On Wednesday 18th July 2007, a number Sussex Mills Group members met at Drapers Windmill, Margate on a bright sunny day. The mill was one of three mills that stood in this area at the beginning of the 18th century.
Drapers Mill was built in 1845 by John Holman of Canterbury. This mill worked by wind with steam auxiliary power until 1916. A 20 HP gas engine powered the mill until the mid 1930s when she ceased to grind altogether. In 1965 the Drapers Mill Trust was set up to restore the mill, with Kent County Council acquiring the structure in 1968. Restoration of this Grade II listed smock mill continued over a number of years and when the work was completed in 1965, the mill was able to grind corn again. The mill still contains her original machinery including two pairs of Derbyshire Peak millstones and one pair of French Burr stones. Members were able to inspect the mill and the 20 HP Crossley Gas Engine, similar to the original, in the adjacent Engine Shed. On the ground floor there was a small museum of 18th and 19th century milling artefacts and farm implements.
Some of the tour participants outside White Windmill, Sandwich
We then travelled 10 miles south to White Windmill, Sandwich a white smock mill built about 1760 with outbuildings which forms a Rural Heritage Centre. Members were able to view the inside of the mill, which retains her original machinery. The associated buildings included a Wheelwrights Shop, a Cow Shed and a Laundry Display.
The next mill visited was Eastry Windmill, another smock mill built about 1770 on an earlier mill site. Now converted into a house, we were very grateful to Mr. and Mrs. Baker, who had only moved in 10 weeks earlier, for allowing us to view the inside of the mill. Martin Clark was also on hand and spoke about his father, the last miller at Eastry. It was interesting to see how some of the rooms still retain evidence of the internal construction of the original mill and looking into the cap the truck wheels and brakewheel were still in place.
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Three miles from Eastry was the Plough & Harrow at Tilmanstone where we had lunch, some members eating in the Conservatory Restaurant while others sat out in the garden. Tilmanstone together with Betteshanger and Snowdown were the centre of the Kent coal mining industry. On the walls in the bar there were early photographs of Tilmanstone colliery when it was working.
After lunch we made our way towards the Kent coast to visit Ripple Windmill, another black smock mill owned by Mr. and Mrs Atkinson. She is being restored by Mr. Atkinson who has worked on her for nearly 20 years. Thought to have been moved to this spot in 1840, she was used until about 1945. She was bought by Rediffusion in 1956 for communications purposes adding aerials to the top of the mill in 1960. However Rediffusion sold the mill in 1976 and she became derelict. Restoration of the mill commenced in 1988 with much of the machinery being rebuilt and more work is required until she is completely restored.
The last windmill to be visited on our Kent mills tour this year was another house conversion. Swingate Tower Mill at Guston was built for John Mummery in 1849, but is now owned by Mr. and Mrs. Brooks who have been there for 8 years. We were warmly welcomed. Tea, coffee and biscuits were provided. The mill was in the Mummery family for 73 years and worked throughout the Great War. Mr. E. A. Mummery discontinued milling in 1918 and in December 1922 the mill was purchased by Mr. George Sheaff. She eventually ceased working in 1930. When the mill was first converted to living accommodation she was used as a cats' home.
The final mill visited on this tour was Crabble Watermill at River near Dover and located on the River Dour. This is a large structure comprising of six floors, and was probably built in 1812. The mill was restored in the 1970s to the condition it would have looked in the late 1800s. On arrival most members visited the Watermill Restaurant for refreshments before being taken on a guided tour through the mill. We were split into two groups and I was in the group led by Paul Jarvis. Starting at Level 6 at the top of the mill, we saw the 'Eureka' Grain Cleaner and various hoist mechanisms. Two bolters were seen, one at Level 5 and one at Level 4, before moving to Level 3 where 5 pairs of millstones were observed.
Paul Jarvis (centre) shows David Jones (right) flour that has just been ground
Paul Jarvis then engaged one of the pairs of stones which, powered by the waterwheel that was seen turning when we arrived, ground wheat into flour There is a whole range of machinery and many grain bins at Crabble Watermill and we were here some time.
This was an interesting tour where members were able to see and inspect five windmills and one watermill in east Kent. Very well organised by Brian and Robert Pike and they were duly thanked by Peter Hill at Crabble Mill.
Text and Photographs by Robin Jones