It’s all about Trust: The Missing Miller

We need your help to make our collections accessible forever, at any time, from anywhere in the world.

From enquiring how milling shaped a global industry to the life of one individual, digitisation empowers the investigator to separate the wheat from the chaff with unprecedented speed.

But expanding and maintaining our digital space is not free. Technology is constantly evolving; to preserve our collections forever, so must we. We must free knowledge from the morass of floppy disks and CDs before these media disappear entirely. As our archive expands, we must also meet the rising costs of digital storage. Your support provides the time and space to uncover new mysteries in our digital catalogue.

Our staff and volunteers work to expand our digital catalogue

A Man

Take the first image of the tower mill on the left. Innocuous perhaps? Only when we received a second photograph on the right did we understand: an unknown hand altered the first image for equally unfathomable reasons.

The miller had been torn from his mill. Thankfully the first photograph had been digitised, making any alterations instantly verifiable.

Yet, more questions arose: who is this man and why must he be remembered in our digital catalogue? By giving the man back his home and name, we deepen our understanding of our own identity. Millers fed, clothed and powered the world that in turn yielded us. All of humanity continues to mill what these men and women sowed. To reflect this fact, our milling heritage should be accessible worldwide.

The first image of this unknown tower mill we received

The second image

A Mill

With your help, volunteers gain the digital archiving experience to achieve this goal. To pinpoint the exact location of unknown mills, our volunteers cross-reference new images with other catalogued items.

They may have to decipher a centuries-old indenture. From a mentioned river, road or village, our volunteers craft clues into landmarks, marking them on our digital catalogue. Thanks to Guy Boocock’s work, we found the location of our mysterious miller — Reed Mill, Kingston, Kent.

Volunteer Amanda locating a mill using a nineteenth-century indenture

A Name

Kent’s rich milling history would be nothing without the people that made it. Digitisation allows us to exhibit their legacies…

…free of alterations.

The unaltered photograph in our digital collection depicts Thomas R. Holman and his employees. Founded in 1816, Holman Bros. was a Canterbury millwrighting firm whose work can be seen as far away as the Montefiore Windmill in Jerusalem to back home in Kent — Reed Mill, Kent to be precise. From the digitised collection of the photographer and mill enthusiast, Geoffrey Holman, we know that Holman Bros. helped to repair Reed Mill between 1902–3.

Judging by the list of people that worked at the corn mill, its condition and the age of the man, we can narrow our search down to one miller — George Hills-Ferrell.

A Life

In 1844, he was one of three children born to the miller, George Ferrell and Harriot Hills in Lynsted, Kent. He may never have remembered his mother as she died two years later. After his brief military career ended in medical discharge, George Hills-Ferrell returned to civilian life only for his father to be struck by lightning and killed outside his mill in 1864. In 1873, he married Sarah Ann Cassell, having 11 children, 10 of whom survived. The family found themselves in Kingston by 1911, where George worked at Reed Mill.

Despite passing away a hundred years ago, George Hills-Ferrell’s legacy endures in our archive. Millers like George carried on their vital work through adversity. Their example should be made available to all of us, regardless of the distance to our archive in Reading. With your support, our staff and volunteers, like Guy who uncovered George’s story, will overcome the unending demands for space and time. Help them to continue making our heritage accessible, keeping George and many others in their mills within our digital archive.

Reed Mill’s spur wheel and wallower displayed at Wimbledon Windmill Museum, one of our Heritage Partners who mutually support us 

George Hills-Ferrell working at Reed Mill

To go back to the appeal homepage and browse other ways you can help make our milling heritage accessible, click here.

There are mysteries to be uncovered in our archive. Help us to reveal them by expanding our digital catalogue. 

Alternatively, you can find information about donating by cheque or bank transfer by clicking here.

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