The Mill Researcher’s Tale
Alan Stoyel describes the work of several individuals who have spent their spare time visiting, recording and researching the old mills of Kent. Click on the hyperlinks below to see the results of their efforts.
KENT: WATERMILL RECORDS
In 1933 appeared a ground-breaking book by William Coles Finch – “Watermills and Windmills: A Historical Survey of their Rise, Decline and Fall as Portrayed by those of Kent”. Despite this title, only about 5% of the publication was devoted to watermills, and to this day the watermills in Kent have remained ‘the poor relation’.
One person who took an early interest in Kent watermills, investigating and drawing many them in the 1920s and 30s, was the architect Kenneth Reid, and some of the results were eventually published in his “Watermills of the London Countryside”. The results of this research are thus in the public domain. The main task of the Mills Archive Trust is to bring together research and recording carried out behind the scenes, and to make this information available.
Based at Cheriton, near Folkestone, for a great many years was Peter Davies. Being a librarian, he was in a position to compile an invaluable collection of mill-related information and records, concentrating on East Kent – now housed in the Templeman Library at Canterbury. Amongst his friends were old millers including John Russell of Cranbrook, Philip Hancock of Mersham and Sidney Ashdown in Sussex. He corresponded with other mill enthusiasts, including Rex Wailes in Buckinghamshire, Syd Simmons and Frank Gregory in Sussex. All these men played their part in recording elements of the last days of the watermill in Kent, but, now they, themselves, have all gone; their records are their memorial.
In the meantime Robert Goodsall had taken an interest in the mills of the River Stour and the River Len, publishing some of the results. Robert Spain extended his work on the latter river, and also published detailed information about the mills of the River Loose and elsewhere, as well as becoming an authority on early mill sites – of which Kent provided vital examples. In the 1960s and 70s, Mick Fuller had made an in-depth study of the mills of the East Malling and Wateringbury streams, both tributaries of the River Medway. Later he and Robert Spain collaborated on a compendium of information on a selection of watermills in Kent and the borders of Sussex, combined with an invaluable series of recollections of men with hands-on experience of the mills. These were the millers and millwrights who had so much to contribute, but generally had such little opportunity of sharing their knowledge and experience.
Concentrating on the NW end of the county, watermill recording was being done by Alan Stoyel, largely in the 1950s, with some research being carried out by his father, Derek. Later, others, including Don Filmer and Rob Cumming, continued to record what has survived. In addition to those mentioned above are specialist local researchers, such as Arthur Percival in the Faversham area.
Invaluable records of watermills, such as photographs and pictures, or occasional observations or reminiscences, have been made by people who have no specialist interest or knowledge of the subject. These may be of enormous importance once the subjects have been identified, and, hopefully, dated. However, not only are such records extremely vulnerable, but their existence may not even be known. Do you have anything relating to watermills in Kent or elsewhere which might be of interest to the Mills Archive?
Click on the links below to view the contributions that individual researchers have made to our records of Kent mills.