Page 1: History of Whitstable's Windmills - Eleven Local Mills and Mill Types

Introduction

Residents of the Whitstable area, and no doubt most historians, would be surprised to learn that evidence shows Whitstable had 11 windmills, perhaps more over the years. However readers should not expect that they were all of the popular concept illustrated by the best known example - the still standing Borstal Hill windmill shown below.

Illust 1: The Borstal Hill Windmill in 1890. The mill remains to this today

Illustration 1: The Borstal Hill Windmill in 1890. The mill remains to this today

So, where were the eleven windmills?

We start with a brief overview of the location of Whitstable’s windmills.

Number 1, ‘The Black Mill’, is the easiest to identify. Sat high on, but not on top of, Borstal Hill, East of Canterbury road, it was 175 feet (54metres) above the town. The foregoing Illustration 1 shows the windmill from the lower reaches of Borstal Hill. The following Illustration 2 is a view, presumably from the windmill, across the western part of the town.

llust 2: View from the Black Mill with the site of the earlier mill (windmill 2) marked

Illustration 2: Old view from the Black Mill (aka Borstal Hill Mill) with the site of the earlier mill (windmill 2) marked by the white arrow

Borstal Hill windmill replaced an earlier windmill (Number 2) lower down Borstal Hill, the perceived site of which is indicated in Illustration 2 by the white arrow.

Number 3, Martindown Windmill once existed on top of Borstal Hill to the West of Canterbury road. Similar to the ‘The Black Mill’ in general appearance it was located alongside Martindown Farm.

Windmill Number 4, popularly known as Feakins Mill, could be found between Belmont road and the railway roughly opposite the old Gasworks (site). Again similar to ‘The Black Mill’ in type, Feakins replaced an earlier windmill (Number 5) on the same site.

Overlooking the Feakins mill site from its perch part way up Millstrood Hill was Number 6, on the western side of Millstrood Hill road, at what I knew as ‘Browning’s Farm’, but some knew as ‘Millstrood Hill Farm’. (Not to be confused with Millstrood Farm on top of the hill.) 1700s maps show this windmill as ‘Whitstable Mill’.

Most present day Natives would be surprised to find Number 7, shown on an old 1819 map, in the Church Street - Ham shades Lane corner. Referred to in some old scripts as ‘Whitstable Windmill’.

Long Beach, or more precisely the Harbour East Quay site, was evidently home to a different type of windmill (Number 8) most likely used for raising water to maintain salt pans.

 An old small scale map shows a windmill near Ellenden Farm (Number 9). This was almost certainly for raising water into the water meadows developed around the 1600s following tree clearing.

The location of Number 10 is simply known as being ‘at Seasalter’. Old texts include vague references linking a windmill with 3 possible sites, near ‘The Sportsman’ pub, near Blue Anchor Corner and about the southern edge of the marshes. Perhaps there was a windmill at each site.

Finally, or at least at this time in the 21st century, the last windmill (Number 11), a corn mill indicated as located at St. Anne’s Farm (Tankerton).

The eleven locations are summarised on the map below.

Illust 3: Map of the locations of Whitstable windmills

Illustration 3: Map showing the locations of the Whitstable windmills

Types of windmill

There were four different types of wind driven mill around the Whitstable area:

Smock Mill
Smock mill
Post Mill
Post mill
Water Scoop
Water scoop mill
Pump Mill
Pump mill

The types and their appearance

The Smock Mill
Illust 4: Smock Mill

Illustration 4: Smock Mill

The best known type of windmill would be the smock mill, the ‘Black Mill’ of Borstal Hill being a typical example.

This type could be found in a 3, 4, 5 or even 9 storey configuration. 3, 4 and 5 storey versions were known around Whitstable. Popularly known for grinding grain, wheat in particular, the same structure is found for raising water. Windmills of Holland and England’s Fen country are well known in the latter role.

The same basic configuration in stone or brick is usually known as a ‘tower’ mill’, the style predating wooden smock mills.

The Borstal Hill windmill is a fine example of a smock mill, being a five storey structure. The smock mill example shown, right, is of three storeys.

There is often confusion about what constitutes a ‘storey’. Windmills built into a hillside, as the Borstal Hill windmill is, may have a semi basement which would not normally be counted as a storey.

The Post Mill
Illustration 5: Typical Kent Post Mill

Illustration 5: Typical Kent Post Mill

The second best known type would be the Post mill, a typical Kent example is illustrated left.

Post mills were the earliest known windmills in England, a brass of 1349 containing the earliest surviving illustration of an English windmill.

Illustration 5a: Early 1500s example of an English corn post mill

Illustration 5a: Early 1500s example of an English corn post mill

The Kent post mill illustrated above is little different to that shown in the brass. 12th century Crusaders are credited with introducing the windmill into England. (In 1287 a great storm destroyed 400 windmills across England).

Early post mills were considerably smaller than smock mills, about 15’ to 18’ (around 5 metres) overall height being typical.

The ‘workings’ of early post mills were built off the ground, their supporting trestles open to the elements. In some cases the supporting trestles were enclosed, probably to provide some protected storage. The complete ‘body’ or hull of the post mill is turned about the timber framed base to point the sails into or at any desired angle to the wind. The basic grain milling mechanism is shown at the end of this article.

With but one ‘room’ housing the driving and grinding machinery, again, like the smock mill used for grinding grain, principally wheat for flour although other grains would be milled for stock feed.

The Water Scoop Mill
llust 6: Water Scoop Mill

Illustration 6: Water Scoop Mill

The third type of Whitstable windmill had an entirely different use – raising water. Within the Whitstable area the water would have been salt for the salt works or fresh for flooding water meadows especially along the western end of the Bogshole Valley.

The earliest water-raising mills operated scoop wheels popularly used by the Dutch. (Illustration 6 left)

Wooden scoop wheels were placed in narrow timber or brick channels. As the wheel turned it either lifted water to a higher channel, or across a dam wall into a separate reservoir or simply pushed water along to flood meadows.

Not all distributed water as shown in Illustration 6. Some ‘scoop’ wheels were designed to eject the water to the side, to the left of the wheel as shown.

The example shown does not include a rotatable head. Presumably it was built facing the predominantly prevailing wind or may have originally been animal driven.

Gears shown were timber pegs in a timber disc. Pinions were timber rods between two timber discs.

llustration 7: Wind Pump Mill

Illustration 7: Wind Pump Mill

The Wind Pump MIll

A later type to the Scoop mill – the wind pump (illustrated right) – used a simple lift pump to typically raise water from a well, bore or nearby stream.
Illustrated is the most basic form of wind pump with canvas sails, although in this example on a supporting frame structure, mounted on a simple open framed tripod stayed by a second tripod.

Part way up the tripod frame is a platform to stand on when adjusting or perhaps repairing the crude fabric sails.

The head supporting the sails, shaft and wind vane (behind the right hand sail) pivots on top of the tripod frame and was held in position to the wind by a simple rope tether from the vane to the frame or ground as shown.

The earliest pump mechanisms were crude and simple with wooden shafts and wooden pump cylinder.

I have yet to find any illustrations or descriptions of Whitstable’s post or water raising windmills. (Illustration 4 has been extracted from a family photograph taken near Canterbury. Illustration 5 has been developed from a post mill I saw south of Canterbury during 1996. Illustrations 6 & 7 have been developed from several prints, sketches and drawings viewed over past years.

..... Article now continues on page 2 with specific details of the Whitstable windmills.

 


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