The Riddle of Martin Mill

Martin Mill is a village with a population of perhaps a couple of hundred people. Due to the peculiar organisation of the railway network in England, it has a station which connects it to the high speed line to London (but not the other way to Ramsgate – the train goes at about 20mph as it travels eastwards).

One can catch the train there, but another way is to walk across the tops of the White Cliffs, through St Margaret’s at Cliffe and then across fields and muddy lanes. The latter is of course the preferred way and the starting point is the sea front at Dover.


Here are the Gateway Flats which I rather like. Not without controversy when they were first built (what isn’t) and some people really do seem to believe that they were far too good for the council tenants who were the original occupants. Why does this conjure up such a ghastly image of people who read The Daily Mail, shout loudly when they go abroad and and wear scratchy nylon clothes?

The flats now seem to be sold on a regular basis so I assume they are increasingly moving into private ownership. Contrast with the backs of these much older properties which would at one time have been very much part of the working port.


I have not really been following ‘Brexit’ but I did pick up an echo on the news that some senior Tory politician did not realise that Dover is a port. Just in case anyone from the Tory Party reads my blog, here are some useful photographs. They may also be interested to know that the Channel is one of the busiest shipping channels in the world and that smudge which can be seen on the horizon is a place called ‘Europe’ which happens to contain Britain’s major trading partners. I know this is difficult for metropolitan elite’s like Boris Johnson to comprehend. He does like to pretend he’s some sort of ‘anti’ doesn’t he? Living in a big house in Islington with pictures on the wall of when he went to Eton. That couldn’t be a million miles away from Dover could it? Personally I don’t think there should have ever been a referendum on something so complex. A bit like having a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote on changing the protocols that make the internet work.


I was rewarded for getting up early with great views across the Channel, and also cliff-top paths which were almost empty of people. Not that I don’t like people, but sometimes it’s lovely to be out in the country side just on one’s own with nothing but miles of sea on one side and open down on the other, the only company being the seagulls which are floating on the air currents which tumble over the sides of the cliff faces.


The top of the White Cliffs are still covered by the remnants and ruins of war and a whole day could be spent piecing some of it together. Maps are needed and close inspection on the ground to work out where the railway was which moved the guns around.


On reaching the South Foreland Lighthouse I more or less left the coastal path and started out for St Margaret’s at Cliffe, and particularly to see the church there. One has to leave the cliff tops anyway. There is a house, surrounded by wire fencing with large notices ‘PRIVATE PROPERTY – KEEP OUT’. Yes, we heard you. Although like all private property, it wasn’t always private and it would be interesting to find out exactly how it fell into private hands.


I walked through the lovely village of St Margaret’s at Cliffe and took the route through the churchyard. All of that has to be the subject of another walk. There is far too much to add in here. Although I did stop to take this picture of some fine stone work in the porch.

07_St Margarets

The walk across the cliff tops had been fantastic, but I also like to walk inland a little, and one catches glimpses of the sea beyond the rolls and curve of the land. The paths were wet and muddy, a slip sliding surface which one must take care on. If it wasn’t so cold it would be tempting to walk bare foot through such ground as this. I should have taken photographs of the view towards Deal and Ramsgate but I was absorbed not so much in any thoughts of any consequence, but just in being, enjoying the wind, the coldness, the liquid golden light, the smell of early winter where the brown and copper coloured leaves are being to mulch together.

And so to Martin Mill. The Station Hotel is no more and it’s history has been blown away on the west wind. One Sunday morning in 1924, more than 100 people had met here to listen to P.L.Wells, an organiser from the Workers’ Union. This has been founded in 1898 and by 1919, that year that might have been, but was not quite revolutionary in England, it had 500,000 members. News travelled more slowly then, but no one would have been unaware of the Russian Revolution in 1917 nor the rebellion in Germany which started at the end of the First World War. In fact, the mutiny of the Germany sailors in November 1918 was one of the key acts in bringing the carnage to an end. And for those who studied the news more closely, they would have been aware of the revolution in Hungary, mass strikes and the revolt of the fleet in France in 1919 which won the eight-hour day. Empires and monarchs had disappeared, new mass Communist Parties (not yet broken by Stalinism) had appeared across Europe. The chair of the meeting was Mr Evans, the General Secretary of the Kent Miners’ Association. A resolution was passed to form a branch of the Workers’ Union.

One wonders if the audience contained a certain Ridley, who had once been a private in the 6th Royal Fusiliers Territorials. It was reported in the Dover Express of Friday 6 November, 1914, that while guarding the water works at Martin Mill, he was shot by ‘two men who drove up in a motor car and then drove off’. The car, the men, the gun, were never found. If they had been German agents, they were very well disguised. The inquiry into the matter however, refused to rule out other possibilities, ‘…we understand that the wound is of such a nature as may have been accidentally self-inflicted’.


Martin Mill station was opened in 1881 when the line from Dover to Deal was built. It’s a single storey brick building, but Martin Mill once had another railway line, the Dover, St Margaret’s and Martin Mill Railway. The original plan had been to build at the base of the cliffs – how this might have worked is not clear, but an ‘Undercliff Reclamation Bill’ was written to go through Parliament. I am finding it really difficult to understand the history of this railway and will need to read through everything a few more times to make sense of it.

And the Riddle of Martin Mill? The Dover Express and East Kent News, ran the following story in June 1947.

“Near a little railway halt between Dover and Deal there stands a mill, hundreds of years old, which has been converted into a home and is fully furnished. But to whom it belongs, no one knows’. The report stated that villagers said it belonged to a man and woman, but they had left at the outbreak of the war in September 1939. The local signal man said that he had been inside and it was beautifully furnished. But two years after the war had finished, it was still empty, surrounded by barbed wire and shoulder high vegetation.

Now I for one would be fascinated to find out more about this story.