Northdown's 'Margate Mills'

Featured in the September 2009 handbook.

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Much has been published over the years about these windmills which once stood south of what is now Northdown Road, but it has contained much inaccuracy as to the genesis of the site and its evolution. But with the research of myself and Alf Beeching that is now rectified, and I am certain that the name of Captain Hooper being associated with the Margate Mills will come as a great surprise to everybody.

We have been told previously that they were three smock mills built by a Mr. Pilcher sometime between 1798 and 1820; that they were advertised for sale in the ‘Kentish Gazette’ in 1821; that they were bought by a Mr. Andrews who then sold them on to a Mr. Dawson who disposed of them by auction on the 13th of September, 1875, their fabric being sold to Holman, the Canterbury Millwright, for further se. Unfortunately, much of that is incorrect!

An Indenture of October, 1759, tells us that this triangular piece of land as it originally was and owned by Benjamin Cowell had been leased to Thomas Troward, and that the single old Smock Mill which then stood on it was being worked by Thomas Doorn, he following Thomas Hollands who in turn has succeeded the late Peter Cramp. By September, 1774, we learn the mill had ceased to be worked by Doorn and has been leased for an initial period of one year to Thomas Fleming for an annual rent of

5 shillings. In February, 1783, we find from an Indenture that one John Webb was erecting a second Smock Mill on the site, and in October, 1973, that Benjamin Cowell has leased the site to Captain Hooper who had added a Post Mill to the two mills already there. Moving on now to July, 1801, we find that Cowell had sold the site to John and Webb Pilcher, and that more land has by then been added to make it rectangular. The boundaries of this enlarged site are still intact, it being the plot enclosed by Northdown Road, Clarendon Road and Wilderness Hill, and it is clear that John Webb had by then married into the Pilcher family.

So the site now has standing on it three mills - the old Smock Mill mentioned as existing in 1759, John Webb’s Smock Mill of 1783, and Captain Hooper’s Post Mill of 1973, and despite what has been written before the site once held four mills, not three, as an Indenture of October, 1802, informs us that John Webb Pilcher has erected another Smock Mill, and that is confirmed by the Rate Book which lists for Messrs. Pilcher the Horizontal Mill and Zion Place (acquired from Hooper in 1801), a Post Mill and three Smock Mills. It is of interest here that Captain Hooper’s Post Mill of 1793 was granted a site tenure of 60 years, with the proviso that it was to be removed subject to 12 months written notice, which probably accounts for it being absent from the skyline in the engraving of 1820 by Captain George Varlo. The tenure of the three Smock Mills was a maximum of 63 years from 1782, to be reviewed at 21 year intervals in 1803 and 1824, with a final date for occupation of 1854.

A deed of 1821 tells that Pilcher had pulled down a mill and erected a new one, he then selling the site to Edward Boys, John Swinford and Daniel Jarvis, who promptly sold it on to George Staner. The 1830 accompanying engraving shows the 3 Smock Mills of Daniel Gouger, the closest being that which stood behind where Woolworths used to be in Northdown Road. This was burnt down in very suspicious circumstances in 1836, with smugglers rumoured to have been involved. It is said that despite finding a bag of gold on his doorstep in the way of compensation, Daniel Gouger was hopping mad - and I think I know why!

When the two remaining mills were auctioned off in 1875 after standing idle for 20 years, one fetched £55 and the other £100. Obviously, one was much older than the other, and as we know, there had been an old mill and two relatively new ones. This implies that the mill burnt in 1836 was maybe even that of 1821!

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