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Author Topic: Keston Windmill  (Read 696 times)

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Offline kms

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Keston Windmill
« Reply #1 on: July 22, 2018, 21:14:52 »

Extract from my book:

"Keston Mill is the sole survivor of the post mills in this corner of Kent, and now holds the ominous distinction of being the oldest dated mill in the county.  Its early history is not well known, but the current mill is the latest in a line of mills which have stood at this windy spot. 

The Fuller family were the prime movers in the early history of Keston Mill and are recorded in parish registers from the 1660s.  The first direct reference to a mill here is in a Fire Hearth Tax of 1662 for one Jeremy Fuller.   A mill is also mentioned with the death of Ann Fuller in 1669.  More details are provided in a lease dated 1671, by the Lennard family to Sir Philip Warwick and Edward Manning, ‘and all that cottage windmill and 8 acres of land in the possession of John Fuller’.   A further lease in 1746 by Samuel Lennard to Jeremiah Fuller of land for 31 years, with specific mention of the windmill being Fuller’s own property which he had built at his own expense.

Jeremiah is presumed to have fulfilled the lease, but in 1784 William Lewis was renting the mill, latterly to be replaced by Thomas Ellis in 1836.  Ellis had bought the property, and immediately engaged William Ashby in an ambitious programme of repairs and modernisation.

The exact building date of the current structure is an interesting question that will probably remain eternally unanswered.   The massive ancient main post is dated 1716, popularly stated to be the date of the mill’s construction.  In the 1930s,  the Reverend Gammon, preacher and local historian met Mr HR Hawksley, the legendary and somewhat vociferous mill researcher, and had apparently provided him with evidence that the mill was built in 1782, and up to his death in recent years, Mr Hawksley was insistent that the mill dated from this later period.  Unfortunately the evidence supporting the 1782 date did not receive a public airing or was indeed written down.  It does lead to the interesting question as to whether the upper part of the mill was rebuilt at that date, on top of the older trestle, conceivably after an early structure had been blown down.   The presence of the projecting breast beams on the mill also suggest great age, so unfortunately it is not possible to determine whether the mill is of pure 1716 vintage or not.  One has to say that working post mills were constantly altered and rebuilt throughout their working lives, but for now we can say at least the substructure of the mill is almost certainly approaching its tri-centenary.

As a working mill, Keston Mill was little used from the early 1860s, when the last directory references appear.  Olives Mill on the Common had finally usurped its older cousin, taking all of the business for the village in an already shrinking market.  This was not to be the end of Keston Mill however, as in 1868, it was purchased by a gentleman of Southwark, by the name of Joseph Sawyer Gainsford Esq .  This purchase was pre-empted by the marriage of Joseph to Mary Anne, the daughter of Thomas Ellis, the last miller.  Mr Gainsford apparently had the mill restored as a static garden feature, which would make it the earliest example of private windmill preservation and philanthropy in the country.   Two pictures of the mill, purported to date from 1870 and 1875 show the mill in good repair but with shutters removed, clearly indicating the mill was by now static.  Gainsford and his wife apparently declined initially to live in the house, and in the early 1870s Mary Anne’s brother, William Comber Ellis was still selling flour from here, albeit almost certainly ground at Olives Mill, or at the watermill at Southend, Catford, which he would later own.  This extraordinary act of conservation would also explain why we do not have a photograph of the mill working, and also the reasons for which the mill survived in relatively good and intact condition up until the death of Gainsford in 1908.

Ironically, a spectacular gale on September 12, 1878, almost completely destroyed Olive’s Mill.  Keston Mill is apparently misquoted in some publications as damaged in the same storm, but this is unlikely and more down to a mix in mill identities; in any case it had ceased work over a decade before.  Thus the older mill could at least claim a triumph of out-surviving its younger pretender, albeit as a static preserved exhibit.

From this point, the Common surrounds and local fishponds became a popular spot for picnickers, and the mill was much photographed and painted around the turn of the 20th century.  In 1913, concern was raised by the SPAB as to its condition, and an appeal launched to repair it.  The prime mover in this enterprise was one Philip Norman of Chelsfield, who instigated a successful letter writing campaign, in conjunction with local builder William Smith and Son.  Repairs were commenced and the mill received new weatherboarding and some structural shoring up was undertaken inside, particularly to support the lower transom beams supporting the base of the mill body, which even in 1913 were broken.  Further repairs were carried out in 1935, and from time to time Mr Fells, then owner, continued to do basic remedial work on the structure.

In 1983, the weatherboarding began to slip, and an appeal launched for £25,000, which was met by a grant from the London Borough of Bromley.  The broken transom beams were again looked at, and this time were supported by iron stanchions inside the roundhouse set in concrete plinths.  This century, new owners Mr and Mrs Anker have done regular maintenance on the mill, including replacing parts of the weatherboarding, and re-roofing the roundhouse.

At some point and unusually for a post mill, the mill was fitted with white painted patent sweeps.  The painting of the mill with white patents is reported to date from 1825 but is likely to be post-1836.  In December, 1836 patent sails were fitted by William Ashby, who ‘put up new sails and made the breast of the mill good’.  Included in this work was ‘casting the striking gear’ suggesting this was the first time patent sails were added.  He is likely to have done work on the mill pre-ledger, and the modernised post mill could have been almost entirely rebuilt by Ashby over a number of phases.

Currently, the mill remains as one of the last of the older post mills in the country which has not undergone a major restoration and rebuilding, and represents a dilemma if one was ever attempted.  Over the years, all restorations of Keston Mill have focussed on keeping the mill standing as a monument, rather than curing and replacing the gradual structural decline that the mill has undergone in its advanced years.  The transom beams have been broken for a century or more, and have led to the structure sitting back on itself gradually over many years, to the point that recent restorations have added extra weatherboarding between the body and roundhouse as an extra support. Undoubtedly the tailpole and ladder are hugely important for the mills stability, and the thought of replacing the sails has been overlooked for a century for fear that the extra weight would cause too much strain on the structure.

At some point in the next quarter century, the mill will probably have to undergo major structural surgery, and the dilemma will be as to whether its quaint appearance is preserved or the whole body is structurally rebuilt.  If there is a desire to return it working order, then the work involved would be incredibly far reaching and could dramatically change the mills appearance and quaint charm.  The other option, and to many the most preferable, would be to slowly jack the mill body up, repair the transom beams, and gently encourage it back to onto full support from the trestle, if the trestle timbers are deemed as capable of bearing the weight.  Ironically the mill has probably been idle for longer than its considerable working life."


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