The Domesday Book recorded two water-mills in the Manor of Wingham which were situated in the present village of Wingham, where there was, and still is, running water. The Manor of Wingham was owned by the Archbishop of Canterbury and his tenants in and around Nonington would have been obliged to use his mills to grind their corn, probably paying from one tenth to one sixteenth of their grain for the privilege.
Wind mills began to appear England from the 12th century probably introduced by Crusaders returning from the Holy Land. Illustrated medieval manuscripts, carvings, and stained glass show something of how these early small mills appeared.
In the late 14th century Geoffrey Chaucer, who had connections with the Manor of Soles in Nonington, described the miller in his Miller’s Tale as having ‘a thombe of golde’, possibly an ironic comment on the alleged practice of millers pressing their thumb heavily on the scales to increase the weight and therefore the price charged. The miller’s thumb was also said to be broad and flat due to the practice of rubbing flour between the thumb and fore finger to test it’s texture and quality. Miller’s, although in the main part honest men, had a bad reputation for retaining excessive amounts of grain or flour in payment for their services.
By 1400 there were about 10,000 mills in England, mostly in the drier wheat growing areas of Kent, Sussex and East Anglia, and by the end of the century payment in kind to the miller had largely been replaced by monetary payments although payment in kind continued until 1796 when a law was introduced to make money payments compulsory and for mills to display their charges.
There were two common types of windmill, the post mill and the smock mill. The type oldest type of windmill was the post mill which was built around a central post allowing the whole mill to be turned into the wind to power the sweeps. There is a good example of a post mill at nearby Chillenden where the present mill was one of the last post mills to be built in Kent. It was built on the site of a previous mill and parts salvaged from the old mill, and, so it is said, other demolished Kent post mills were used in its construction in 1868 by Holman’s of Canterbury.
Smock mills are reputed to have gained their name from their likeness to the linen smocks that were once the traditional dress of the British countryman. They are usually built on an octagonal brick base and clad in weatherboard, although there are examples of six, ten and even twelve sided mills. The brick base was to protect the bottom timbers of the mill from rotting, a major disadvantages of any timber construction resting on the ground. A pivoting wooden cowl with sweeps on the front and controlled by a tail fan moved independently of the main structure so that the sails could readily be positioned towards the wind.
Until the recent Nonington was believed to have had three recorded windmill sites: one near Barfeston and two near Easole. The best known locally was the smock mill known locally in my childhood as Gasston’s Mill which was prominent at the top of Mill Lane until it sadly burnt down in early May of 1965. Some hundred yards or so down the track next to Gasston’s Mill, now a footpath to Kittington, was a seed mill which was badly damaged in a storm in 1905. All that now remain after the mill’s subsequent demolition are some still visible circular foundations. Some half a mile or so along the Barfreston road from the Easole mills stood a pair of windmills which were only just inside the Nonington parish boundary on the north-west side of Barfreston cross-roads as the road actually is the parish boundary. All that now remains of these mills is the name, Mill Field, given to the field to the west of the site.
View Nonington’s windmills sites on a Google map
Further information about the various wind mills can be found at: