In the 19th century there were 400 windmills in Kent. Now there are less than 20. Woodchurch Windmill has stood on its site to the north of the village since 1820. It was moved there from Susans Hill Farm where it had poorer access. A further advantage for the miller of the time was its co-location with another mill just 50 yards away. The two were known as The Sisters, or the Black Mill and the White Mill from the contrasting colour of their smocks.
Albert Tanton was the last miller who stopped trading in 1926 due to competition from mechanised mills in the towns aided by better roads and transport. Sir Sidney Nicholson lived at Myrtle Cottage and owned the Mill after the war, during which the Black Mill was demolished. He died in 1947 and bequeathed the White Mill to Woodchurch. For the next 25 years , villagers had great fun raising money and trying to restore it. The Bonfire Boys was formed in 1953 and were very successful until the end of the 1960s; they replaced the stocks and the sails. In 1973 the Parish Council sold the Mill to a private developer but he failed to convert it to a private dwelling.
In 1978 the Mill had become dangerous and was compulsorily purchased by Ashford Borough Council (ABC). It was their intention to partially dismantle the structure. A group led by local Ken Carley convinced ABC to let Woodchurch rebuild the Mill. The Friends of Woodchurch Windmill (FWW) was formed to do this, with charitable status.
The Mill was dismantled, with major structural timbers and mechanical parts retained. A brand-new smock was erected; a new cap was built by Arthur Russell, a retired chartered engineer. Steel stocks replaced the original timber ones and the sails rebuilt yet again to be installed in 1986. A photo display in the Mill shows all the stages of the work. The interior of the Mill was fitted out in the next few years, with the aim of carrying out regular flour milling. In the mid 1990s this was abandoned; by this time the members of the Friends had been on the job for nearly 20 years and were running out of steam.
By 2001 the Mill urgently needed further attention as there was rot in the sails and the cap had ceased to turn. In 2002 ABC let a contract for the immediate removal and subsequent rebuild of the sails. The committee led by Chairman Nigel Hawkes raised money from the Heritage Lottery Fund and others. The financial contribution from the village itself was crucial in demonstrating a local commitment. FWW raised about 55% and ABC found 45% of the cost of the necessary work. In the autumn of 2004, millwright Neil Medcalf removed the cap. In the winter he rebuilt the turning gear and replaced all in the spring of 2005.
Ken Carley retired as an FWW Trustee in 2005.
The windmill is managed by the Friends of Woodchurch Windmill and is open to the public on Sunday and Bank Holiday afternoons from 1pm – 5pm from Easter to 28th September. In July and August the Mill will also be open on Saturday afternoons. For more information visit the windmill website.
FWW are thankful for the help from the volunteer “welcomers ” to visitors to the mill and are always grateful for additional offers of help .
Additionally, the mill does require periodic minor maintenance to keep the sails turning and any offer of help for just a couple of hours would be gratefully received. If you think you may be able to help please contact Mel or Jenny Bailey on 01233 861144.
FWW is a charitable organisation , relying on donations and visitor income to maintain this heritage village monument, so the continued support of the village community is appreciated.