The Windmill on Windmill Hill near Otterham Quay
These days Windmill Hill in Upchurch is just a name without any importance for many people other than having a dangerous bend near the top of the hill, but from the early 19th century a towering windmill stood there as a familiar landmark. It could be seen for miles around due to its high location and like Upchurch church it served as a navigation point for boats sailing along the Medway. During the second half of the 19th century it became the property of ‘Wakeley Brothers’ fruit and hop business in Rainham but by the beginning of the 20th century it no longer functioned. ‘Wakeley Brothers’ allowed the structure to continue standing as a well-known landmark rather than demolish it.
Timber built with a brick base, the windmill’s wood was old and well tarred which made it highly inflammable and this eventually proved to be costly when a fire took hold.
On Thursday September 8th, 1910 the windmill caught fire. A farm worker noticed a narrow plume of smoke coming from it after he had returned from lunch. Due to the inflammability of the structure the fire took hold quickly and the high leaping flames and black smoke could soon be viewed for miles around. This caused crowds of people to converge on the scene to view the spectacle.
Eventually, after a delay of about 45 minutes, the horse drawn Rainham Fire Brigade engine arrived but there was little that could be done to save the windmill. The fire had become so advanced and the heat so intense that nobody could get anywhere near it and the situation worsened when the burning sails from the windmill broke off and fell into a nearby orchard causing considerable damage to young fruit trees that had just come into bearing. Many of these were badly burnt or scorched.
Police Constables Jenner and Sergeant Ashton from Rainham assisted by several passers-by were able to rescue some pigs in a sty close to the burning windmill otherwise the animals would have been roasted alive. A timber built store owned by Mrs. Stokes, wife of late farmer Sam Stokes also caught fire but the fire brigade was unable to save it. A standpipe positioned at the top of Windmill Hill provided water but due to the low pressure which had resulted from the high location the firemen were unable to access sufficient water quickly enough to make any great difference and were not able to control the fire for about three hours which resulted in the windmill being burnt to the ground.
Eventually the fire subsided but the windmill was completely destroyed and the nearby fruit orchard burnt and damaged. Although Mrs. Stokes store survived it was badly damaged. Several carts, a collection of fruit baskets, wheat and grain inside the store were destroyed or damaged. The cost to ‘Wakeley Brothers’ was about £250 and Mrs. Stokes lost about £100. Both parties were later able to claim insurance but the windmill, such a significant landmark on the landscape for about a century, disappeared for ever and only the name and a few photos survive.