Mills - Cliffe History

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The Domesday Book, a survey prepared in England in 1086 AD, lists 5,624 water mills.  Many of these mills continue to be mentioned in  documents in succeeding centuries. The earliest   water mills mentioned were known as Clack or Norse mills  which employed a the use of a horizontal wheel unlike the ones that can be seen   today which employs a vertical wheel. The early horizontal mills began using an undershot type  which worked by water turning blades from the   bottom of the wheel. Later, during the Medieval   period an overshot method was used whereby water  turned the blades from above: this method was   much more efficient.

Tidal mills made use of the power of the tide in coastal  areas. The earliest tidal mill so far discovered  in Europe was excavated at Nendrum, Northern   Ireland. It was built in 619-21 for an early Christian monastery. Tidal mills have continued in use until modern times, but were always rare by comparison with standard riverine mills.

Most villages had a mill to grind corn, but this power-source could be turned to other uses. The invention of mechanical fulling by waterpower was apparently introduced to these islands by religious orders, particularly the Cistercians. Fulling mills turned England into a major cloth-making country from the 14th century. They were known as walk mills in northern England and tuck mills in the South-west.

By Tudor times mills were  adapted to other industrial uses, such as   paper-making, lead-smelting and tanning. The most dangerous of these was gunpowder-making. The risk of violent explosions meant that powder mills were generally sited well away from towns and villages. The Industrial Revolution saw the creation of large-scale spinning mills.

The earliest mention of a mills in Cliffe is in 1228 where Richard de Wallingford, rector of Cliffe, is demanding from the cathedral priory tithes for 2 newly-erected windmills, for 1  watermill*.

Interestingly this records  one of the earliest windmills in Kent. It is unknown for certain the location of these windmills however it is possible to believe that the watermill may have been a tidal mill similar to the one noted at Cooling.

Windmills appeared in England from c.1180. A fixed structure would only work if the wind was blowing in the right direction, so the post mill, which could be turned into the wind, was soon preferred. They were often sited high or built on a raised mound to catch more wind. A   logical development by the end of the Middle Ages was the tower mill. The tower gave height, and only a cap holding the sails revolved. Smock mills, which arrived by the late 16th century,   are similar, but entirely timber-built, whereas the tower type was built of durable brick or stone, so more tower mills survive.

Cliffe - Dance's Mill

Cliffe’s last windmill was a smock windmill   and was named ‘Dance’s Mill’ and was sited at the far end of what is now Millcroft Road. Unfortunately there is no surviving photographic record of Dance’s Mill although it’s position is clearly shown on maps from the period. The first map indicating ‘Dance’s Mill’ is by Col. William Mudge in 1801 and there are title deeds for a windmill and associated lands dated from 1700.
Below is a map of 1863 showing both the position of Dances Mill and the Mill House on either side of Mill Road: renamed Millcroft   Road.

1863 placement of Dances Mill

There is a record of a 'Dance's Mill' lying   S.S.E. of the Church at Cliffe which was a black Smock Mill that burnt down around 1885, having   stood derelict for some years. The site was  built on in 1888, being occupied by Prospect  Cottages (apparently two mill stones could be seen supporting the footway to the rear of the cottages. The sweeps reached almost to the ground. At some time around the 1840s it has been reported that a young lad named 'Pope' from Frindsbury was killed by the sweeps after being struck by them.

In 1841 & 1845 Mr George  Chapman was recorded as the miller, in 1851 it was Mr. Alfred Buldock and by 1862 the miller was a Mr Alfred Mummery.

William Coles-Finch's wrote a comprehensive book,   'Watermills and Windmills of Kent', published in   1933. Coles-Finch was an engineer from the Medway towns, and started photographing the   local mills from 1905. He was particularly strong on the mills of this area, so I doubt he would have got too much wrong, as he often quoted people who remembered mills standing. It  is from this excellent study that much of the   information on local mills is taken.

It is interesting to note that on early maps the 'road' to the windmill is, what is now, a footpath that runs from the corner of Chancery Road and Quickrill's Ave, behind the school and ending just beyond Millcroft Road. The early references to the way to the mill being by the Mill Road and it is only in the late 1800's that the road to the mill crofts and mill house is now named Millcroft   Road.

Dance's Mill stood until a fire broke out c.1885 and much of the mill was destroyed. It lay abandoned until when the remains were put up for auction on 29th October 1887 by Mssrs. Cobb at The Bull Hotel, Rochester. A local Cliffe  entrepreneur, Mr. Elford, with a bid of £375 was the successful bidder.

It is not surprising that a number of windmills in Kent have been destroyed by fire. Essentially wooden structures, often tarred externally, they made ready fuel for flames; and once a fire was started there seemed to be no checking it.

A large number of such fires can be attributed to accidental causes but doubtless many a mill has been purposely set alight. Burning up a useless derelict mill solved many a problem for its owner. Worth little or nothing, dangerous in its dilapidated state, "emcumbering   the ground," "occupying useful land," unsafe for demolition in any other way, difficulty of getting the Government's sanction for the removal of a landmark perhaps, and the ignoble and fraudulent reralisation of insurance money -   these are no doubt some of the true explanations of many a mill fire.

Apart from the windmill at Cliffe mills in the area that also suffered from the same fate include:

Chatham (Luton   mill)
Cobham (Darnley's mill)
Frindsbury   (Quarry mill)
Gillingham (Stedman's mill)
Gillingham (Huggin's mill)
Rochester   (Friday's mill)
Strood (Field's mill)
Higham - Rose's Mill

Sir Richard Head, of Great Hermitage   Farm, Higham, had this mill built in 1760. It   became known as Rose’s Mill, taking its name   from that of the miller.
It was a fine mill and   a prominent landmark.

It was principally   employed in providing flour for bread supplied   to the navy at Chatham during the troublous   times of the wars with France. That breadd that   was made here is beyond doubt, for the owner of   the mill remembered the capacious ovens   especially constructed for this purpose, and he   himself had made use of one of them for over   fifteen years.

There were three pairs of   stones, one for the flour and two others for   farmers' corn.

Only the base of the mill   now remains, which is roofed over and used as a   store. The mill had been worked throughout the   Great War and for some time afterwards. It was   damaged in a storm in March, Later, the fan was   blown off in a gale. As with many other   windmills, costly repairs could not be afforded   by reason of the diminished trade. The mill was   therefore pulled down in April, 1921.

The   mill was restored and is now a Grade II listed   building. It comprises one long range of Mill   House, Granary and Cottage, all of 2 storeys   with a tiled roof. The Mill House is at the east   end. This is stuccoed, has 2 windows, sashes   with glazing bars intact and modern porch. The   granary in the centre has 4 windows and the   cottage at the west end one window. They are   both stuccoed on the ground floor and   weatherboarded above and have sprocket eaves.

Hoo Common - Ballard's Mill

The mill shown on the 1769 map was evidently   a post mill, for the smock mill was built upon   the site at c. 1799.

The mill had been found   derelict in 1905 and it had been out of use for   at least twenty-five years. The sweepless tower,   with fan only, was still standing but in a   complete state of ruin.

Mrs. R.L.   Gardener, who was living at the Mill house in   the 1930's, was the grand-daughter of Mr. R.   Ballard, the builder and first occupier of the   mill, and the only survivor of the Ballard   family that had, for three generations, carried   on milling operations in Hoo.

The mill   was demolished in 1933.

Ballards Mill at Hoo Common

Lower Stoke

Although two mills are to be plainly seen on the 1819-43 map for Lower Stoke William Coles-Finch could only trace points of interest in   connection with one of them. It was a fine old ruin when he visited in 1905, with derelict sails and fan. It had a tall brick structure for   the base and once had four 'patent' sweeps.

"Some twenty-seven years ago it was occasional work - 'cracking a few beans and doing a bit of work for local farmers.' Since then it fell into   diuse and absolute decay. It was taken down a   few years ago and the old miller who owned and dismantled it died recently, being nearly 100   years old, which speaks well for a miller's life in the Hundred of Hoo."

Mr. Cooper was   the name of the miller referred to and he was a carrier as well as a miller and use to drive his   two-horse bus from Stoke to Rochester daily, his son worked the mill in his absence.

Frindsbury Mills

A view of Quarry   Mill, Frindsbury c. 1770

Quarry Mill

The first record of a mill shown on a map of   Kent is from 1596: this mill was called Quarry   Mill in Frinsbury. It was one of the earliest   open trestle, or tripod mills in Kent - that is,   one sitting on a central post braced to the   ground with a large tail which enabled it to be   turned to the wind. Sometime about 1850 during a   great storm it "ran away" : friction caused   overheating which resulted in it being burnt to   the ground. It was never rebuilt.

Little Mill (Manwaring's Mill)

On top of Prospect Hill stood two windmills:   The Little Mill or Manwaring's Mill and The   Great Mill or Rose's Mill.

Little Mill   was built c.1769 for a Mr. Baldock but was often   known as Manwaring's Mill after Thomas Manwaring   who owned it for eleven years from 1843 to 1854,   it later became known as Little Mill even though   ity wasn't a small structure by any means - it   drove four sets of stones! It was a black tarred smock mill with one floor under the stage, which was very narrow and having no railing. No flour was made at this mill but ground corn was transferred to the Great Mill to produce high class flour. It got it's name due to being  somewhat dwalfed by its neighbour, the Great   Mill.

The Great Mill (Rose's Mill)

The   Great Mill or Rose's Mill was reputed to be the   highest in Kent. It was a large mill with three   floors under the stage and sweeps or sails over   nine feet wide and forty feet long driving four   sets of 4½ feet stones capable of turning out   250 bags of flour a week. An unusal feature of   this mill was that its interior was lathed and   plastered and it had staircases as in a dwelling   house.

At one point it was thought of   introducing a further set of stones, making six   pairs in all, but, although the the mill was   reckoned to be powerful enough, there was not sufficient room for the additional installation.

Both mills were taken over by Mr Kimmins in   about 1845 who owned all the surviving mills in   Frindsbury: he also owned a number of steam   mills in and around Medway.

The end came   for Little Mill in 1886 when, after being struck   by lightening, was cleared away.

The Great Mill had, what some may say, a sadder end. It was pulled down in 1890 much to the regret of   the local community to leave way for the lower   part to be converted into two substanial cottages. These have now gone and only the Mill   House remains.

Kimmin's Mill

Kimmin's Mill, built in 1825, once stood   towards the top of Bingham Road. It was a smock   mill without a base which meant that the sweeps   came almost to the ground and this resulted in   the death of a man who ventured too close. The   mills was only used for grinding pollard and   there were two pairs of stones and four 'common'   sails. The millwas pulled down in 1865.

House Mill

This mill was known as House Mill as it was   close to the home of the owner, Mr. Kimmins. It   was also known as Frindsbury Mill and Kimmin's   Mill. It too was a black smock mill working four   pairs of stones which were driven 'underdrift'.   All the meal ground was taken to a steam mill   adjoining and dressed there. It stood on   Frindsbury Hill, near Bill Street Road, opposite   Prospect Hill, on the road to Higham.

It stood derelict for about thirty years before it was finally demolished in 1931.

The Prospect Hill   Mills: the Little Mill, and the Great Mill,   Frindsbury. Source@ W.C.F

  • Brown, R.J., Windmills of England   (1976). Gazetteer of survivals.
  • Bryan, T., Windmill Gazetteer for   England (The Mills Research Group 1998).   Lists all windmill sites in England with   remains over 600mm high.
  • Greenwood, J., Tidemills in England and   Wales
  • Hicks, C., The Industrial Archaeology of   Gunpowder Mills.
  • Holt, R., The Mills of Medieval England   (1988).
  • Kealey, E.J., Harvesting the Air (1987).
  • Lindsey, C.F., Windmills: a   bibliographical guide (1974).
  • Watts, M., The Archaeology of Mills and   Milling(2002).
  • Wenham, P., Watermills (1989). Includes   gazetteer.
  • West, J., Windmills of Kent, 2nd edn.   (1979).
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