Published: 06:00, 22 June 2021
| Updated: 09:10, 22 June 2021
Bold plans to convert a former flour mill and nightclub into 60 flats were revealed by KentOnline last week. To gain further insight, Ashford historian Steve Salter enjoyed an exclusive tour...
It has had a long and colourful history with controversies along the way, it almost burned to the ground almost 47 years ago, and it provided the social soundtrack to many enjoyable nights out from the 1980s until 2014.
Now the derelict former flour mill at the bottom of East Hill, Ashford, is about to start an exciting new chapter in its 120-year history.
The long-standing landmark, built in 1901 and first owned by miller Henry Sturges Pledge, has just been purchased after almost two years of negotiating by business partners and developers Oliver Davis and Rory Brace of Oliver Davis Homes.
Mr Davis’s plan for 60 'high-quality' flats not only considers the heritage of the site, but he is also very aware of how much work needs to be done to stop the building from deteriorating any further and falling down.
Because the dereliction is really comprehensive.
Until 2014, the historic mill had been a selection of nightspots where many a good night could be had.
It had been owned by Luminar Leisure as Liquid and Life (latterly Liquid and Envy), but its predecessor Cales Nightclub and Flatfoot Sam's, owned by Kingfisher Leisure, is fondly remembered in the town.
Even a Facebook group has been started to celebrate the ex-nightspot, with former punters calling for the much-missed club to reopen.
Until a disastrous fire struck the site and destroyed the older provender mill and mill house on May 16, 1974, the mill, which sits over the ancient branch of the River Stour known as the Lords Cut, was listed.
But following the huge blaze in which firemen saved the tower, English Heritage decided to delist the remaining building.
The mill had sat empty following Pledge’s departure in 1972 and became a haven for vandals, and with the explosive values of flour in its dust form, the inferno was a disaster waiting to happen.
It’s now been seven long years since the nightlife and music stopped at the former nightclub and time has indeed taken its toll on the mill.
But former Norton Knatchbull pupils Mr Davis, 34, and Mr Brace, 33, want to change all that.
Having both spent their younger years frequenting the former club, the pair say they are totally understanding of those who have long called for a return of the nightspot.
But both restrictions such as legal covenant stopping it ever being used for that purpose again and significant viabilities mean it will never hear the sound of chart music and 80s classics again.
Despite being occupied continuously since being rebuilt in 1981, large sections of the mill – which first became a nightspot as Dusty's and The Jolly Miller – have not been utilised since 1972 and have long been derelict.
Since Liquid and Envy moved out for the last time in 2014, it has fallen into more serious dereliction and there is a significant urgency to save the structure.
Any work that was undertaken during its time as a nightclub appears to have been purely cosmetic, with little consideration being given to the structural integrity of the building.
It is not yet known when a planning application will be submitted, but Mr Davis, who bought the site off Ashford School, has already been in discussions with Ashford Borough Council about the scheme.
One has to commend him and his team for taking on such a colossal project because an enormous task lies ahead of them.