DOVER KENT ARCHIVES
John Bavington Jones

Published in the South Kent Gazette, 3 June, 1981.

A PERAMBULATION OF THE TOWN, PORT AND FORTRESS.

PART 187.

 

15th CENTURY FIND

It is thought that there was a mill at Crabble at least as early as the 15th century and foundations were found on the site during restoration work. The present mill is thought to stand only a few feet from the site of the original mill. An old painting. owned by Mr John Mannering showed that there were once two mills on the site served by the same millpond. Built in 1812 the mill was acquired by the Mannering family in 1843 through Mr Willsher Mannering, Johnís great-grandfather. It ceased to operate as a mill after the family installed steam power at their Buckland Mill towards the end of the~19th century.

After the 1973 restoration Mr Cleary leased the mill to the old Dover Corporation on a 99-year lease at a "peppercorn rentď of £10 a year and it is now regularly opened to the public. The mill houses a museum of milling implements and relics uncovered on the site during the repairs. Restoration of the mill, personally supervised by Bowzell director Mr George Johnson, of St Margaretís Bay, was the first private project in the country to become a contribution to European Architectural Heritage Year scheme although this was not to be celebrated until two years later, in 1975. The official opening of the restored mill was by Lady Dartmouth, chairman of the United Kingdomís Executive Committee for European Heritage Year, on 24th May, 1973.

 

MILL WORKS AGAIN

The former owner, Mr Mannering, showed considerable interest in the restoration and contributed valuable items needed for the work. Members of his family used to be regularly weighed on scales in the mill and their weights were carved on a nearby post. On the day of the opening, the machinery of the mill was set in motion, corn was ground and afterwards bread was baked from the flour for the first time for 80 years.

The great undershot mill wheel provided the power . to drive, among numerous pieces of machinery, five pairs of mill stones which are located on the second floor. The ground floor was a storage room while the first floor houses the governors which control the speed of the drive shaft, the bran and flour chutes, the old wheel and the rack and sluice of an earlier mill. Apart from the stones on the second floor there are three storage bins and a vertical drive shaft passing to the floors above. On the third floor is a fan blower, flour grading machine and a shaker grader. Another flour grading machine is located on the fourth floor while the fifth floor provides more storage space, a hoist and a smut-removing machine.

 

FEEDING THE TROOPS

The mill was built at the time of a Napoleonic invasion threat to provide flour to feed the thousands of troops congregated in the Dover area to resist such a threat, and the mill later helped to cope with a population explosion. A London hoy used to sail with corn to Dover and return with up to 50 tons of ground flour at a time.

The sister mill at Buckland, where the Mannerings later concentrated their business, was built about three years later than the Crabble mill and became the centre of one of Doverís principal industries, but towards the end of 1957 it too closed down.

Close to, but opposite the Crabble mill, stood the former residences of Major Standen and Mr E. P. Coleman, close to which is a fine stand of Scotch firs believed to have been planted by one of the property owners about 150 years ago. The first owner of Crabble mill, already referred to, Mr Joseph Pilcher, lived in the Old Parsonage opposite the mill.

 

CRABBLE ATHLETIC GROUND

The Crabble Athletic Ground is a modern feature for the provision of which the Crabble meadows were utilised in the year 1896. Before the railway came, and the severance of the land created by its unsightly embankment, the Crabble meadows formed an ideal scene, where in green pastures beside the still waters, flocks and herds found happy contentment. In later days the Crabble meadows, beyond the railway arch, were regarded as one of the sweetest rural spots on the outskirts of Dover, the grazing ground which footed the back of Bunkerís Hill being entirely uninvaded by houses, except the pretty residence of a Mr William Wood, at Crabble corner. Several years before the Athletic Ground Syndicate discovered this spot, the upper meadow was hired by the pioneers of Association football in Dover.

In 1896 a syndicate, composed of Messrs P. Finnis, H. Hayward, A. C. Leney and James Stilwell, purchased the whole of the Crabble Meadows, from Bunkerís Hill up to Crabble Bridge, for the purpose of forming an athletic ground for Dover. An area of 14 acres, including the land that was previously used for football, was comprised in the part dedicated to recreation, of which eight acres, nearest the northern end, were levelled, forming an elevated plateau, which for many years was undoubtedly the finest piece of public land devoted to cricket, football and at one time cycling, in this part of the county. The excavations, which were extensive and costly, took place in 1896, and the ground was formally opened by Mr George Wyndham, MP, on Whit-Monday 1897. Meanwhile the syndicate who had laid out the land, had transferred it to a public company named ďThe Dover Athletic Ground, Limited,ď of which the authorised capital was £8,000 in shares, and £4,000 in debentures. The price at which the syndicate agreed to transfer the undertaking to the company was £10,000, which sum, after deducting cost of purchase and laying out, left the promoters without any margin of profit.

 

BARGAIN BUY

The first six yearsí working of the ground for recreative purposes was not a success, and it became a question whether it should not be used as building land. To avert that, which would have been a public calamity, the Corporation were urged to purchase the ground, and in February 1902, it was transferred to the Corporation, as a going concern, for a lump sum of £5,500, which was a very good bargain for the town, but a very poor return to the original investors. Since that time the ground has been much improved by the formation of a winding road, interspersed with flower beds and shrubberies, at its eastern entrance, and by the construction of a series of terraced tennis courts south of the entrance. The plateau itself needed but little improvement, its original formation having been so well designed. The slopes of the plateau, which were planted in 1896, present a pleasing aspect to the public road at its base. The extension of the Dover tramway brought the cars close to the northern entrance of these pleasure grounds.

 

Crabble

The tranquil, unspoilt scene at Crabble where the River Dour flows down to the millpond of the recently restored Crabble watermill which will soon be 170 years old. Twisting along the riverbank is what used to be a quiet country lane which crosses the river by an old bridge and leads into what used to be the main street of the old village of River, bearing the unimaginative name of Lower Road. Higher up, towards the spot where the Dover Co-operative Society was formed, what little traffic there was used to cross the river at Common Lane via a foord and there was a footbridge for pedestrians.

The river scene above has been a popular subject with artists and photographers for well over a century. The photograph, taken from the road bridge, is believed to date back about 90 years and was taken with a plate camera using a glass negative 81 inches long by 6s inches deep. Such negatives were carefully stored in specially constructed wooden boxes and the emulsion was protected with a coat of clear varnish.

 

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