The Sad End of the Town Mill
Featured in the January 2010 handbook.
If the work of previous writers is consulted, you will learn neither the true location of the Town Mill or how it met its end. All you will find from a raft of different sources is that is stood close to St. Johnís Church in Church Street, that its last owner was Mr. Fright, and that it was probably demolished before 1900 - that is all incorrect! My research colleague Alf Breaching and myself now offer the true facts. The mill yard stood in St. Peters Footpath, a little east of it s junction with Church Road, on its North side opposite to Homestead Close, and the mill itself abutted to a footpath which ran through then open fields and followed the line of the present Osborne Terrace, the mill standing on the south side of where the current hammerhead narrows into the alleyway. Itís last owner was Mr. Quickenden and it was not demolished before 1900, but burnt down spectacularly in 1902.
At 10:15 pm on the night of 1st November, 1902, a boy ran into the Police Station to raise the alarm that the Town Mill was on fire. Inspector Setterfield immediately telephoned Chief Officer Wells of the Borough Fire Brigade which, although very promptly on the scene , found the whole structure ablaze from top to bottom, including the sweeps. Originally painted white, the mill had just received a liberal coat of tar, the millerís favourite cheap preservative, and this added greatly the ferocity of the fire.
As it was obvious that the mill could not be saved, and that the collapse of the structure would not be long delayed, it was the thought prudent to have the Brigade stand off and squirt the blaze It was not long before the upper part of the mill fell and itís supporting timbers gave way, fortunately twisting as it did so and removing the sweeps from the vicinity of the adjacent millerís house, which had been in great danger. According to the Gazette, the falling structure crashed onto the engine house, as it fell neatly brought down a telegraph pole on the way. It was a good job that everybody had been kept back from the fire, for as the mill collapsed one of its red hot grinding stones rolled out of flames towards the large crowd which, swelled as it was by hordes of people and children from the surrounding streets, had been a big hindrance to the Brigade until a contingent of the Police arrived to control it.
Although the total destruction of the mill was never in doubt, the Brigade were seriously hampered in their efforts by the fact that there was not enough water in the mains to allow the use of the fire engine pump, so the blaze was fought with very low pressure water from the only two adjacent hydrants available. Margateís water supply was very poor in 1902 as the Wingham scheme had not then come to fruition. If proof is needed, the burning mill was sited between the reservoir and the high level water tower in Victoria Road, just a couple of hundred yards distant!
As the wooden superstructure of the burning mill fell it scattered flaming timbers and sparks over a wide area, starting several small fires which were quickly extinguished by alert property owners.
Great concern was expressed at one stage over the proximity of the Drill Hall, of the Army Cadets, of the Buffs, Royal East Kent Regiment, in which was stored thousands of rounds of ammunition, and this was removed with alacrity.
Even after the mill had tumbled the masonry walls at its base stood firm, which only added to the plight of the poor old firemen with their inadequate water supplies, as stored within the confines of those walls was a quantity of barley and several tons of hay, which burned furiously until there was nothing combustible left. The Broadstairs Brigade had rushed across to help, but owing the lack of water could do nothing but stand in the crowd and watch what ĎJohn Pharosí described in his Gazette column the following week as, ďthe finest display of free fireworks of the seasonĒ, thoroughly enjoyed by the inhabitants of Milton and Byron Roads!