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Holman Bros., Millwrights of Canterbury: A history

St. Margaret’s Bay Mill, St. Margaret’s at Cliffe

St. Margaret's Bay Mill
St Margaret’s Bay Mill. Photo: Stephen Buckland

The Lower South Foreland lighthouse was decommissioned in 1904. It was sold to James Neale – a London architect who converted it into a private house.

William Arthur Beardsell went to live there in 1919. He decided to add a windmill to generate electricity as an integral part of the house so as to blend in with the surroundings, the house standing on the 300 foot high cliffs close to the South Foreland lighthouse. At first he thought it possible to move a disused mill onto the site, but that mill was found to be unsound and the project was abandoned.

Holmans millwright Bob Barber worked up the timber – all pitch pine – in a small oast house in Dover Street. In 1928 the smock tower was erected and covered with weatherboarding. It was anchored down with iron rods and plates to the concrete foundations. Work stopped over the winter and started again in March 1929. It was built to 3/4 scale, the midling being 9.9 metres long – whilst Barham Mill was 14 metres. Windshaft, brake wheel, brake, wallower and upright shaft all of iron. Where the great spur wheel would have been was a large iron bevel gear driving a horizontal shaft via a small fibre-toothed wheel (quiet running) with a pulley drive on it – presumably to drive a dynamo.

Special precautions were taken in the design of the mill in view of the exposed position, and galvanised steel and gunmetal fittings were extensively used to counteract corrosion from sea air. The cap was a wagon-roof with sides curving in towards the bottom – to contain the brake wheel without contouring out the sides, made necessary here by the slender size of the smock tower and the small curb diameter. Some gearing from the unused derelict mill was incorporated into the new structure.

Electric lighting was installed in the house in 1929. This must have had some sort of additional generator to supplement that generated by wind, as rural electrification only came to rural areas in the 1930s. The mill began working in June 1929.

In a photograph taken in 1938, it appears to be in working order. During the Second World War it served as a useful landmark for returning planes but of course it could also have served as a landmark for enemy planes. Wrens occupied the house and monitored radio transmissions from German E boats in the Channel. Later Army personnel were billeted here.

By 1954 the property was still belonged to the War Department but was empty. The mill fan was complete but all the sweep shutters were out. An estimate was sought to restore the mill in 1956, presumably for a potential new owner.

The structure and weatherboarding of the mill is in good condition but badly in need of paint. Several windows and window frames are broken and in addition the head and tail shutters of the cap are missing.

The sweeps appear to be in good condition but the sweep shutters and striking rods have been removed. Some of the striking rods were found in an incomplete condition in the stable at the lighthouse. The sweep shutters were not found but it is understood that these are safely stored somewhere under cover. They will probably require minor repairs and painting.

The tail fan has been removed and is lying on the bottom staging. During removal the two cast iron brackets carrying the fan shaft have been broken. The fan itself is also badly damaged. The fan shaft bearings and the top pair of bevel gears are badly worn. All the sweep operating gear, fan gearing, brake gear etc. seems to be rusted up and will require dismantling.

We estimate the cost of putting the mill in good condition including painting at £300.0.0. This is not to be taken as a binding estimate but is only given as a guide.

We would recommend that the necessary repairs to make the mill weathertight should be carried out as soon as possible to prevent any deterioration of the structure.

Yours faithfully

Holman Bros., (Canterbury) Ltd.

It was put up for sale in 1957 was sold in 1958, and the new owner restored the exterior of the mill. In 1972 it was again up for sale. By 1974 it was still in working order and was occasionally set in motion. The lower rooms in the smock still had the electricity generating equipment, but the base of the mill was furnished as additional accommodation.