A HISTORY OF THE MILLS AT GREATNESS
Several springs rise in the Millpond Wood area, merging to form a stream which flows into the River Darent. In the past it provided a source of power for mills that were built along its bank.
In 822, King Ceolwulf of Mercia granted to Archbishop Wulfred of Canterbury ‘terra . . . ubi nominator Mylentun,’ (Milltown). This is an unidentified area but the mention of ‘Greotan Edisces Londe’ (sandy heath land) to the north-east places it in the vicinity of Greatness. The area has had several spellings over the centuries including Gretnarsche, Gretenersshe, Gretnehers and Gritneys.
In the 12th Century, Greatness Farm was likely to have been established near the stream as part of a ring of farms around Sevenoaks. Milling was first mentioned in the 13th Century where a land deed listed ‘Two water mills in Sevenoaks by Gretenhers’, then in the 1550’s ‘two water-driven corn mills - Gretness-mylls’, which were in the ownership of the Fane family.
Between 1647 and 1732 the Jeffery brothers owned ‘Greatness Mills’ which consisted of the house at Greatness Farm. and the two mills, by then converted to fulling mills for treating cloth.
In the 1760’s Peter Nouaille married Elizabeth Delamore, who had inherited one of the mills in Greatness. This was located at the junction of Greatness Lane with Mill Lane, and the Nouaille family used it to produce silk until 1828. The closure of the silk mill and description of the dismantled buildings was described by a former employee Joseph Harrison in a poem of 1833.
In the 1870’s one of the mill ponds next to the remaining corn mill was turned into an open-air swimming pool which continued to be well-used until after the First World War. An advertisement printed in the 1898 ‘Salmon’s Guide to Sevenoaks’ states an admission of price of 6d per person and 3d on Saturday and Wednesday afternoons with separate times for ladies, gentlemen, and holders of family tickets.
From the 1880’s George Harris owned Greatness Mill for 40 years until his death in 1927, when the mill was purchased by George Bennet. One year later it was destroyed in a fire. Bennet had the building reconstructed and it continued to be used as a corn mill until 1935 when production ceased, making George Bennet the last miller at Greatness.
During the 20th Century the mill and surrounding area went through several changes. In a 1936 Ordnance Survey map, the mill pond is shown as a boating pond with a swimming pool and lido downstream. In 1938 the Meldan family purchased the property, lived in the Mill House and used the mill for their upholstery business. Roger A Ransley had an antiques business in part of the premises.
In 1975 a campaign to ‘Save the Village Pond’ was formed and pupils from St Hilary’s and Wilderness schools helped to form the islands and banks of the current mill pond. In 2011 Greatness Residents’ Association obtained a grant from Cory Environmental Trust to desilt the mill pond and build public viewing boardwalks with benches which can be seen today. Kent Highways have installed two silt traps in an attempt to prevent resilting and maintain the pond as a nature reserve.
The milling legacy lives on in the names of Mill Lane, Mill Pond Close, and Silk Mills Close which was built behind the former corn mill building; the mill stream itself is still briefly visible as it runs through the grounds of the Scout Hut. In 2016 Purelake Homes rebuilt the site of the corn mill and surrounding buildings into the development ‘Greatness Mill’, happily retaining the distinctive shape of the Mill itself in the tallest building.
With thanks to Gill Paterson for her research
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