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Holman Bros., Millwrights of Canterbury: A history

Authors: Guy Boocock, Elizabeth Trout, Mildred Cookson

1: Overview
2: The Holman family origins
3: History of the business: Key facts, indentures and premises timeline
4: History of the business: Workshops, retail and agriculture
5: The staff of Holmans
6: The war and the Holmans
7: The Holman mills and their characteristics
8: Holman mill profiles
9: Black/Barham Downs Mill, Canterbury
10: Glover's Mills (old and new), Blean
11: Montefiore Windmill, Jerusalem
12: Drapers Mill, Margate
13: Little Drapers Mill, Margate
14: New Mill, Northbourne
15: Solly's Mill, Preston
16: Newington Mill, Ramsgate
17: St. Margaret's Bay Mill, St. Margaret's at Cliffe
18: Eight Mile Mill, Sarre
19: Barnsole Mill, Staple
20: Davison's Mill, Stelling Minnis
21: New Mill (Denton Mill), Swingfield
22: Haifa Windmill, Mount Carmel
23: Swanton Watermill, Mersham
24: Taylor's Watermill (Bradley's Mill), Speldhurst
25: The Holman legacy


Geoff Holman
Geoff Holman. Photo: Colin O’Brien

After Geoff Holman died in December 2011, his widow, Lynn and his children, donated his collection of the remaining Holman Bros. company archives, photographs and the preparatory material for a book to The Mills Archive. Since June 2012, members of the Mills Archive staff and volunteers have catalogued the archive material in the collection, arranged for the bound ledgers to be repaired and conserved, and edited Geoff’s book in order for it to be published on the Mills Archive website. Work has begun on digitising and transcribing the ledgers for information about the millwork. The largest task was to turn Geoff’s preparatory book into an online publication that would create a permanent legacy to the Holman Millwrights.

The Holman Collection at The Mills Archive
The Holman Collection at the Mills Archive. Photo: Mills Archive

Before Geoff died, he was gathering information, and had begun to write a book, about the Holman millwrighting business in Canterbury. Much of his material was in note form, with some semi-completed chapters and information transcribed from original documents. Unfortunately, Geoff didn’t record the location or sources so, in many cases, we have not been able to locate or check the accuracy of the information. It is assumed that the information came from the Holman collections at the Templeman Library at the University of Kent and the Cathedral Archives. Editing the book was undertaken by three members of the Mills Archive team over eighteen months in addition to other ongoing Archive projects. Our aim was to retain as much of Geoff’s own words as possible and we hope that we have been successful. Most of the chapters on the family, premises and business development required substantial editing. We removed a lot of duplicated material in order to write a coherent and logical narrative. This took longer than expected as we had to there were inconsistencies and contradictions with some of the known facts. Many facts had no sources or references.

We spent considerable time corroborating facts using an extensive family history researched by Geoff’s widow Lynn and double-checking the original records that were accessible on genealogical websites. We also found additional records to complete or supplement Geoff’s information on individual family members. A major piece of work was to use the staff ledger and census returns to identify 300 individuals who worked at Holmans between 1876-1880 and 1898-1901. Using census information, war records and digitised newspapers, we uncovered interesting stories about the wider family and the Holman staff who were a major part of the business success over 150 years. We also discovered the extent and location of the Holman premises and land holdings using the fire insurance and land records that Geoff had found, company drawings, census returns, online newspapers and Google Earth.  

Geoff’s original ‘chapters’ were reorganised into the featured article chapters as the material was sometimes too brief to warrant being called a chapter. These are now subsections within larger chapters. We also created brief biographies of the company directors, family members and some of the staff. It was difficult to ascertain how Geoff intended to use some of the information that he had collected. We have incorporated as much as possible into the narrative when possible but some transcribed documents and long lists of machinery have been summarised or kept separate for further research. 

Vincent Pargeter edited the Holman mill profiles and the millwrighting side of the business were checked for errors (not Geoff’s but perpetuated errors in a major source book of Kent windmills). Further research about the mills was done and facts and figures included. We discovered that Holmans’ reputation as millwrights took them all over the country to repair mills. This was a revelation as it was believed that the Jerusalem Mill was the only one that they had built or repaired outside Kent.  There is more research to be done about the extent of the work they did elsewhere.

More research could be done on the family and the business. The majority of the Holman company records are lodged with the Templeman Library at the University of Kent and also in Canterbury Cathedral Archives. These are worth further exploration. We have developed some themes that seemed worthwhile to treat separately: the effect of war on the business from the Boer War to the Second World War; and the crimes and accidents that are an unintended result of running a business. However, we know that Geoff was interested the place of Holman’s within the wider context of social agricultural and Kent history. The family were part of an extensive Holman family who were carpenters, coopers, shipbuilders and mariners. He had begun to write up some preparatory notes on all these themes but we have not included it here as it requires much further research that was beyond the scope of the project.


Many thanks are due to Lynn Holman and Geoff’s family for their encouragement, suggestions and support during the Holman Project. Lynn provided all the original notes and images for Geoff’s book and undertook some of the genealogy. 

Specific acknowledgement should be made to the work of individuals in editing and preparing this report and publication pages on the Mills Archive website:

  • Editors of Geoff’s ‘book’ – Guy Boocock (History of the business and family history), Elizabeth Trout (family history) and Mildred Cookson (Mill profiles).
  • Information about Jerusalem Mill from research – Vincent Pargeter.
  • Cataloguing the Holman Collection at the Mills Archive – Nathanael Hodge.
  • Conservation and restoration of the Holman Ledgers – Judith Wiesner, book and paper conservator, with a grant from the Holman Family.
  • Photographing and transcribing the ledgers – Rob Cumming.
  • Collating the publication for the family – Nataliya Vine and the Editors
  • Final editing of website publication – Vincent Pargeter and the Editors

Further reading – Dover Street Remembered, Local History Publication No. 2, 1993 (1990) and The Holmans of Canterbury, Local History Publication No. 3, 1992 by The Oaten Hill and District Society Local History Group.