Davison’s Mill, Stelling Minnis
The first recorded windmill at Stelling Minnis appears on a map of 1736, while another of 1769 shows two. It is not known when the first mill was built on the present site, but perhaps it was as early as 1500. There is evidence of at least 3 post mills here.
In 1812, James Goble purchased an open trestle post mill working 2 pairs of stones and with 4 ‘common’ sweeps from John Horton. He apparently sold the mill on reaching the age of about 65 to his eldest son George for £100 in 1839. The third son of James, Thomas, lived at the mill in 1841 along with George and his wife Mary.
The existing mill was built by Thomas Holman for George Goble in 1866, on the site of the former open trestle post mill which was demolished to build the new mill. The mill was built on the 2 metre high mound on which the old post mill rested, the foundations of which are underneath the present mill. Remains of the previous post mill can still to be seen, marks on the ground floor showing where two of the four brick piers were located to support the trestle, and an iron plate beneath one of the internal wooden pillars appears to be part of a mill post bearing. It stands in a rural location on the Minnis on the outskirts of Stelling Minnis village on a foundation of only a few courses of bricks, and as a result is only 43ft high.
The two pairs of stones, one Peak and the other French Burr were driven by mainly iron machinery, including the windshaft, although the brake wheel was of wood. The Peak stones were used for grinding animal foods such as barley for local pig farmers. Additional equipment included a flour sieve and a sack hoist. A hand operated winnowing machine, used to clean debris from the corn before grinding was housed in the adjacent barn.
George Goble died in 1878 when the mill was bought by Henry Davison. From then on it became known as Davison’s mill. The Davisons lived in the large well-built mill house (known as Gordon House) at the top of Mill Lane which had outbuildings including a bakery used for baking bread from flour ground at the mill.
In 1891, Holmans put in a new midling, followed in the early 1900s by new shutters and outer sweeps, cills, undertook splice repairs to the cant posts, and replaced cogs in the spur wheel.
When the mill was in its prime working day and night to cope with the demand, as many as three horse and carts were used for deliveries, including the daily run to Lyminge Railway Station some four miles away, to collect corn and cereals. A miller by the name of Samuel Albert Harskins Harris worked for Mr. Davison in the 1920s. At this time he was reputed to be one of the few Kent people who could dress millstones.
The production of white flour ceased at the mill in 1907, as presumably they could not compete with the new roller mills, both for quantity and price. Grinding corn, maize and other cereals into animal feed then became its main function, serving many farms in the surrounding area.
By the 1920s, the Minnis, which had been virtually treeless, became neglected with trees and bushes starting to grow up and interfere with the free flow of the wind which is highly detrimental to the operation of a windmill. The sweeps were in a poor condition and would soon need expensive replacement. In addition, the wind did not always blow when the miller needed to grind. For these reasons it was decided to install an engine to provide power to the mill.
A 121/2 horse power Ruston & Hornsby ‘Hot Bulb’ paraffin oil engine was installed by Holmans in 1923. An engine house had to be built, and three water cooling tanks had to be installed. The engine required a shaft together with driving wheels to be installed in the mill so that it could drive the spur wheel at first floor level. The driving belt from the engine to the mill was enclosed in a wooden casing. It also involved removing the window from the meal floor. This was probably when the redundant flour sieve was removed, as with the new drive shaft from the engine, access around the meal floor would have been very restrictive. The roof of the engine house would have fouled the sweeps so they had to be shortened. The reefing stage was then raised to allow the sweeps to be reached more easily. With the engine being used, less use was made of the wind and by about 1930 the sweeps needed repair and the fan was missing.
The mill was in need of urgent repairs and would have deteriorated further but for the timely intervention of Hilda Laurie of West Gate House in Canterbury, who also owned a house next to the mill. She enjoyed the sight of the mill from her house there and was saddened to see it deteriorating. Her brother Ronald Macdonald Laurie had died in 1927 and Hilda, in memory of her brother, gave £550 towards the restoration of the mill.
The following is correspondence relating to the restoration:
October 5th 1934
Dear Miss Laurie
I have now had an opportunity of more thoroughly examining the Mill at Stelling Minnis, and enclose specification and estimates of what is required to put it into good working order. The condition of the tower of the mill is rather worse than I anticipated at my first examination, and I find that since the engine house has been built it will be necessary to erect a staging round the mill similar to what it originally had.
I have divided the specification into different parts. That for the sweeps is the price at which we are prepared to supply and fix a set of sweeps.
The other items are approximate only and I do not think the figures will be exceeded.
I have had a talk with Mr. & Mrs. Davison – there seems to be quite a good little business being done and they are looking forward to their son carrying it on when they have to give up, and I do not see why he should not be able to do this, and from what they say they would find it very convenient, and would like to have the sweeps going again, and would be prepared to pay the cost of some of the structural work, but I do not know how much.
Now looking at this from a purely business point of view I would not advise spending so much money simply to make use of the wind power, but you have given me your reasons for wishing to have the sweeps on again, which I appreciate, and I might say that I should like to see this and some more of the windmills at work again,
I shall be pleased to do anything in my power to help you in coming to a decision.
HBH Holman Bros
Specification of work to be done at Stelling Minnis Mill:
To take down the present old sweeps and midlings and replace same with a new set of 4 framed sweeps each about 25 feet long by 5ft 8″ wide with framed and canvassed shutters and striking gear complete, and 2 new pitch pine midlings each about 34 ft long, all painted 3 coats best white lead paint, and delivered and fixed for the sum of £245-0-0
To strip off the weather board above the cills and take out about 4 defective cills and replace with new ones, uncover the corner posts where they appear defective, cut out bad timbers and splice about 4 posts about half way up, take out defective quartering and replace with new, and cover with new weatherboarding. The estimated cost of this is £90-0-0
To take down the present fan and gearing and replace with new fan and gearing and new woodwork where found necessary, at an estimated cost of £40-0-0
To build a stage round the mill about 6 feet wide, at a height of about 8 feet above the ground level, at an estimated cost of £60-0-0
The mill was completely restored and could work once again by wind when conditions were favourable. Hilda was awarded a ‘Windmill Certificate’ in 1936 by the Mills Section of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.
Henry Davison’s son Alec took over the running of the mill in 1940, with his sister Dorothy keeping all the mill accounts. When Henry was no longer able to work the mill, he had a window installed in of one of the downstairs rooms of his house, thus enabling him to view all the ‘goings on’ at the mill from the comfort of his armchair. Such was the devotion between the miller and his mill.
Letter dated Sat 22nd 1947:
We should be glad if you will repair our mill, as the stone we are using is nearly worn out & cannot be dressed as the wheat stone is in the way. We are getting a lot of grinding now, & was hoping you would get it done before the farmers started threshing & oblige
H. W. Davison & Son
Letter dated 1947:
The mill was struck by lightning about two weeks ago. There are a few shutters out, & the striking iron is damaged.
Messrs Milne have been out to see what damage has been done, & they wish you to look at the mill to know the cost of repairs at your earliest convenience.
H. W. Davison
Two sweeps were blown off in 1951 and the mill then ran on the remaining two only but it needed a near gale force wind for it to operate. The engine broke down in the 1960s and was deemed not economical to repair. The mill was then working with 2 sweeps until autumn 1970, when it was the last commercial mill in Kent working under wind power. It was grinding and supplying local farms with livestock feed. Alec Davison, who died in 1970, bequeathed it to the Kent County Council.
When it was taken over by the Council, funds were made available for restoration. This was undertaken by millwrights Pargeter and Lennard and initial work included repairs to the cap, cant posts, weatherboarding and 2 new sweeps, which meant it could once again work running 2 pairs of millstones.
In the summer of 1975 restoration work was completed by the addition of two new sweeps. The reefing stage was renewed, parts of it having collapsed. An agreement was made between the County Council and the then East Kent Mills Group to look after the mill and to carry out regular greasing of the winding gear.
After some work to comply with Health and Safety regulations it was opened to public on the 13th of November 1976. Stelling Minnis Parish Council has arranged for it to open regularly every Sunday during the summer months.
Various other repairs were carried out over the years. A programme of regular repainting was instigated, this having to overcome the incompatibility of the old gasworks tar with modern materials. Steel stocks were fitted in 1988.
1992 saw the Stelling Minnis village fete held in the grounds of mill. This became an annual event at the site and, with the mill being open as well, it gave a new influx of visitors shown round the mill by volunteers. By 1997 planning permission had been obtained for the erection of a museum adjoining the mill.
By 1999, trees surrounding the site grew so high as to prevent the sweeps turning with wind power but the mill machinery continued to be operated using its original engine. The mill was then managed and opened to the public by the Parish Council and the Kent Mills Group, with the Group being responsible for restoring and maintaining the machinery. The engine needed a lot of repairs including fixing the loose flywheel which had damaged the crankshaft, overhauling the worn big end bearing, patching the cracked cylinder water jacket and overhauling the fuel oil pump. The old water tanks were abandoned and were substituted by a lorry radiator with an electric fan.
In 2002 a survey found that the plastic-based coating applied to the weatherboarding had left the structural timbers of the mill in an appalling state, as it trapped in moisture and did not allow the timber to breathe. The existing sweeps had also been painted with plastic-based paint and had rotted. One cant post had to be replaced whilst others needed minor repairs. The cill beam also needed some repair and a section of the iron curb ring was replaced. The cap was removed by crane. It weighed around 5 tonnes without sweeps, stocks and fan blades.
The tower was scaffolded throughout, and the weatherboarding removed. Some rot was found, which needed attention before the weatherboarding was replaced. New sweeps complete with shutters were installed. The studwork had worm and wet rot and required face patches – some needed replacement. All of the cap and smock boarding had to be replaced.
And now? The mill is capable of grinding by wind if it is in the right direction, otherwise by engine but with the demise of the East Kent Mills Group, it is rarely run. It remains in good condition with the help of a few volunteers. The tea room, part of the museum building, is popular on Sunday afternoons when there are volunteers to show visitors around.
- The barn was down Mill Lane
- Stocks are now wooden
- Paul Jarvis repaired the engine