The parish of Leigh had a gunpowder mills company from 1812-1934. The Leigh Historical Society felt that it should research more into what had happened over those 122 years and investigate what remained. They were especially energized by a talk given by Dr David Hansell, a chemist and former manager of the chemical company on the Powder Mills site. David had always taken a keen interest in the site’s history, and in the process of gunpowder manufacture. From 2005 the Historical Society, led by its Chairman, Chris Rowley, started to undertake further historical research. It also liaised with the then owners, Glaxo SmithKline (GSK) to enable various visits to be made, both by Society members and by various gunpowder experts.
Amongst the experts were Wayne B Cocroft, the author of Dangerous Energy as well as a comprehensive report on the Chilworth Mills in Surrey; Peter Kendall and Liz Dyson from English Heritage; John Williams, Head of Heritage and Conservation and his colleagues at Kent County Council, and representatives from the two local district councils.
All these experts expressed themselves delighted (and surprised) by the site, with English Heritage wondering whether it would be useful to classify it as a Site of National Industrial/Archaeological importance. Furthermore, English Heritage with support from the KCC, suggested that the Leigh Historical Society apply for a Heritage Lottery Grant to do further work.
The Society was successful in its application for a Local Heritage Initiative Grant to help with its work on the Leigh Powder Mills. The Heritage Lottery Fund provided £16,044, supplemented by a further £3,750 from the Nationwide Building Society. The grant covered writing an archaeological/historical report on the site, an exhibition and various educational initiatives.
The main work began in May 2007. It was agreed that it would be unlikely that the site could ever be open to the general public, but that work should concentrate on the report that described the history of the Powder Mills and an examination of the archaeological remains.
In 2009 two books were published – one on the history and one on the discoveries at the site (The Lost Powder Mills of Leigh). Additionally a forty-minute documentary was made; there were numerous conducted tours, lectures and articles; a major exhibition; and much information has been incorporated into this website, within this section.
It must be noted that following the end of the work on the site in 2009, nature has once again covered the site and it is not open to the public. No conducted tours can be undertaken by the Society.
Following the work undertaken on the Leigh Powder Mills, two books were written and published by the Society’s Chairman:
The Lost Powder Mills of Leigh by Chris Rowley (2009) ISBN 978-09539340-1-0
The Lost Powder Mills of Leigh Part 2 – Site Gazetteer, by Chris Rowley ISBN 978-0-9539340-2-7
Copies are held in our archives and available at Tonbridge library and can be purchased. Please contact the Society.
The Society also has the following documents in its archive relating to gunpowder making:
W.D. Cocroft, Dangerous Energy – The Archaeology of Gunpowder
W.D. Cocroft, The Chilworth Gunpowder Works – Surrey
Glynis CrockerThe Gunpowder Industry (Shire Books)
Brenda J Buchanan, Gunpowder (University of Bath, 1996)
A series of pamphlets about gunpowder production in Faversham and a pamphlet about the Dartford Gunpowder Works