KENT COUNTY COUNCIL
KCC owned windmills:
Peter Cobley is an architect and planner who worked as Principal Conservation Officer for Kent County Council. Here, he provides an introduction to the history and some of the conservation issues related to the Kent windmills.
In 1990 I became Kent County Council's Conservation Architect. Amongst other roles, I was responsible for advice on the care and repair of the sixty or so listed buildings in County ownership. Of these, eight are windmills, three being Grade 1, three Grade II* and two Grade II. It was in 1998 that I entered this world of sprattle beams, cant posts, damsels, sheers, cogs and breast beams, when I was asked, on behalf of the Planning Department, to take over care of the windmills in the Council's ownership.
On taking over, I visited the windmills. All were suffering from varying degrees of structural and/or maintenance problems, as might be expected with structures which are really sensitive machines first and historic buildings second. Indeed mills work for a living and have a limited life expectancy. In 1933, William Coles Finch, in his book, Watermills and Windmills, quotes the life expectancy of a post mill at 200 years and a smock as 100 years - but this assumes the continuous care of an on-site miller. Mills nowadays do not have this luxury and repairs can be piecemeal and fail to address longer-term issues. We cannot therefore treat them as other listed buildings and in fact working mills may require more invasive change than in (for want of a better phrase), the normal listed building.
I surveyed each mill and assessed the costs involved for repair and restoration at something under £1 million.
Because of the costs involved, it was agreed that a Lottery Bid application should be submitted. The special needs of windmills were recognised in the submission and this approach also fitted the HLF criteria of funding high quality work. Overall the work consisted of sensitive repair to the mill structures and work to improve the potential for tourism and for educational purposes.
Another important issue related to the seven volunteer groups who look after the mills for the County Council on a day to day basis and open them to the public. They perform an excellent service and it is obviously necessary to maintain their interest and morale, something which is less easy to do if the mills are not in good shape. There is also a further problem since the numbers of volunteers are dwindling and the existing members are ageing. (I'm sure they would not object to me stating the obvious). Without new blood, there is a danger that the mills will not be able to open as at present. This seems to be a difficulty not unique to Kent - maybe a national effort is needed to resolve the problem.
The Heritage Lottery bid was for £523,000 with matching funding from KCC and others of £120,000. Included in the bid was a commitment to spend money promoting the windmills for tourist and educational purposes. This included improving facilities for volunteers where possible. The bid was submitted in June 1998.
Approval of a grant of £400,000 for work on seven of the eight windmills was given in September 1999. As well as repair work to the mills themselves, the grant covers the production of measured drawings, volunteer training, site work, interpretation, school education packs, leaflets, disabled facilities where practical and professional fees. Of these longer-term items, volunteer training has taken on a wider dimension than originally envisaged due to health and safety issues.
Work on Herne, Draper's Mill at Margate and Chillenden mill was begun as a first phase. The inevitable lead-time before work started was a little frustrating for everyone, particularly the volunteer groups who realised they would have to close the mills during repairs and could lose volunteers as a result. The repairs at Draper's and later at Chillenden illustrated the hidden extras (and additional costs) likely in buildings of this type and caused a halt to some work.
At Chillenden we concentrated initially on making the mill body watertight and structurally sound for the winter. Because of the cost increases at Chillenden and Drapers mills, however, a further grant application was made to the Heritage Lottery Fund. This was a much more straightforward process since it involved topping up an existing approved grant. As a result the total grant was increased by £326,000 to a total of £726,000. A condition of this increase was a commitment from KCC to implement a 10-year programme of planned maintenance involving an estimated annual expenditure of approximately £35,000. There was recognition here that funding capital repairs without considering the costs of longer-term care can easily be a wasted resource. After agreeing with the HLF, we were able to initiate repair work on the remaining mills and complete the work on Chillenden windmill.
Postscript by Luke Bonwick:
The project is now finished, and the mills' future has again been secured for several years to come. Maintaining mills is akin to painting the Forth Bridge, however!
The complete rebuilding of Chillenden mill, following storm damage shortly after restoration, was an unexpected element of the project, but has neverthess had a successful outcome. Through the complete rebuilding of the mill, it was possible to correct inherent structural defects and the result was that the mill is now as strong as it was when it was built in 1868-9.