Posted on

Kent Millers’ Tales

A River’s Tale

The River Loose rises at Langley, flows through the village of Loose, and joins the Medway at Tovil. It has the reputation for the highest concentration of watermills in Kent. Watermill researcher Alan Stoyel provides an introduction to the mills of the Loose. There follows a summary of the mill sites where the river’s power was used. These sites are arranged in order, from the source to where it discharges into the river Medway, a distance of approximately 5½ miles.

Several streams in Kent were remarkable in their constant supplies of copious water, flowing from a series of springs down valleys with steep gradients. These attracted dense concentrations of watermills along their short lengths. Many of the mill sites were of ancient foundation, but the volume and quality of the water was particularly suited to papermaking. Perhaps the best examples of such streams are the Loose, running into the river Medway on the edge of Maidstone, and the Dour, which flows down to the sea at Dover. Each of these had the added advantage of proximity to a large town, and to transport – by both land and water.

You can view a Google map of mills on the River Loose on our Mills Database


This was the first water-powered site on the stream, but, even by 1936, nothing remained.

LEG O’ MUTTON MILL, LOOSE                                               

So called from the shape of the pond, this overshot mill closed in the early 19th century.. After this the water from the pond was channelled to Upper Mill. The pond still remains.


Originally a fulling mill, then a paper mill, its last use was for grinding corn, with three pairs of stones. Later, the overshot waterwheel received extra power at breast level from Leg o’ Mutton Pond. In its latter days the water power was insufficient, and a beam-engine worked in conjunction with the waterwheel. The mill closed in 1908 and has since been demolished. In the surviving wheelpit are two hydraulic rams.


Just upstream of the high-level road bridge is the site of another paper mill. Also known as Gurney’s Mill, it was demolished after the 1914-18 war, although the mill-house remains, together with some footings of the mill. There is still a tiny pond, and the wheelpit for a wide overshot waterwheel.


In the middle of the village, fed by a large pond, is what must be an ancient mill site.

As far as is known, this has always been a corn mill. Latterly, an overshot waterwheel drove three pairs of stones, and this continued until about the First World War. Now little remains of the mill, although the mill house is occupied, and water still falls into the waterwheel pit.


Traditionally this has been a paper mill, although the present house, dated 1865, was converted in about 1912 from the corn mill which superseded the papermaking. The overshot waterwheel and all the machinery were scrapped, but the millpond has been restored.

GREAT IVY MILL, MAIDSTONE                   

This paper mill, like many others, was once a fulling mill. It had a powerful overshot waterwheel, which was later superseded by a turbine, but the iron pentrough from the wheel is still in place. Some buildings of the complex remain, but papermaking here had ceased before the First World War.


A fulling mill for much of its life, this mill was converted to grinding corn by the middle of the 19th century. Work ceased over a hundred years ago and the building was converted into dwellings soon afterwards. Remarkably, the frame of the overshot waterwheel is still in place beneath the mill, despite the alterations to the building.


Although much of this paper mill complex has been converted to housing recently, it still represents the most important survival in the valley. The buildings are dominated by the long wooden paper-drying loft, and the core of the mill has become a museum. Here can be seen the waterwheel, the beaters it drove, and other historic machines and equipment. The internal waterwheel could be operated as overshot or high breast, according to the level of water in the pond. 


The use of this mill, like so many on this stream, has been varied, although it is now a private house. Until about 1900 corn was ground here, but it had been a fulling mill. The most recent task for the external overshot waterwheel was pumping water, which kept it working into the 1960s, and the restored wheel can still turn.


A corn mill, with four pairs of stones, it was demolished in the early 1950s. Part of the base of the building survives, and the stream still falls into the internal wheel-pit from the iron trough which fed the overshot waterwheel. The mill worked until about 1905, and the working parts were removed about thirty years later.


Here was a large paper mill of ancient foundation, powered by a powerful overshot waterwheel. Following a major fire in 1894 the premises were completely rebuilt, and steam power superseded the waterwheel. The buildings were demolished, the stream  hidden in a culvert, and new houses built on the site in the 1980s. 


Probably a fulling mill originally, this became a paper mill. The large internal overshot waterwheel was scrapped in 1941, although papermaking continued after the war. The buildings were eventually demolished and the whole area has been redeveloped for housing.


Here, just before the river Loose runs into the Medway, was once an ancient fulling mill, but the site has been used at various different times subsequently for producing flour, gunpowder, oil and paper. It seems to have ceased work early in the 20th century, and the site was eventually cleared for housing, leaving no trace of the mill.