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Holman Bros., Millwrights of Canterbury: A history

Black/Barham Downs Mill, Canterbury

Black Mill, Barham, 1950
Black Mill, Barham, 1950. Photo: Harry Meyer

Black Mill was the third mill on the site. There was a mill on Barham Down in the thirteenth century. A mill was marked on Philip Symonson’s map of 1596, John Speed’s map of 1611, Robert Morden’s map of 1695 and Emanuel Bowen’s map of 1736. This mill was originally a little lower down the hill, and was moved to a new position higher up.

The second mill was marked on the 1819-43 Ordnance Survey map.

The Black Mill was built by John Holman, the Canterbury millwright in 1834. She was worked for many years by H.S. Pledge, then R. Walter for over 50 years, and after that by T. Denne and Sons. The mill was struck by lightning on 17 June 1878 and lost a sail. Over £150 had to be spent to repair the mill. The last owner, Mr. E. Mannering, fitted the fantail from Willesborough windmill in 1946, and restored the mill in 1956. He was awarded a Windmill Certificate by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings for his efforts. The work was done by Holmans of Canterbury, the last millwrighting they did before the firm stopped doing millwrighting work. Kent County Council contributed £400 towards the restoration work. The work included the replacement of two sails that had been blown off in a storm on 13 March 1951. The mill featured in the 1955 film Raising a Riot starring Kenneth More. The mill was purchased by Kent County Council in the late 1960s and burnt down on 3 March 1970 when a spark from a bonfire set light to the mill.


Built by John Holman on site of old mills dating back to at least 1596, when it was shown on Phil Symonson’s map of Kent. It was called Black Mill as it was covered in tarred sheeting. Situated in a prolific wheat growing area and centrally placed for deliveries to Canterbury, Deal, Dover and Folkestone.


Henry Sturgess Pledge, who started Pledge’s steam milling business in Ashford, began his milling career here.


The census return states Charles Brown as ‘Miller foreman’, along with a lodging Edward Hopper as ‘Miller’. Henry Setterfield nearby was a ‘Millers Carter’. Mr. Sankey, a nearby farmer, was likely the owner of this mill as he is recorded in estimate books in 1872.

10 July 1872

‘Mr Sankey, Barham Downs Mill. 1 Elm Bridge for Horse 2ft 10ins long, 10 1/2 x 7 5/8. 1 – 18in x 7/8 bolt and an auger. Pair blocks and fall. 2 iron brackets for fan shaft. Posts 4 x 4. Centre of shaft 2 1/4 from post. Bearing 1 3/4 between collars – 1 3/8 diameter.’

[11] July 1873

‘[Richard] Walter Barham. New Neck Brass.’ [R.W. name found in the 1881 census, also states he had an apprentice, Henry James Solly].

31 July 1874

‘[Richard] Walter. Barham. 1 new midling 46ft long 13 x 13. Canister 2ft 6 1/2 deep. 7 1/4 x 7 1/4 at midling and inner midling.’

January 1876

Walter. 1 new midling (old one 44ft long) new to be 46ft long cut 13 square. Canister 2ft 6 deep. 7 1/2 wide x 7 deep at midling end (outer midling). 4 new uplongs 31 1/2ft long. 34 new shutters 12 longest & 24 next xxx. 12 new bars 2 1/4 x 1 3/4 x 1 1/8. 6ft 9 long (singles). Spur cog 1 7/8 pitch. Iron cog full 5/8ths

31 January 1877

‘[Richard] Walter Barham. 4 Cleats. 2 Guide Staples. 8 Take off Bearings. 2 Bolts & Handles. 8 Pins & Keys. 16 Plates. 2 Pieces Uplong ea 15ft long. 1 piece oak 2ft 2 long x 4×4. 2 Wood Bearings for Barley stone neck. 1 – 1/2in Bolt – 10ins long under head square under head.’

May 1878

‘Walter Mr. Barham. 50 Tee Head Bolts 3in long. 96 Flat Cleats – 60 1 1/2 x 5/8 screw. 6 Lifts lead side. 4 – 5/8 Bolts with Handle nuts 2 1/2 long. 4 – 6 x 1/2 Coach screws. 3 – 5 x 1/2 Coach screws. Tool for Brake wheel.

On 16 June 1878, the mill was struck by lightning. The Whistable Times and Herne Bay Herald reported on the incident on 22 June:

Report on the lightning strike at Barham Downs Mill
Report on the lightning strike at Barham Downs Mill. Source: British Newspaper Archive. Image (c) British Library Board. All rights reserved


Specification of damage done to the Wind Mill situate at Barham Downs in the County of Kent in the occupation of Mr. Walter the aforesaid damage being caused by lightning on the afternoon of Sunday June 17 1878.


In bottom floor of mill

About 10ft square of flooring rent up and torn away and the joist displaced, partition and offal bin damaged. I long timber split asunder on top of column. Square block on top of do. and 1 joist torn asunder and the bolts torn off the entrance door.

In porch floor

One main girder rent asunder and damaged slightly by fire. Joist damaged and floor displaced.

In grinding floor

About 6ft square of flooring to be renewed, that is torn up and displaced, shutter to flour machine broken and inside slightly damaged, shutter to smut machine broken, board broken of meal spouts and flooring damaged at base of iron columns, bridging and poppets and bearing of lay shaft torn away.

Outside of Mill

The whole of weather boarding torn off 2 cants of the mill about 10ft up. Drip boards damaged. 1 Main door post torn out top cill broken and several of the quarters damaged, one window frame displaced 2 sashes broken and the glass in windows broken. Bolts of doors wrenched off and 1 half door broken.

Joists on stage damaged and displaced

Brickwork damaged and displaced in several parts of the foundation of the mill

One sail or sweep of mill rent asunder the shutters torn out and broken and the ironwork damaged and broken

I estimate the cost of repairing the whole of the aforesaid damage at the sum of one hundred and thirty pounds £130

(Signed) Thos R. Holman 



June 17th 1878

June 1878

‘Barham downs hill. 1 new sweep. Rod 36ft 1 long. 4ft 5 1/4in from and of rod to 1st Bar. Size of rod 7 1/2 x 5 1/2 at Heel. 7 x 7 1/2 Midling end. 4 3/4  x 4 3/4 at point. Weather at Heel of sweep 3 1/4 in 7 1/2 inches. Weather at point 1 1/2inch in a foot. 15 Bars in sweep 2 1/2 wide – 1 3/8 x 1 1/2. 22 1/2 ft from Heel to Midling end. 8 Bays of shorter length shutters in driving side from Heel to Midling end. 6 Bays longer length from Midling end to point 2 ft 0 1/2 in between Bars.’ 


The census return states Richard Walter as ‘Master Miller Employing 2 men’. He was employing Henry James Solly as a ‘Millers Apprentice’ and Henry Setterfield as a ‘Millers Carter’.

20 June 1883

‘Mr Walter Barham … A new pair of Cheek pieces 11ft long 8×7. Canister 2ft 6 deep Midling 13. Cheek pieces 4 at ends. Bolts to be repaired (to be sent in). Upright shaft requires the top length taken off & line up the Box coupling? Pr. chain Hooks & sets for wallower Keys. Part of new segment to ? A new Brass to top bearing of upright shaft. bearing 5in diameter. Brass to be 6in deep. Weather Board & quarters for 2 shutters to side of Cap at Mill, & 2 side rafters for dn. rafters 2 3/4in square.’

April 1888

‘Mr. Walter, Barham. Wants a 4ft 2in peak runner Hooper faced etc.’

August 1888

‘Walter Barham. 2 eyes for stone. 14″ dia 11″ deep. 1 piece fir (good) 3ft 6″. 5/2″ x 4″. 2 – 10 x 5/8 bolts. 1 – 14″ x 5/8″. 4 – 6″ x 5/8″ C screws. 4 – 8″ x 5/8″ do’

4 May 1889

‘Mr. Walter Barham Mill. A new pair of wheels for fan tackle Pin ion 13 cogs. Wheel 27 cogs. 1 1/2″ square shaft.’


3′ 10″ peak stone.


Measure for sweep repair for Mr. Richard Walter. The original sweeps were 80 feet across, but were shortened. The shutters were wooden with a canvas covering.


Midlings for Mr. Walter.


Richard Walter engaged Alfred James Kirby to run the mill.

Miller Alfred Kirby, and his wife Emily, in the mill cottage garden
Miller Alfred Kirby, and his wife Emily, in the mill cottage garden. Unknown photographer

June 1912

New midlings and sweeps for Mr. Walter.


Sweep repairs.


Richard Walter retired. Owned by Arthur Goldfinch for a short time.


Garnet Denne, of well-known Canterbury millers, bought the mill, managed by Alfred Kirby who, with his wife, lived in the mill house where they remained long after the mill ceased grinding. Flour grinding gradually replaced by grinding meal for pigs and cattle. At about this time also an oil engine was installed to drive the four pairs of millstones, in an effort to keep production to its maximum. Due to its prominent exposed position, and the fact that it was in close proximity to many hundreds of acres of rich corn lands it stayed in business long after many other mills had closed.


Owned by Messrs. T. Denne & Sons.


Ceased grinding, but trade was carried on with products from Denne’s other mills. Deterioration had begun to set into the mill, it had become unworkable, the fantail and winding gear was not working, putting the mill in the dangerous position of being tail-winded.

18 April 1936

A painting of the mill at this time shows it appearing to be working.


Mr. Edward Mannering of the well-known millers at Dover, bought the mill, and over the next ten or so years put his expertise and experience into restoring the mill into good order.


Fantail from Willesborough installed.


One of the sweeps was bought down in a gale narrowly missing the mill cottage.


Appeals for financial help to the then Rural District Council fell on deaf ears – they did not think the mill was of sufficient architectural interest to justify the expenditure of public money. The Kent County Council were however, prepared to grant money for repairs, and in the same year made the mill a subject of a buildings preservation order. Featured in Raising a Riot with Kenneth Moore, a film directed by Lord Brabourne.


Closed for business.

George Wells sitting on the poll end of Black Mill, Barham. Bob Barber looking on.
George Wells sitting on the poll end of Black Mill, Barham. Bob Barber looking on. Photo: Holman Brothers Ltd


Lost 2 sweeps. Bob Barber was loaned by Holmans to the firm which made its new sweeps in order to show them how to do it. Oregon pine was used as pitch pine was not available. The old canvas shutters were reused. Total cost £800 – £900.


2 more sweeps, one midling and one new whip were fitted.


3 new whips made. One new stock was also made.


Subject of a countryside feature film, when her last miller, Alfred Kirby was interviewed by Dorian Williams.


Kirbys moved from mill house.

8 January 1965

Mentioned in the Kent Messenger: ‘In excellent state of repair and in running order.’


Edward Mannering made a gift of the mill to KCC, from whom he leased it back at a peppercorn rent. Costs of restorations and repairs were estimated between £4000 and £6000. Items liste0d included fantail and winding gear to be put in working order, smock and cap stripped and renewed, sweeps cleaned and painted with repairs to shutters etc. An appeal to help with the funds needed was launched by the Parish Council.


Report in Kentish Gazette of 27 February 1970:

Barham Mill – part of the farmers’ heritage

Canterbury farmers were asked to help save part of their heritage when Cllr Alfred Ross, himself a farmer, appealed for help in his bid to save Barham Mill on Wednesday. He told the Canterbury branch of the National Union of Farmers at the County Hotel that £7,000 was needed to repair the mill. The general appeal had only just been issued and already something like £500 had been collected.

Of the mill’s history, Cllr Ross said there had been a mill on Barham Downs for over 700 years. The first reference to a mill was in the old Manor Roll of Bishopsbourne.

The Roll referred to the mill on the Downs and told of people from Bishopsbourne and Kingston taking their corn up to be ground. That first mill would not have been anywhere as high as the present one.

In those olden days, once the wheat had been cut and bound the farmer used to employ a night-watchman to patrol the field. Food was scarce and robbers were plentiful.

The present mill, said Cllr Ross, dated back to 1834. It was struck by lightning in 1878 but was repaired.

The sweeps had a 20ft span, he continued. In those days the young bloods did not drive cars at 100 mph – the thing to do was to get on one of those sweeps and go right round.

As the spans could travel at 30mph the miller had to slow them down before the young men could jump off.

Cllr Ross said the present mill could drive four pairs of stones for grinding. If there was a strong wind all four pairs could be in action but if the wind was light the mill could be regulated for only one pair to be going.

In 1834 when this mill was built, there were 239 mills in Kent. Today, there are nine or 10 in decent order. You can see that when another generation passes there will be four or five left. That is why we want to preserve this one.

Bridge – Blean Rural District Council has kindly offered to pay half the annual maintenance of the mill.

However, we are faced with this £7,000 to raise and my Parish Council has promised to do its best to raise it. We are tackling people in America and Australia with connections with Barham. If we do not get all the money then we will have a pageant next year based on the history of the mill, but we would rather like to be excused to having to run the pageant.

This branch has said it will donate £1 for every year I have been its treasurer. That could cost £20.

Cllr Ross ended: the mill is part of our heritage. It has been attached to farming for 700 years.

It is something that your descendants will be able to see in 40 or 50 years’ time – that is if we can get the money to repair it.

In answer to questions, Cllr Ross said the mill, although in need of repair, was in working order. He thought it could prove a popular tourist spot and they hoped eventually to but some adjoining land and turn it into a picnic area.

Black Mill, Barham, on fire
Black Mill, Barham, on fire. Photo: Frank Gregory


In early March, she accidentally caught fire whilst repairs were being undertaken, and was burnt to the ground. Many dramatic photos of her were taken in her last hours, sadly the end of a once fine mill. The Kent Messenger reported on the event. Questions were raised about rebuilding her, but this was decided against, Barham Parish Council arranged for the recognisable remains, the spur wheel and millstones to be placed on the village green, where they can be seen today as a memorial to a once splendid Kent windmill.

Pre-1900 information has been sourced from the copies of Holman Brothers records.