooselaers and latterly the Heremans, engaging in restoration works in 1954, 1970 and 1974. By the time of their last renovation, the Hertboom Mill was tragically the sole survivor of Pajottenland's famous windmills... The two other surviving mills, in the neigbouring town of Pamel, had been lost by the early 1970s - the Keirekensmill had collapsed in 1970 following many years of neglect and the Papal Zouave mill fell victim to the greed of developers, and was cruelly demolished a year later. Fortunately, the mill at Onze-Lieve-Vrouw-Lombeek has fared significantly better and still stands proud today thanks to an essential programme of restoration work that was undertaken at the turn of the millennium. Visitors can read further about the restoration of the Hertboom Mill in The Restoration, the final page in this section at Adventurer: The Unofficial Zeppos Dossier.

The Hertboom Mill acquired two different nicknames during the 20th Century: 'The Tragic Mill' and 'The Zeppos Mill'. The latter is of course due to the mill doubling as the fictional home of Captain Zeppos in the children's television series of the 1960s, while the earlier name is for entirely less tasteful reasons. The Hertboom became dubbed 'The Tragic Mill' as a result of three murders that were committed at the mill. The first incident took place on January 1st 1745, when the mill was ransacked by members of a notorious gang led by Jan de Lichte. The miller, Peeter Van Lierde, was stabbed in the robbery and died from his injuries. Jan de Lichte's vicious reign of terror and terrible deeds garnered him a place in the fears and folklore of the region for many years to come. The other two murders happened in 1917 during a further robbery. Both the wife of the miller and a servant were murdered in cold blood, with their throats cut. The name 'The Tragic Mill' passed into common parlance in the locality and appears on many occasions in documentation and other historical references to the mill. The current owner, Jozef Van Waeyenberge, who purchased the mill in 1999, and the museum staff, now refer to the mill by its historical name - the Hertboom Mill.

With grateful thanks to the Hertboom Mill Museum
and www.windmolen.be

For other pages in this section, please use the links at the top of the page.