Before this age of centralisation, most people worked near their homes. You shopped at the corner store in the same street, going into the town only if you needed something specialist.
These were the days before easy transport. You drank beer that was brewed nearby and milk from a local dairy herd. You also baked with local flour. A farmer’s corn was milled on your patch — even in The Delce, Rochester. The view above is of the Delce Mill in Cossack Street , taken from Delce Road. It was demolished after the war to make way for new council houses, which were also built on the allotments nearby.
Frank Wright, of nearby May Road, says the mill was built by the Dutch and worked until the outbreak of the Second World War, two new sails having been fitted in the 1930s.
“Delce Mill was owned by a Mr Glover, who lived in Mill House in Burritt Street opposite the mill and was similar to, but smaller than, the mill house on New Road at the top of Star Hill which became the Good Companions Club. He also had a shop lower down, selling corn and dog biscuits, etc.
“It was my job on a Saturday afternoon (after my morning lessons at the Math) to visit the mill to buy maize and pollard for my parents’ chickens and ducks which we had on our piece of land at 31 May Road (the only open space still left in the area today). We had to make sure we closed the gates at the mill because they had free-range chickens.” Mr Wright’s excellent memory also extended to the mill’s operators.
“The manager was Mr Humphrey, who lived in City Way and was also part-time secretary of the local branch of the National Deposit Friendly Society with an office next to the Post Office in Burritt Street . His deputy was Mr Lower, who carried out various duties at the mill. Mr Best the greengrocer stabled his horse within the grounds. One of his daughters married a son of Buckett’s the bakers. [Who apart from me recalls their superb cakes? A real Saturday morning treat! – SR]
“During its later life, it ground chaff and not flour. Then another local greengrocer, Mr Ambrose, bought the mill and had most of it demolished and garages built on the site. A great pity and a sad loss to the city.” I wonder if this Mr Ambrose was a relative of Bill Ambrose, who kept a greengrocer’s in Borstal Street when I was a lad?
Little remains of this interesting landmark. But an intriguing connection is still there. The kebab shop in Cossack Street was once a pub called the Windmill. It shut many years ago but its frosted and etched pub windows were saved — and stored in the basement of Cookís hardware store nearby, says Mr Wright.
What happened to them? Cook’s — now that was a fascinating shop. Whenever I smell paraffin (and that’s not often nowadays) I think of Cook’s. Who else has memories of this bygone hardware world? Mr Wright says the allotments near the mill were replaced with council houses – Longley Road and Princes Street – in 1927.
A thriving trade community in the shadow of the mill
Talk of the windmill brought a response from Mrs Margaret Clarke, of Beresford Avenue, Rochester.
Mrs Clarke, nee Hill, writes: “In 1929 my parents moved into Burritt Street [this view of the windmill is taking along Burritt Street] and took over the drapery shop — numbers 30 and 32 — on the corner of Cross Street, this being the road through to Princes Street.
“On the left hand side was the Friends Mission and directly opposite two small houses, the Barber family in one and the Wells family in the other. They were lovely people and both had many children.
“I attended Troy Town until 1931 when I went to Rochester Grammar School . The post office and general stores opposite our shop was run by Mr Hunnisett and later by Mr Packman with Doris Packman in the post office section. I well remember the windmill and Mr Grover, whose corner shop was managed by May Jordan. At the Delce end of Burritt Street was Mr Bert Johnson — a superb barber who cut hair for 6d.
“On the opposite side was Stockleys the butchers and next door was Plesters the newsagents, then Mr Cole’s seed and corn shop, then the sweet shop run by Mr Wood. He made ice cream and cornets were a halfpenny and a penny — difficult to believe now.
“I can well remember helping in our draper’s ship after school and during holidays — and the prices, too! Men’s cotton socks were three pairs for a shilling, boys’ school caps a shilling and men’s half a crown. Reels of cotton cost three-halfpence for 100 yards of fourpence-halfpenny for 400 yards.
“On the corner of Princes Street and Delce Road was Mr Ambrose the greengrocer, next door Crowhurst the fresh fish shop. Mrs Crowhurst delivered to customers by horse and cart.
“The people around us had little money but were happy with their lot and seldom complained. I often wonder even now how they coped. Many were large families but mainly they grew up to be good citizens and lived near their parents. These days have changed so much — and not always for the better.”
* There was another windmill in the field next to Fort Borstal. I have no idea when it was demolished, but recall the site being excavated in the late 1960s, when I was told that it had been built by Napoleonic prisoners-of-war who had to haul the stone up the hill from the river. Any more info? Please let me know.