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The rise and fall of Abbott's Mill in Canterbury

Cityscape views of Canterbury, before 1933, usually feature the lofty Abbott’s Mill at St Radigund’s - the only building to rival the cathedral, in height, for miles around.

This six-storey, largely timber-framed structure was designed by John Smeaton, who was also responsible for the Eddystone Lighthouse.

It was built in 1792 on foundations salvaged from the nearby city wall. The mill carried on a centuries-long tradition of city based water mills along the banks of the Stour, and on this site in particular.

Abbott’s Mill, in the early 1920s (5278932)
Abbott’s Mill, in the early 1920s (5278932)

In the 1880s, the mill was owned by famous Canterbury-based cattle painter, Thomas Sidney Cooper. At the time, he also owned the nearby Westgate Mill along The Causeway.

Abbott’s Mill was totally destroyed in a spectacular and memorable blaze, which began on October 17, 1933, and that lasted for a full three days.

The accompanying aerial photo captures the scene, with the fire at an advanced stage. Note the throng of onlookers in St Radigund’s Street. The Westgate Mill, later known as Hooker’s Mill, succumbed to the same fate in the 1950s.

The mill ablaze, in October 1933 (5278934)
The mill ablaze, in October 1933 (5278934)

The site of Abbott’s Mill has been left empty ever since. Today, it is part of the Solley’s Orchard riverside walk and also a popular, unofficial beer garden for the nearby Miller’s Arms.

Moreover, a few surviving iron mill workings can still be found on the site, together with the two mill races that once passed through the lost, lofty building.

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