Pembury History

Localities - Old Mills in Pembury

There have been several working water mills in Pembury, some of them painted by J.M.W. Turner.  This page is for the local history of the site, not for any comment on Turner or the artistic merits of the artwork.  There is little evidence for any windmills in Pembury.  The nearest known windmills were at Kippings Cross and Windmill Street, Tunbridge Wells.  Kathryn Franklin has discovered a reference to a Windmill Field on the 1840 Tithe Schedule – the land occupied by St Peter’s Upper Church and the cricket ground – land parcel 231.  This suggests a possible long gone windmill on the high ridge, an ideal position facing winds from all directions.  Old maps such as Edward Hasted’s 1783 and John Ogibly’s road map of 1676 do not show a windmill here, so without further evidence this is just speculation.  However, agricultural boundaries and field names did have a habit of longevity and continuity over many centuries.  See maps lower down this page.

The content of this page has been assembled from many sources and some information may be duplicated.
Original sources have not been modified or edited for style or presentation purposes.
As such, you may find yourself dancing around the page assessing data and formulating your thoughts.



Keyes Mill 1796 J.M.W Turner    (Picture from David Doré)


Pembury Mill c1806-1807 J.M.W Turner    (Picture from David Doré)

Turner in Pembury from David Doré on Vimeo.    (April 2015)


Keyes Mill  early 1800s   J.M.W Turner    (Picture from Jane Grooms with permission from V&A Museum)



The map below identifies the location of the mills, followed by various descriptions and references.

Footpath Numbers have been added to help locate and orient.      Keyes Mill site on footpath WT222.

Note that the Mill House is sometimes shown as ‘Keyes Mill’ on some maps.  This may mislead – see maps further down this page.


Kathryn Franklin 2020 –

Corn mills have always been important in Pembury as even as early as the 13th century the Colpeppers were in dispute over two and millers appear in Pembury records from time to time throughout the centuries. Streams are numerous but the water flow in the past must have been much greater than it is today now that the area is used as a significant catchment area for Southern Water. 

In Turner’s time at the turn of the 19th century there were still two mills in the parish, but unlikely to be the same two as 500 years earlier. He painted one once and the other one twice. All three of his paintings have the title ‘Pembury Mill’ which is confusing as you do not have to be an art expert to realise they are of two different buildings. 

One, in Redwings Lane, still exists but it is now a private house and much altered. At some time the course of the stream has been moved from the front of the building, where the wheel can be seen in the picture, to the back. The pond-bay still exists. This is the more famous picture, with a lady in the door-way, that sometimes appears in books on Turner. It was painted in 1795 and is held at Tate Britain. 

The other two pictures were painted in 1805 and 1807 respectively and, allowing for artistic license, they are clearly of the same building and painted from more or less the same position. One is held at the British Museum and the other at the National Gallery. It’s location is now on footpath WT222 in the woods between Stonecourt and Albans. There is some remaining brickwork if you look carefully and, if ground conditions are right, you can even get to where Turner must have positioned himself.  The mill went out of use c1885, but the nearby house continued to be lived in until the early 1920s.

Additional note:
There is sometimes confusion caused because the Turner Mill  (k/a Keys Mill) was sometimes also known as Herrings Mill but there was another Herrings Mill not far away in Matfield. (Mr Herring occupied land in both Pembury & Brenchley (Matfield) in the 16th century!)


Notes from  “Walk Along and Around the Tunbridge Wells Circular” book   (forwarded by Jane Grooms)

The Site of Keyes Mill –  “A watermill stood here until 1939, and was painted twice by Turner in 1795 and 1796.”

“The causeway formed a dam between the upper and lower mill ponds.”       Do we assume the causeway to be the WT226 footbridge?

See Mary Standen item lower down this page where she describes the mill house (not the mill) demolished just before WW2.      Misleading history!


Millers in Pembury  from Commercial Directories

Pigot’s Directory 1840  – Millers –   Richard Ashby (Spring Grove),    John Homewood  (Keyes) ,         (Stephen Tolhurst – corn dealer – not miller)

Post Office Directory 1855 –  Frederick Ashby  miller.   (no location)

Melvilles Directory  1858  –  Richard Ashby  miller & farmer.     (no location, assumed Spring Grove from 1840 Pigot’s)

Post Office Directory 1878 –   Edwin Coppard,   miller Spring Grove Mill

Kelly’s Directory 1882, 1886, 1889, 1889,  1903, …….     – no millers in any edition.    Assume Pembury is absent of millers & working mills?

Several of these later directories list corn merchants in Pembury.   Directories at this page – References

Old Maps of the area

Above – Spring Grove Mill at it appears on the 1840 Tithe Map  –   Note orientation is North roughly to the right.
Richard Ashby was the miller of Spring Grove Mill on the 1840 Tithe award schedule.   Woodgate & Briscoe were the owners.
Plots  –  734 : House Water & Mill,     735: Stack Plot,     737: Lower Mill Field.

Above:  Spring Grove Mill from 1868 OS map

Above:  Pelton Map of c1880  showing Spring Grove Mill


The maps below give varying interpretations of the Keyes Mill and they are not consistent.
Do not try and interpret these maps as some kind of evolutionary progression of development.  Maps lie.  They may mislead.

Above –  A section of the 1840 Pembury Tithe Map showing Keyes Mill and Albans Farm – note unconventional spellings.
Stephen Sawyer  owner of plots 559 to 572 and 579a.    John Homewood recorded as the occupier / tenant.

Note – IMPORTANT – North is roughly to the right, not up.

Below – enlarged section of same map showing Keyes Mill (larger, but no greater detail)

Note the mill access road is gated between parcels 563 and 559.
Red colouring indicates inhabited buildings.  Grey colouring indicates non-inhabited buildings such as sheds, barns, and outhouses.
Parcel 560 is indicated on later maps.  See maps below.
Note there is no indication of the feeder stream or mill pond through parcel 569 (adjacent to 564 & 563).
Note – earlier versions of this page indicated parcel 563 as 153 – an error due to a fold in the map when photographed.


Above:  Lower & Straker map of 1845 showing Herrings Mill.


Above:  Colbran map of 1850 showing Herrings Mill


Above – 1868 OS map showing the disused Herrings Mill.    Colour added to enhance key features.
The yellow enclosure indicates the likely mill house compound.   This is shown as parcel 560 on the 1840 Tithe map.
Water flow is south to north with the upper pond on path WT226.
This map does show 4 other buildings/structures in the centre ground north of the lower mill pond.  Greater clarity lower down this page.
Flow is then to the lower pond (on path WT222) directly feeding the mill.   Turner’s painting indicates a view uphill looking south.

Although this 1868 map shows the mill disused it is understood that the mill stopped functioning in 1885.   See map notes below.


Above – 1888 OS map showing the disused mill site.      Colour added to enhance key features.
The yellow enclosure indicates the mill house compound.  Note the absence of mill ponds since 1868.


Above –  OS map surveyed in 1895, published in 1897     Similar in detail to previous 1888 map.


Above – another variation of the Keyes Mill location map indicating key features discussed here.
This map includes a detail of the other outbuildings or structures for greater clarity.
It is also adorned with reference letters to help identify key features and aid the descriptive text and photos.

A  – site of the mill house –  on the 1868 OS map and the 1888 OS map shown in yellow enclosure.
B  –   site of the water mill
C  –  site of culvert or sluice channel and water diverter.
D  –  site of lower mill pond
E  –  footpath Bridge on WT226
F  –  location of a culvert or sluice hole passing under the footpath/through the dam to the upper mill pond site.
G  – upper mill pond.
H  – site of brickwork.
V  –  view point of Keyes Mill as in the two Turner paintings – from downstream facing south (uphill).

Map key references provided by Jane Grooms.


Jane Grooms has also made the following discoveries and assumptions –

The 1840 Tithe Map is coloured to indicate inhabited buildings as red, and uninhabited buildings as grey or buff.
The Tithe Schedule describes land parcel 560 as “House and Buildings” and parcel 561 as “Mill and Road”.
This points to the red building in parcel 560 (or the yellow coloured enclosure) as the mill house and
the grey building at the centre of the lower mill pond (at location key ‘B’) as the mill building.
This assumption points to the 1868 and 1888 maps showing just the mill house and not the mill.
It also makes sense of the mill being sited on a water course that is present on all maps.


All the above OS maps are oriented north to the top and south to the bottom.  The flow of water is roughly from south to north.
All descriptions will refer north or south even if the accuracy indicates slightly NE or SW.

      Online map references –,%20Kent&latitude=51.136357&longitude=0.314172


Notes on Ordnance Survey (OS) map dating.

Dates on OS maps are often confusing, particularly when taken from a referred text in a book or on a web site.
Here is an example of a typical, OS fictional map with all the traps ready to snare a bit of historical research –

1898  Full survey carried out.    1899 drawings prepared for the printers

1900  First edition printed of the “1900 Edition”.

1904  Some minor corrections and alterations added to 1900 Edition with small print note “additions and correction – 2nd impression 1904”

1907  Some minor corrections and alterations added to 1900 Edition with small print note “additions and correction – 3rd impression 1907”

1909  Some minor corrections and alterations added to 1900 Edition with small print note “additions and correction – 4th impression 1909”

1912  Full survey carried out.    1913 drawings prepared for the printers

1914  First edition printed of the “1914 Edition”.

OS maps generally have the main edition date in bold typeface and re-issue dates in small type, sometimes away from the main publication date.
Here is the big problem – a building (or anything) may have been added or subtracted from the map in 1907 or 1909.
A new building, or feature, created in 1901 may not appear in any sub reissues. It may not appear until the 1914 edition after a fresh, full survey.
A researcher finds the map with the added or subtracted feature and looks at the main publication date of 1900 and comes to the wrong conclusion.
For real nitpicking, pedantic accuracy this kind of map should be declared 1898 – 1912  or  1900 – 1914.  This requires even greater research!
Historians should inform their readers that the data on any map should not be tied to the given date of the map.  They never do.

Above – a few typical examples of cryptic dates on OS maps.    “Levelled” means surveyed.   Ancient surveyors were known as levellers.

Jane Grooms  2020 –

THE SEARCH FOR KEYES MILL March to August 2020 

JMW Turner created many pictures of watermills, three of which are thought to have been based on watermills in Pembury; Keyes Mill (also known as Herrings Mill) in Snipe Wood and Springrove Mill in Redwings Lane.
The two watercolours are believed to be of Keyes Mill.  One watercolour entitled ‘Pembury Mill’ held at the Victoria and Albert Museum, 1795/6, shows a mill with one mill race to the side of the building. The second watercolour entitled ‘A Watermill’, 1795/6, held at the British Museum shows the same building but with two mill races to the side and other differences. The third picture, an etching, is called ‘Pembury Mill, Kent’ published in 1808 and is held at the Tate.
Springrove mill building still exists but little remains of the Keyes Mill buildings. Keyes Mill House is thought to have been demolished just before the second world war and the Keyes watermill was probably not in use many years before then.
I had often thought how interesting it would be to find the location of Keyes watermill and to imagine where JMW Turner would have stood to paint his watercolour of the mill and to see if the existing landscape could reveal which of the two watercolours is a more accurate depiction of the mill. The following is a summary of my research and findings:


There is an Ordinance Survey Map of 1813-19 which shows ‘Herrings Mill Wood’.

The Tithe Map signed in 1844 shows ‘Keys Mill’ with one building in red and other buildings in grey. According to the National Archives, red buildings are habited and grey buildings are uninhabited. The Tithe Award Schedule shows :

plot 559 as ‘Waste’

plot 560 as ‘House & Buildings’

plot 561 as ‘Mill & Road’

plot 569 and 569a as ‘Pond & Waste’

plot 570 as Upper Pond

plot 571 as ‘Waste & Roadway’

It follows that the red building on the Tithe Map is a house in which the miller and his family are likely to have lived. The mill building painted by Turner is probably the grey building shown by the water on the Tithe Map in plot 561.
The Tithe Award Schedule records Stephen Sawyer as the owner of plots 559 to 572 and 579a.  John Homewood is recorded as the occupier.
The 1841 census of England and Wales shows a John Homewood living at ‘Keys Mill’ with six children. His wife is not mentioned. In the 1851 census, John is recorded as a ‘master miller’ at Brenchley Windmill.

A Stephen Sawyer married Mary Veness in 1815 in Pembury. The first witness is stated as Benjamin Veness. A Benjamin Veness is mentioned on the Tithe Award schedule as owning various shops in Pembury but it may not be the same person. In the 1841 census, Stephen and Mary Sawyer were living at 1 Cumberland Gardens, Tunbridge Wells along with servants and Abigail Veness (mother in law?). In the 1851 census, Mary Sawyer is recorded as a widow. A Stephen Sawyer died in 1848 and is buried at the Holy Trinity Church, Tunbridge Wells. If this is the same Stephen Sawyer who was the owner of Keyes Mill, perhaps this explains why John Homewood went on to work at Brenchley Windmill after Stephen Sawyer’s death. It is interesting that John Homewood had a son called Stephen who also became a miller and was still living with his father at Brenchley ‘flour mill’ in 1861.

The Ordinance Survey map of 1868 shows Herrings Mill as ‘Disused’.  Caution has to be taken in making assumptions that the mill was disused by 1868 because maps were often updated after printing without changing the date of the map. However, some time between 1861 and 1871, the occupier of the mill house at Keyes Mill, Nicholas Styles,  no longer had the occupation of ‘miller’ (see my research into the occupiers of Keyes Mill from 1840). The fact that the mill became disused in the 1860’s is also supported by the waterworks that occurred to divert water away from the streams (see newspaper article below). There is a story of a gentleman, Ben Curd who remembered a ‘mill race’ breaking in 1884 when he was a young boy living at Albans Farm (see extract from Mary Standen’s book). The landscape suggests a breach of the dam occurred at some time but it seems unlikely that the mill was in use in 1884. The lower and upper mill ponds of Keyes Mill can be seen clearly on the 1868 map as well as water channels connecting the two. The Lower Mill Pond is the larger of the two and is downstream of the Upper Mill Pond. The Upper Mill Pond appears to have a circular island in the middle with a square on the island possibly a building.

It is interesting that on the 1813-19 Ordinance Survey map, the mill is called Herrings Mill then on the Tithe map it is known as ‘Keys Mill’ then on the 1868 map it is called Herrings Mill again. Perhaps the latter Ordinance Survey map just used the text from earlier Ordinance Survey maps but this needs further investigation.


It is still possible to see remains of Keyes Mill. On footpath WT226, a stone culvert exists (Fig 1 & Fig 2) which carried water from the Upper Mill Pond through the Pond Bay (dam). WT226 runs across the top of the Pond Bay at this location.


Fig 1

Fig 2

On footpath WT222, near the wooden footbridge, a Pond Bay runs to the North along-side the footpath. To the South of the footpath would have been the Lower Mill Pond. A brick culvert exists (Fig 3) which passes through the Pond Bay and carried excess water from the Lower Mill Pond and downwards past the mill and into a stream. This side water channel is now a boggy area where water collects (Fig 4). The current stream is a breach of the old Pond Bay and so is not in the same location as the water channels shown on the Tithe map but is approximately in the middle.


Fig 3


Fig  4

Brickwork (Fig 5) can be seen on the downward side of the Pond Bay near the stone culvert but no building is shown on the maps so further investigation needs to be made as to what this could have been.


Fig 5                                                                                      Fig 6

To the east of the current stream, on the downward side of the Pond Bay more significant brickwork exists (Fig 7) together with rubble and evidence of the location of a wheel race (Fig 6).  I believe this is the location of the Keyes watermill building. The wheel race would have been as high as the Pond Bay and water from the Lower Mill Pond would have flowed over the top of the Pond Bay to power the waterwheel.


Fig 7

There is a flat area higher above the site of the watermill building where I believe the red building on the Tithe map would have been and is likely to have been the mill house where the miller and his family lived.
I believe the watercolour at the Victoria and Albert Museum entitled ‘Pembury Mill’ is the more accurate depiction of Keyes Mill when considering the water marked on the maps and the current landscape.  Snipe Wood is privately owned and a Historical Environment Record exists for the area. Both stone culverts can be seen from the public footpaths.

Thank you to David Brown for his invaluable help in understanding the landscape and to Tony Nicholls for providing images of relevant maps and advice on their dating and features.

Jane Grooms



Additional pictures of the mill house remains taken by Jane Grooms in March 2021.
They show a brick wall and terracotta tiles in the location of the Mill House.


This is NOT Pembury, but a mill in Winchester painted by Turner in 1795
This was photographed by Jane Grooms in 2023 and shows the accuracy of his architectural detail.



Chronology Tables for the Occupancy, Ownership and Workings of the Water Mills

Tables prepared by Jane Grooms

Link to Spring Grove Mill Table                       Link to Keyes Mill Table


Newspaper Cuttings related to the Pembury Water Mills


Above – from the Maidstone Gazette and Kentish Courier  1832 – the auction of Keyes Mill.   Submitted by Jane Grooms



Above – newspaper cutting from 1864 proposing stream diversion and water extraction for the reservoir.
Submitted by Jane Grooms and Jennifer Beviere.

The advertisement above appeared twice in the South Eastern Gazette on the 5 February 1856 and the 12 February 1856:
Notes by Jane Grooms:

John Baker, who was the tenant of Dowingbury Farm circa 1856 was advertising the sale or let of a "small water corn mill" with
"house, barn and other buildings" in Pembury. The mill is believed to be Keyes Mill/Herrings Mill because:

(1)  The "eleven acres" of land matches the article for the sale of Keyes Mill by Mr Hart in 1832. 

(2)  The description matches the buildings shown on the Tithe Map of circa 1840 for Keyes Mill. 

(3)  John Baker (tenant of Dowingbury Farm) who was selling/letting the Mill in 1856 was married
to Sarah Veness whose sister, Mary Veness was married to Stephen Sawyer.               
Stephen Sawyer owned Keyes Mill circa 1840 but Stephen died in 1848.
It is probable that when Stephen Sawyer died, Keyes Mill came under the care of John Baker as a family member.


Extracts from Mary Standen’s      Pembury in the Past   1984



Note the Mary Standen references to –

(1)  Keyes Mill House demolished just before the second world war (1938 or 1939).    Mill House – not Mill.    Mill may have long gone.

(2)  Mill race broken in 1884.


This is a part of an article from Pembury Village News  122  (June 2005)  page 23   Full copy available from the PVN archive.

Why did we change the name of the farm? 

The access to the farm had been altered in the1980s, separating Herring Mill Farmhouse from Herrings Mill Farm. In 1995 Herrings Mill farm and Three Towns Farm were merged together and the name of the farm for the farming community and postal purposes became Herring Mill Farm. The separation of Herring Mill Farmhouse and Herring Mill Farm had, by the time we bought the farm in2003, started to cause a lot of confusion.Herrings Mill Farm is not actually shown on the Ordnance Survey map but Three Towns Farm is, as is Herring Mill House on Bramble Reed Lane. This didn’t help for people trying to deliver things to the farm! Often the Herring Mill farmhouse would have to redirect delivery men back up Romford road.Some of them would end up half way up their garden before they could be stopped!!  So we decided, as we moved in, to change the name of the farm to make it clear going forward that the farm entrance wasn’t next to Herring Mill farmhouse. Once we had decided to do this we had to think of a name.We wanted to follow farming tradition and use a family name – “Bentinck” is a family name and therefore has strong connections for all of us.


An additional note that may contribute to the demise of water mills in Pembury.  During the 19th century the residents of Pembury extracted more and more water from the land, causing a possible drop in the water table and the flow of water into the streams.  Old maps show the increasing annotation of “W” and “P” symbols. These indicate wells and pumps for extracting water. The map below shows a portion of the High Street in the 1890s.

One well and one pump have been circled, but the maps of Lower Green, Henwood Green, Hastings Road,. . .  all have them.


A Windmill in Pembury

In August 2023 we were contacted by Rob Cumming, an author of books on windmills. He came with some evidence of there being a windmill in Lower Green around 1831.

This has now been moved to another page - Possible Windmills in Pembury



Tony Nicholls 2020

Localities - Old Mills
Pembury History

IMPORTANT !!!     This needs your help.  All contributions will be credited.  If you have any further information or corrections please contact me –
Tony Nicholls      email: