Union Mill The Union Mill Cranbrook
Registered charity no.1031879

History of the Mill

plaqueCranbrook Windmill was built for Mary Dobell by the Cranbrook millwright, James Humphrey, in 1814, just before the end of the Napoleonic Wars, to set up her son, Henry, in business. After Napoleon was defeated in 1815, there was a great depression in England and many businesses went into bankruptcy, including Henry Dobell's in 1819. As a result, it was conveyed to and operated by a union of creditors, local farmers and businessmen, hence the name, "Union Mill". When Mary Dobell's debts had been paid off, it was sold to John and George Russell in 1832 and remained in the Russell family until the death of John's great grandson, another John Russell, in 1958.

John RussellOriginally the mill had common sweeps with canvas to catch the wind and the cap was turned manually by a chain and Y-wheel. However, in 1840 the Russells decided to modernise the mill. They employed the millwrights Medhurst of Lewes to fit a new iron windshaft and gearwork, as well as the new style Cubitt's patent sweeps. Next, they employed Warrens, the millwrights of Hawkhurst, to fit a fantail.

George RussellThe partnership between John (right) and George (left) was dissolved, probably by 1850, as George had become firmly established at Furnace Mill (a water mill) in Hawkhurst by 1851. John's eldest son, Caleb, died aged only 20 in 1847, and so his only other son, Ebenezer, took over after John's death in 1875. The mill passed to Ebenezer's son, Hugh, and then to his son Caleb.

Grinding by wind was always unreliable, so that in 1863 a ten horse-power Middleton steam engine was installed to drive three sets of millstones in the base of the mill. By 1870, milling by wind had virtually ceased, and in 1912, Caleb Russell removed the shutters from the sweeps and the fantail was also taken down. Latterly grain was milled for livestock use only.

In 1960 the Mill was taken over by Kent County Council who, with the support of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, put the Mill into good repair. The Cranbrook Windmill Association was formed in 1982 to look after the Mill, open it to the public and carry out further restoration work.

In 2014 we celebrated the Bi-centenary of the building of the mill. The Celebrations kicked off on Saturday 10th May with the unveiling, by Helen Grant MP, of a plaque on the Vestry Hall in Cranbrook, commemorating the life of the last miller, John Russell, who selflessly refused to sell the Mill and its surrounding land and buildings to property developers, and instead transferred it to the Kent County Council for a nominal sum, on condition that they maintained it in perpetuity. There followed a month of Events and Celebrations, including an important Exhibition on the History of the Mill, performances by the Cranbrook Town Band and two local Groups of Morris Dancers. John Russell plaque


Read more about Cranbrook in 1814.

Follow these links to find out more about Types of Windmill and read a Glossary of Terms

There are more detailed articles on the History of the mill as follows: