Hooper's Horizonal Mill

Featured in the August 2009 handbook.

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An imposing feature of the Margate skyline for many years was Captain Stephen Hooper’s Horizontal Mill, which stood near to today's Zion Place in what is now Aldi’s car park. Despite its frame, little correct information has been published regarding it over the years due to slack research, but that is now rectified by my colleague Alf Beeching and myself, so here goes.

As will be seen from the illustration, the name of Horizontal Mill seems more than a little incongruous for such a towering structure which reared to a height of sixty feet, but the word was actually a descriptive of the manner in which the motive power of the wind was harnessed to drive the grinding stones.

It was in 1770 that Captain Hooper, a retired mariner, registered the patent for his new form of mill. Unlike conventional windmills where vertical external sails turned to drive the works, this consisted of a wooden tower that had louvered sides which could be opened partially in sections to allow the prevailing wind to pass through the structure, turning as it did an internal horizontally mounted wheel to which was fixed vertical slats. The central iron shaft to which the wheel was fixed thus rotate the grinding stone on the milling floor at ground level without any of the differential gearing required for the conventional mill.

His first milling effort with one of these constructions was at Battersea, and in 1780 he erected the Margate example. What Hooper did here was to superimpose a second driving wheel above the single one found at Battersea in an extended tower which, with its great height and diameter of 16 feet, soared above the adjacent buildings.

This modification for Margate was based on his experience at Battersea, where, considering the surroundings the winds were probably often of a less than vigorous nature, would seem highly likely, but given the chosen building spot on the eminence of the open rolling down land which the Zion Place site still was in 1780, it would seem that Captain Hooper seriously underestimated the potential power of the winds prevailing here during our regular and ferocious winter storms, as we shall shortly see!

The extended mill as built in 1780was designed to work five pairs of grinding stones simultaneously, so the power of the extra driving wheel was very necessary as the torque required would have been very substantial. All seems to have gone well for Captain Hooper and his most unusual mill until the winter of 1800, when one of those terrific storms came along. During this severe north westerly gale the whole of the top section containing the second driving wheel and all of its component machinery (and reckoned to have weighed around 5 tons) blew off the top of the tower, it then passed right over the then adjacent Prospect Hotel (still sadly missed by vintage Margatonians) to gently come to rest undamaged in the open space of Hanover Place. This errant portion of the mill was never replaced, and with a new roof fitted to the then seriously truncated tower it worked the rest of its life with just the single driving wheel of the original design as built at Battersea.

In October, 1801 Captain Hooper sold the mill to John and John Webb Pilcher, and in 1804they conveyed it to Edward Pilcher. He owned it until the 12th of April,1816 when it was sold to Francis and William Codd, they being of the local banking firm and who had obviously acquired the structure with a view to developing some of the surrounding which went with the freehold.

The horizontal mill itself appears to have been rented and worked by Kingsford, the Canterbury millers, until 1827 when its machinery was dismantled and taken down, leaving just the truncated empty shell of the structure. Although this was destroyed by a bomb during the Second World War, right up until the Zion Place clearance scheme of a half century age you could still see, at the southern end of Hanover Place and west of the old Prospect, the remains of the circular floor of the old mill.

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