Union Mill Union Mill, Cranbrook
Registered charity no.1031879

John & George Russell

George Russell
George Russell (1809-1879)

After the bankruptcy of the Dobells, the Creditors of the Union Mill put it up for sale, unsuccessfully, on several occasions. Eventually it was bought by brothers John & George Russell, millers from Little London, Waldron, Sussex (south of Heathfield); they paid 1350 for it in September 1832. John was aged 35, with a wife Elizabeth (nee Holman) and two sons, Caleb (5) and Ebenezer (3). George was twenty-three and unmarried.

John Russell
John Russell (1797-1875)

As the Mill House was occupied at the time by some of their workers, the brothers took a flat in Cranbrook above what was, till recently, Weekes Bakery. This had been a baker's shop for 200 years and may have been run in conjunction with the mill at the time, using its flour. George married Mary Wilmshurst from Cranbrook, in 1841, and they moved into one of the flats in Mill House, which had become vacant. There they had their first child, Rhoda, in 1842, but Mary died three years later, aged 32.


Business at the Union Mill was doing well enough throughout the 1830s but, with its old-fashioned machinery, it was in need of modernising. Cubitts Patent sweeps, now having run out of their Patent rights, were becoming cheaper to install. So new sweeps replaced the old common sails of canvas. The wooden windshaft gave way to a new, hollow iron windshaft, while much of the old, wooden, running gear was replaced by iron work. All these were fitted in 1840 by Medhurst, millwrights of Lewes, employed previously by the Russell family.

Four years later, in place of the Y-wheel and chain winding mechanism, Warrens of Hawkhurst fitted a fantail, a labour saving device which must have been blessed nightly. The mill was grinding flour and animal feeds and the business was fairly prosperous. The Russell brothers extended themselves, leasing Furnace Mill, a watermill in Hawkhurst, and then buying Slip Mill, another Hawkhurst watermill. They managed the three properties jointly, under the name Union Mills.

Mill House
Mill House ca.1900

However, in 1851, the partnership arrangements changed. George Russell moved to Furnace Mill and managed both Hawkhurst watermills. John, who had moved his family into Mill House opposite the mill, which was vacant now, remained at the Union Windmill.

George's first wife, Mary Wilmshurst died after the birth of a daughter Rhoda. George remarried a widow in 1850, Mrs Miller, nee Bonnick of Hartridge Mill, Cranbrook and had two sons, George and William, who survived infancy. In the meanwhile, George senior, had taken over running the Hawkhurst watermills of Slipmill and Furnace Mill, leaving John to continue at Union Mill, in Cranbrook. George's two sons, first helped him at the watermills then, after his death in 1879, took over the mills, running one each, with Rhoda as George's housekeeper.

John's headstoneJohn Russell, elder brother of George, and his family had moved into Mill House at the entrance to the mill yard and ran the Union Mill. However, in spite of the improvements made, it was not proving a financial success. John installed a steam engine, for use when the wind dropped, to drive stones on the first floor of the windmill. He retired in 1871 and moved into Dane Mead, in Waterloo Road. His son, Ebenezer, then moved into Mill House and ran the windmilling business. John Died four years later and was buried in St.Dunstan's churchyard, where his wife joined him four years later.

George, having moved to Furnace Mill in Hawkhurst in about 1850, was succeeded in the business by his sons, William and George. George, senior, died in 1879 and was brought back to Cranbrook to be buried next to his brother in St.Dunstan's churchyard.

Wynn Tremynheere and Tony Singleton

Russell FamilyTree

Read about Ebenezer, Hugh and Caleb Russell