Introduction to windmills
A brief history of windmills in Kent
Windmills have, for a long time, been a visually significant
feature of the Kent countryside.
In their 1840s heyday, there were several thousand mills
operating in Britain, mostly concentrated in the drier, eastern
counties such as Kent, Suffolk and Norfolk.
The historian, William Coles-Finch, writing in the 1930s, found
evidence of over 400 windmills in Kent alone.
In spite of the inevitable losses and demolition over the last
50 years, there are still about 15 windmills in Kent which are
either complete or substantially solid.
Other windmills, scattered throughout the county, have been
converted for other uses, primarily residential.
Types of windmill
There are 3 main types of windmill; the post-mill, the
smock-mill and the tower-mill. In this county, it is smock and
post-mills that have survived in their most original form.
The post-mill is the earliest type, where the entire body of the
mill turned on a central post to face the wind. The 2 examples
owned by Kent County Council are at Chillenden and Wittersham.
The later, more sophisticated, smock-mill (so called because it
looks like a farm worker's smock) enabled just the cap with the
sails to turn automatically to face the wind, while the 'smock'
with its machinery inside remained static.
The Kent County Council own 6 smock-mills, at Margate, Stelling Minnis, Meopham, Herne, Cranbrook and Kingsdown.
Why does the council own these windmills?
The council has accepted responsibility for care of the
windmills because of their historic importance, their significance
in the landscape (most mills had to be positioned on high ground to
catch the wind) and their fragility.
All mills are listed - the majority being Grade I or Grade II.
This places them within a group of the top 4% of listed buildings
in the country.
Kent County Council was given its first windmill at Chillenden
in 1958. In the following year, 2 more were handed over - at
Meopham and West Kingsdown. Others followed, and now we look
after 8 windmills.
Our cultural heritage
Each mill reflects the living history of the village, and the
area in which it is situated.
Their preservation is the best way of maintaining a record of
their construction and physical history, as well as illustrating
the social history of the firms and families who built and ran the
The miller was, at one time, a key member of the local
community, since the windmill was an essential part of the
agricultural industry on which prosperity depended.
Kent County Council decided that, in order to make full use of
the windmills as an important part of the county's heritage, works
of care and repair were needed, and using them for tourist and
educational purposes was an essential part of this.
Preserving our heritage
Windmills must be treated more as machinery, rather than
buildings. They were designed for a relatively short life. They
were also designed to earn a living and for easy maintenance and
To some extent, this conflicts with the overall approach to
conservation of our heritage.
Windmills wear out, and the preservation of them as 'buildings
of architectural or historic merit' can conflict with their
character as a windmill, particularly if they need to stay in
In the 1950s, windmills were considered wholly as attractive
man-made features within the landscape. Indeed, when we acquired
Chillenden windmill, all the machinery and the adjoining barn were
removed, as it was thought that its presence as a landscape feature
was its only value.
Now the historical importance of the internal machinery, and the
fixtures and fittings within each mill, are recognised as having
archaeological and historic importance in their own right.
Today, windmills containing their own machinery are far less
likely to be converted for alternative uses. Unfortunately, caring
for them in their original state is more complex and can be
Kent County Council works with local groups to actively preserve
the future of the windmills and to support their repair and, where
records exist, restoration. We also encourage improvements to the
buildings and sites, to encourage greater public access and greater
use of the windmills as an educational resource.