History of Herne Mill

Pre 1789

1405-6
The first known reference to a mill at Herne is in the Treasurer's Accounts of Christ Church, Canterbury, the Cathedral Priory in 1405-6. Here it states that the mill is standing empty for lack of a tenant. However, at the same time six shillings and four pence had been spent on making one "saylerde" - perhaps a sailyard? Thus, although the mill was unoccupied, it was still being maintained and obviously was not newly built. The exact location of this mill is not clear however.

Millers are recorded in the village throughout the 16th and 17th centuries.

1789 - 1878 Early Days

1789
The present mill is believed to have been built in 1789 since this date is carved into one of the cant posts. It was constructed as a traditional Kentish smock mill – 3 storeys high with an 8 sided timber frame clad in weatherboarding surmounted by a cap with four sweeps (or sails) and a fantail.

It has been stated that the mill was built in 1781 by John Holman. However, family history research has shown that the John Holman who was alleged to have built the mill was the son of William and Jane Holman and was baptised at Boughton under Blean on 16th March 1783. His headstone in the Wincheap Non-Conformist Cemetery in Canterbury records his death on 23rd September 1855 aged 75, thus confirming his birth date. Since John Holman would have been 2 years old he could not have been involved in building the mill in 1781.

The mystery of the exact date of construction remains and it is also unclear who the builder was. The millwrights, Sweetloves of Wingham, may have been responsible. John Holman was apprenticed to Sweetloves and may have carried out later work on the mill either for Sweetloves or on his own account but he certainly could not have built Herne Mill in either 1781 or 1789.

Records for 1790 show that Job Lawrance was the owner of the mill at that date.

1795 - 1840
When Job Lawrance died on 28th August 1795 aged 80 he was said to have been "miller at Herne for upwards of forty years", although some of this time was as the tenant of a previous owner of a mill in Herne. John Lawrance, aged 32, (son of Job's brother Thomas) then took over the mill with his wife Sarah.

In 1831 new 30 foot long sweeps were fitted to the mill to replace the old 28 foot long set. The miller's 12 year old nephew, another John Lawrance, noted in his diary that the "Mill started with new sweeps November 28 at night".

1840
John Lawrence died in 1840 at the age of 77 and his three younger sons, Job, John and Edward, continued the business.

1856
In 1856, the wooden structure was raised and two storeys of brickwork were constructed underneath so that the mill could take greater advantage of the wind, since it was believed that the orchards that had grown up around the mill were robbing it of wind power. Bricks either side of the entrance door are inscribed with the date and the initials of those involved in the work. To the right of the door is "JL 1856" which could refer to John Lawrance (1810-1876), Job Lawrance (1799-1868) or Job's son, John Lawrance (1820-1894) while to the left of the door is "EL1856" which must refer to Edward Lawrance. Another brick inscribed with "WM" represents their nephew William Minter.

Originally the mill would have had cloth common sails but these were replaced, probably at about the time the mill was raised, with the double patent shuttered sweeps of today.

In 1858 one set of sweeps was replaced.

1876 - 1879
The Lawrance brothers continued milling until John, the last of the brothers died in 1876. He left the mill to his sister-in-law, the widow of Edward. Three years later, in 1879, she sold the mill to Thomas Wootton, the brother of the miller at the nearby village of Chislet.

1879 - 1950 Windpower to Auxiliary Power

1879 - 1928
Thomas Wootton bought the mill in 1879 and was the miller until his death in 1928.

The mill worked solely by wind until the end of the 19th century, but then the large industrial mills began to take most of the work of grinding corn and windmills around the country had to supplement the sometimes inconstant wind with auxiliary power to remain competitive.

1887 - 1925
The first auxiliary engine recorded at Herne was a steam engine in 1887. This was replaced around 1920 by an internal combustion ‘marine’ engine and then in 1925 by a ‘Mogul’ tractor. An engine house was constructed adjacent to the mill for the auxiliary engines with a pulley house covering the pulley belt, which linked the engine to the auxiliary drive shafts.

1928
Thomas Wotton died at the age of 76 and was succeeded as miller by his grandson Clive Wootton.

1930 - 1936
In January 1930, the older pair of sweeps had been removed as unsafe and the mill was working on only two sweeps.

In 1931 the cap jammed as the wooden worm broke up. A new cast iron worm was fitted and the whole tower was strengthened.

 

Photographs of Herne Mill in 1932 (left) and 1939 (right - taken by Charles Lawrance)
donated by Peter Lawrance, believed to be a descendant of the Lawrance family of Herne Mill.

The miller, Frank Wootton, then asked for help from the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) and two sweeps from the Black Mill, Forncett End, Norfolk, were fitted by Thomas Hunt of Soham, Cambridgeshire in 1936. The other pair of old sweeps were removed and a new pair of sweeps was built by Hunt, financed by support from SPAB, the Duchess of Kent and Trinity House (since the mill is a ‘sea mark’ - a navigational landmark for shipping). The new sweeps were all fitted to the old stocks.

1951 - 1983 Gradual Decline

1951 Listed Grade I
The mill was listed as Grade I on 29 September 1951:
1. 5273 MILL LANE (North West Side) Herne - Herne Windmill TR 16 NE 6/53 29.9.51.
I GV 2. Smock type built in 1781. Tarred brick octagonal round-house with platform round minus its handrail. Above tarred weatherboarding. Hooded cap. Fantail intact. Sails missing. Herne Windmill and No 88 form a group.
There is some dispute over the exact date of construction of the mill. However the date 1789 is carved into one of the cant posts and that date is generally taken as the original date of the mill.

1952 - 1980 Gradual decline to Disuse

Gradually over the years the amount of milling, even by auxiliary power, reduced until the mill was only grinding animal feeds. Then in 1952, the mill completely stopped working by wind power although some work was carried out for a few more years using the electric Hammamac flail mill and the plate mills.

A Preservation Order was confirmed in respect of Herne Mill by the Ministry of Housing and Local Government in 1952. but a week later a letter in the local paper stated that "Herne Mill has not turned for some weeks ... Something should be done quickly".

1954 - 1960
Negotiations between Clive Wootton, Kent County Council and Herne Bay Urban District Council failed to agree a rescue plan for the mill. The scope and cost of necessary renovations continued to grow but, despite the Preservation Order, nothing was done.

1960 - 1980
Concerned local people formed the Friends of Herne Mill to try to raise £3,000 for restoration work.

In 1971 the cap was rebuilt by Vincent Pargeter with money raised by the Herne Society.

After the Wootton brothers retired as millers in 1980, the mill was sold. It was used briefly for a butterfly farm and then a garden centre but was then left to decay.

1984 - 1986 A New Lease of Life

1984 - KCC Ownership and Restoration
After several years in a dilapidated state, the mill was acquired by Kent County Council (KCC) in 1984 and major restoration work was carried out to rebuild and reclad the smock, repair and fit a handrail to the reefing stage and set up a new pair of sweeps.

1986 Mill Opening and Care by the Friend of Herne Mill
The mill was officially opened to the public by Roger Gale MP on 19th July 1986.

The Friends of Herne Mill (FoHM) was reformed in 1986 and now manages the mill for the owners, KCC, carries out day to day repairs and opens the mill to the public. The Council is responsible for major restoration and repairs.

1987 - 2010 Continuing Care …

1987-1999
Throughout the late 1980s and 90s the Friends carried out work to the mill and its buildings including rebuilding the Engine House after the hurricane of 1987; rebuilding the grain elevator; rebuilding the timber housing to one set of stones; constructing a concrete floor to the pulley house; building new blades for the fantail; constructing new shutters; fitting curb teeth and skid plates; painting the interior of the mill; regular creosoting of the reefing stage; rebuilding the doors from the tentering floor to the reefing stage.

Major restoration work was carried out to the cap and sweeps in 1990-1.

In 1996, due to the dangerous condition of the curb, the shutters were removed in April and the sweeps, stocks and fantail were removed in September. The mill was left as a ‘sad stump on the horizon’ for the whole of 1997. It was not until 1998, with help from a Lottery Fund grant and English Heritage, that refurbishment was finally carried out. The millwrights IJP built and installed a new curb to the smock (using some of the original timbers) with a new steel curb ring; the old steel stocks were replaced with a solid timber stock and a laminated stock; the sweeps were repaired and refitted; the shutters were rebuilt with canvas covering to reduce their weight (they had had solid timber panels previously); some new shutter fittings were cast; and the mill was completely retarred.

2000 Millennium Changes at Herne Mill
In 2000 the old pulley house and workshed behind the mill were demolished, the Engine House was converted into the Parish Office and a new building was constructed around the base of the mill to provide a meeting room, kitchen, toilets and store shed. The new building was officially opened on 19th December 2000 and the meeting room named the Wootton Room after the last millers at Herne. The Wootton Room is used jointly by the Friends of Herne Mill and Herne & Broomfield Parish Council; it forms a display area and museum for the mill and is available for hire for private functions.

Permanent floodlights were installed in 2000 as part of the Millennium celebrations with funding by the City Council and Parish Council to replace the temporary lights installed by Terry Pearman and Bill Hayward for the summer Herne Bay Festival and at Christmas during 1999.

2001 - 2009 Herne Mill's Story continued ...
In 2003, after a busy year in 2002 with1536 visitors, the sweeps were again removed for repair. Following construction of new sweeps by IJP they were finally re-installed in May 2004 by Luke Bonwick just in time for National Mills Weekend.

Much of the original machinery of the mill is still in existence and is capable of working although it is not generally run due to Health & Safety concerns so it is left to the skill of the guides and the imagination of visitors to visualise the mill in full working order.

 

 





Herne Mill a traditional Kentish Smock Mill owned by KCC and managed by the Friends of Herne Mill
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