It is not often that I’m called in to research a house that dates back to the Anglo-Saxon period, but Mill Cottage in Kent is a little different. The house actually dates from the 19th century, but in the gardens of the house lies the remains of an Anglo-Saxon motte and bailey (a form of castle situated on a raised earthwork imported by the French in 1066). Along with this, the gardens also hold remains of a Stone Age barrow and evidence of Roman activity, certainly something a little different from your average back garden.

The gardens and surrounding area are in fact within an Area of Outstanding Beauty and Special Landscape Area and is a key highlight of the house that stands in Newnham today. However, in 1880 an archaeological survey, undertaken by George Payne, curator of the Kent Archaeological Society, found a mound of 5 feet high, 38 paces in diameter and a ditch of 15 feet deep. The survey also discovered a chalk mound, believed to be a barrow, which contained ashes, human bones, urns and part of a sword and to the north, further discoveries found evidence of Roman activity.

However, despite these historic associations, Mill Cottage was built many hundreds of years later to accompany a new windmill. In the early 19th century, John Filmer decided to establish a number of mills in Kent to grind local corn. Newnham Mill was built on the top of the ancient mound in 1819 and the first miller is believed to be John Barnett. However, by the 1830s the miller at Newnham was Henry William Filmer, but at this time Henry and his family were living in the village and no mill house was yet built.

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Today’s Mill Cottage was only constructed during the 1860s and first recorded as ‘Mill House’. The first residents are recorded in the 1871 census, when it was the home of Thomas Filmer, aged 25 and ‘Miller Master employing 11 men’. Thomas was in the house with his wife Mary, aged 22 and their two young children, Edith and Thomas, along with Mary’s sisters, Catherine and Jane, a live-in servant and also a boarder, miller, Frederick Southern.

However, within a few short years, the almost 60 year old windmill was found to be unstable and was closed. The sweeps (or sails) were sold to Doddington Mill and the remainder of the mill was dismantled and sold. However, half the tower was retained and on Guy Fawkes Day 1876 it was filled with tar barrels and set alight!

It was also during the late 1870s that Mill House was converted into two cottages, with one half occupied by the Bunchley family, with head of the house, John working as an agricultural labourer. The other part of the house was home to the Chapman family, with head of the house, Thomas Chapman working as a coachman.

The house continued as two separate cottages until the 1950s, when it was converted back into a single home. It was also at this time that the surrounding gardens were landscaped and sadly included further levelling of the motte and bailey and filling of the surrounding ditch. The landscape has long been a strong feature around Champion Court, and today Mill Cottage sits within beautiful gardens in nearly an acre of undulating North Downs countryside.

Read more details on the Mill Cottage – Newnham

To read the full history visit my blog – The House Historian

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