The Ramhurst Corn Mill
Before the start of the gunpowder mills at Leigh, there was a corn mill on the western end of the site which had been working for at least two hundred and fifty years. It stood at the bottom of what is now called Weir Lane – opposite the drive to Ramhurst Manor – on the northern bank of the Mill Stream, fairly near the lane. The exact site has not yet been located but there is a clear track forking left at the bottom of the hill just before the concrete bridge across the Mill Stream.
The first mention that we have of the Mill is in 1579 when it appears to have been owned by the same person as Ramhurst Manor – although for a short time around this period Ramhurst Manor had changed its name to Culverhouse Grove. The owner of both was the Weston Family – Michael Weston being a JP and landed gentry of Hilden. The success of the milling business is fairly clear because the Mill was already paying a higher tax for the upkeep of the Leigh Church wall than the Manor House and associated farm – although it was not one of the larger farms in the parish, probably only 150-200 acres.
During the sixteenth century the Mill had passed from the Weston family to Henry Dixon and then his son, Edward. Again, the Dixons were local landowners and they probably did not live at Ramhurst, letting the house and the farm as well as the Mill out to a tenant farmer and a specialist miller.
In 1645 Edward Dixon sold the manor and the Mill to William Saxby who seems to have lived at Ramhurst. After his death, his son, Henry, continued to live there until 1698, when the house was sold to George Children, whose family had farmed in Lower Street, Leigh in the 1390s.
The size of the mill must have been quite large as it is stated that it could be driven by the whole flow of the Medway and may have employed a number of millers, and it probably served a much larger area than the local parish. The extent of the trade carried out at the mill is also indicated by the fact that the large amount of traffic using the lane has cut it deep into the hillside.*
The first miller whose name is known is William Webb – the older – who becomes a tenant of the Saxbys in 1662. He is succeeded as miller by his son, William, who buys the Mill from Henry Saxby – probably in the 1690s. The younger, William, marries Mary Woodgate in 1698 and, when he dies twenty two years later, Mary takes over as the miller. By 1735, when she is becoming relatively elderly, her son, Thomas Webb, becomes the miller carrying on well after his mother’s death in 1746. At this time, the mill which had first been leased and then owned by the Webb family for 120 years passed out of their hands.
Some time towards the end of the century, the Mill and what seems to have been an associated mill cottage are bought by Edward London, who owned land in the Hollanden (Hildenborough) area. Edward London died in 1806 and in his Will he leaves the Mill to his nephew, John London**, whose 1816 tombstone at Leigh describes him as a miller. John London took over the Mill and seems to have been the owner when the gunpowder company is being formed. The site was presumably bought either by the Children family or the new company in 1809/1811 because there are notes saying the old corn mill and the associated cottage had been knocked down in 1811 – this would have allowed for the widening of hte mill stream during construction of the Powder Mills. (John London presumably did well from the sale because he built a house and windmill at Watts Cross in Hildenborough).
(Updated Feb 2020)
Information primarily from Lawrence Biddle’s “Leigh in Kent”.
*The information in this paragraph comes from a History of the Powder Mills given to the Society in January 2020 by Margaret Spender. This is in our archives.
**This additional detail of the relationship between Edward London and John London was given to the Society in October 2016 (JF).