Canterbury: Mills on the river

The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 11. Originally published by W Bristow, Canterbury, 1800.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.

'Canterbury: Mills on the river', in The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent: Volume 11, (Canterbury, 1800) pp. 143-147. British History Online [accessed 4 March 2024]

Mills on the river

THERE IS NOTHING to say further of this river, excepting as to THE MILLS situated on it in and about this city, which are now but few, in number only five; whereas about king Stephen's time, I find that, besides these mills, there were six others standing upon this river, in or not far from this city, which belonged to the monks of Christ-church; all which are long since down and quite gone. (fn. 1)

The five mills above-mentioned still remaining, are King's-mill, so called, because it formerly belonged to the king, and was otherwise called both Eastbridge mill, and Kingsbridge mill, from the near situation to that bridge. Thorn, in his chronicle, says, that king Stephen gave to the abbot of St. Augustine, the mill which he had within the city near Eastbridge, with the course of water belonging to it, in recompence for one hundred marcs, which he received from that church in his necessity; (fn. 2) from which time the abbots enjoyed the mill, until abbot Clarembaid made it over to king Henry II. who in lieu of it granted many liberties to the monastery. (fn. 3) Afterwards, when the city was granted to the citizens in fee farm, by Henry III. this mill of Eastbridge, otherwise called King's mill, as parcel, was expresly included in the grant and given to the citizens, together with the borough, (fn. 4) and they posses it at this time. (fn. 5) Abbot's mill, the next upon the same stream, below King's-mill, was so called because it once belonged to the abbot of St. Augustine, and that as early as king Stephen's reign, being then purchased by the abbot Hugh, the second of that name, at his own cost, for the use of the sacristy of his monastery. (fn. 6) At the suppression of the monastery, in the 30th year of king Henry VIII. this mill came into the king's hands. (fn. 7) It now belongs to the mayor and citizens of Canterbury. (fn. 8)

For many years this mill, from the occupier of it, was known by the name of Brown's mill; but MessSimmons and Royle having in 1791 obtained the lease of it from the corporation, restored its antient name of Abbot's mill. They have since erected, at the expence of near 8000l. a capital building and corn mill, on the antient scite, from plans furnished by the late ingenious Mr. John Smeaton, which is of such curious and strong mechanical powers, as to be able to grind and dress from 500 to 700 quarters of corn weekly. (fn. 9) Mr. Simmons is now the sole lessee of it.

Westgate mill, the first upon the other stream, is a very antient one; in the survey of Domesday, it is mentioned as being the archbishop's mill, but then in the hands of the canons of St. Gregories. The tithe of it was by archbishop Hubert, in king John's time granted, among other things, to the hospital of Eastbridge, and that grant was confirmed by the prior and convent of Christ-church. This mill still continues parcel of the demesnes of the archbishop of Canterbury.

Shafford's mill, now called Dean's mill, from the late possessor of it; is situated on the same stream, at no long distance below Westgate itself. Mr. Somner thinks it is the same, which about king Richard I.'s time, was called Scepeshotesmelne; (fn. 10) in the 20th year of king Edward III. it was called by the name of Shafford's mill. It is now the property of Mr. Deane John Parker.

Barton mill is situated still further down the river, and appears by some of the buildings belonging to it, made of flint with ashlar windows and quoins, to be of good antiquity. It formerly belonged to the priory of Christ-church, being appropriated to the grinding of the corn used by them for their own spending within the court. At the dissolution in king Henry VIII.'s time, it came to the crown. (fn. 11)

Christopher Hales, esq. afterwards knighted, and attorney-general to king Henry VIII. was possessed of this mill, then called Barton mill, with a meadow belonging to it, then in the tenure of George Robinson, holding it in capite by knight's service, and then being of the value of ten pounds. (fn. 12) He died in the 33d year of that reign, and it was afterwards sold by his daughters and coheirs to Thomas Culpeper, on whose decease, Alexander, his son, had livery of it in the 3d and 4th year of Philip and Mary. (fn. 13)

It lately belonged to Mr. Allen Grebell, who erected close to it a handsome house, in which he afterwards resided. But the mill and some land adjoining to it, has been lately sold to Messrs. Sampson and William Kingsford, the latter of whom has long resided on the premises.


  • 1. In the Surrenden library, is a deed of the time of king Henry II. in which John de Dover confirms to his brethren the monks of Christ church, in Canterbury, in free and perpetual alms, the mill near St. Mildred's church, in Canterbury, which Hugh de Dover, his uncle, gave them, with his consent, at his death; witness Ralph de Eslinges, Robert de Luci, Elias de Silonghelde, &c.
  • 2. See the charter printed in Batt. Somn. appendix, No. vii. Thorn, col. 1807.
  • 3. This charter is printed in Batt. Somn. appendix, No. viib. Thorn, col. 1827.
  • 4. See ibid, appendix, No. vii. Thorn, col. 1881.
  • 5. In a cause of tithes in 1366, by the parson of All Saints, against the miller of this mill; the latter deposed, that he was not farmer of it, but servant of the mayors of the city, by them there deputed; and further, that all the bakers of the town ought to grind at it all sorts of grain for white bread, toll free. It is worthy observation, that the mayors of the city are mentioned in the above deposition, that the mayors of the city are until almost 100 years after; since the above times the case is altered, the bakers of the city having no such privilege of grinding at this mill toll free, as then, for white bread. One William Bennet, citizen and alderman of Canterbury, about the year 1462, by his will, appointed his executors to buy 300 feet of ashlar or Folkestone stone, to make a wharf about the King's-mill. See Battely's Somner, p. 24, append. No. viid
  • 6. On the condition that all provision of corn for the use of all the monastery, should be there ground toll free; that the tithe of the mill should be paid to the almonry of the monastery, and the residue of the profits arising from the mill should go to the use of the sacristy. See Batt. Somn. appendix, No. vii.c Thorn, col. 1799.
  • 7. See the grant of the mill, anno 34 Henry VIII. 3 ps. orig. R. 17; the year before which the king demised to Walter Trotte, of Canterbury, yeoman, this water-mill, called Ashbot's mill, with its appurtenances, in the parish of St. Alphage, within the city of Canterbury, with all courses and streams belonging to it, and all that fishery in those waters and streams with sundry premises in St. Peter's and St. Cross parishes, and late belonging to this abbey, to hold for 21years, at the yearly rent of 7l. Augtn. office, leases and inrolments.
  • 8. In 1358, an agreement was entered into between the abbot and the citizens, that when the latter should have occasion to repair their mill called Kyngesmell, and the prior of Christchurch his mill, called Mildredemell, and the cleansing of the course of water between them and from the city's mill to the abbot's mill, called Abbotesmell, the reparations of which mills, and the cleansing of which stream, could not be effected unless the course of water was turned during such time; therefore, at the request of the citizens, the abbot granted licence that the said course of water might be diverted for the above purposes during the space of one month, on condition, that whenever the abbot's mill, called Abbotesmell, should want reparation, a like leave should be granted to the abbot and his successors by the citizens and their heirs; and in case the reparation and cleansing aforesaid could not be effected within the month, that then the citizens should agree to pay to the abbot after the rate of a month, for the time the course of water should remain out of its proper channel 40s. and that this agreement should not be drawn into precedent, to the prejudice of either party, on account of the premises. Thorn, col.2121.
  • 9. The form of this new building is quadrangular, of the measure of 72 by 52 feet 5 inches; the height from the foundation to the vane, 100 feet; it contains six working floors, besides the observatory on the centre of the roof. To the grinding floor the walls are substantially built of brick and stone, and continued from thence to the eaves of the building with massy timber, covered with weather-boarding, terminated on the four sides, which are handsomely and uniformly sashed, with a block cornice, and the roof covered with slate. These premises, with those of King's-mill, are held under the mayor and corporation for the term of thirty years, at the yearly rent of forty pounds, and a premium of 2450l. for the benefit of the lease. In digging for the foundation of the present edifice, at the depth of several feet under ground, were discovered many piles, and the frame of a mill apron, of oak timber, the whole as black as ebony; a great quantity of brass wire, and other pieces of metal; undoubtedly part of a water-mill in very early times.
  • 10. The composition between the prior and canons of St. Gregories, parsons, of Holy Cross, Westgate, and the then vicar, in the year 1347, calls it Shafford's mill, and in express words reserves the tithes thereof from the vicar to themselves; which clearly shews it to be a titheable mill, and not within the exemption of the stat. of 9 Edw. II. ch 5. See Battely's Somn. p. 25. Dugd. Mon. vol. ii. p. 374, mentions a mill called Crienemelne, which was given to the canons of St. Gregories.
  • 11. Battely's Somner, p.25.
  • 12. Rot. Esch. His lands were disgavelled by the act of 31 Hen. VIII. c. 3.
  • 13. Rot. Esch.