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Holman Bros., Millwrights of Canterbury: A history

The Holman legacy

The firm closed its doors in 1975 after 150 years in business. Of the 11 windmills that Holman’s built, only five remain standing in Kent as a lasting legacy of their work – Sarre, Draper’s Mill at Margate, St Margaret’s Bay windmill, Northbourne and Stelling Minnis. 

One of the Holman ledgers on arrival at the Mills Archive
One of the Holman ledgers on arrival at the Mill Archive. Photo: Mills Archive

After the compulsory purchase of the site, Kent County Council commemorated the firm’s place in the fabric and history of Canterbury. A block of flats named Holman Mews was built on the Old Dover Road Yard where the workshops and forge stood. The land where the traction engines were kept is now Holman’s Meadow car park. The original office block and shop in Dover Street and the row of medieval cottages, that proved accommodation for the Holman workers, are occupied by variety of businesses.

The business records were given to various archives and libraries during Tom’s lifetime. These are available in the C.P. Davies Collection and the John Holman Collection of Mill Memorabilia at the Templeman Library of the University of Kent at Canterbury and many ledgers and account books are available in the Canterbury Cathedral Archives.  A couple of artefacts were donated to the Beaney Library but it isn’t known whether they are on display.

Conservators working on the ledgers
Conservators working on the ledgers. Photo: Mills Archive

The last three Holman Directors died: Frank 1985, Thomas Richard (Tom) in 2000 aged 92 and Jack in 2003. In 2012, the family of Geoff Holman, the son of Tom Holman, gave the remainder of the collection including ledgers and family photographs to The Mills Archive in Reading. The Geoff Holman Collection has been catalogued and used in producing the history of the Holman family and business.  It is hoped that it will be possible to link the two other archive holdings of Holman records in Canterbury with the Mills Archive catalogue.

The rebound ledgers
The rebound ledgers. Photo: Mills Archive

The ledger covers and bindings were in a sorry state of repair with at least one infested with ‘red rot’.  However, the pages inside were in perfect condition so the ledgers were worth restoring and conserving. A grant by the Holman Family and the work of Judith Wiesner, a professional paper conservator, restored the ledgers to their former glory.

The process of editing this family and business history has shown that there is a lot that remains untold about the Holman story. We believe that we have just touched the surface and there are many different avenues and themes to explore and research over time. The Mills Archive hopes to work with mill researchers, academics, and archivists to develop research projects that would place the Holman business within the context of wider social, agricultural and local history, as well as developing an in-depth business history using the company records lodged in Canterbury.

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