Tragedy at Boughton
The Directory of Kent Mill People, held in the Mills Archive, is a very plain document. With entries as far back as the 1550s it lists, under name, gender, trade, date, county, and notes the significant events in the struggle of Kentish millers to make a living over the centuries.
The notes are a simple sentence: ‘Bankrupt & mill & premises for Sale’, ‘Fan tail blown off in gale, sold for demolition’, or ‘cur [cut] her throat on Tues abt 2am; now recovering’. This was the entry on 27 April 1869, for Charlotte Coulson, the second wife of George Harrison Coulson, the grandfather of Alice Edith Millen.
Some trades seem to go back centuries in families: there are Coulsons reported as millers in Durham in the 1560s and 1730s, and in Boughton under Blean in Kent from 1841. In the census of that year George is listed as a Corn Miller, employing one man, and in Melville’s Directory of Kent for 1858 he appears as a Miller and Grocer.
George, who was born in Deal c. 1806, worked two mills in Boughton, Bull Lane Mill and a mill on The Street; he died on 8 February 1873, aged 67, and his son, George Harrison Coulson, Jr, was the inheritor, giving him the right to buy ‘the mills and all the messuages [buildings and land] and stock in hand’ of the mills at Boughton, which he had been leasing from his father since 1865. George’s will was executed by George, Jr and William Millen, his son-in-law (Alice Edith’s father). In 1873 George, Jr is recorded as a Miller at the Ordnance Street mill in Chatham, so he may have had a contract as victualler to the Royal Navy at that time. He is also listed as working at mills in Gravesend, Sittingbourne, Hornchurch and Ashford in that year, which looks as if he could not get a living only in Boughton. He had his son Horace working with him, as a smutter at the very top of the mill, working the machine to clean dirt and stones from the meal and grain; some time ‘after 1873’ he ‘lost finger here [Ordnance Street] or at Boughton’. George, Jr married Emma Epps on 30 July 1861 and by 1871 they had 5 children: Arthur 6, Emma 5, Horace 3, Harry 1, and Lewis 3 months.
George was involved in two cases where he was accused of selling underweight goods to his customers – July 1865 ‘Faversham Petty Sess[ions], involved in case re weights’; 19 February 1869 ‘County court case against GC for shortage of [maize] meal delivered’. The summer of 1868 had been unusually hot, with July temperatures in the 90s; the harvest may well have been poor and with not enough crops to mill for the meal and flour he was contracted to deliver to all his customers, George had had to try and get away with short weight. This would have probably involved a fine, and if they were already on the edge of bankruptcy may have provoked Charlotte’s suicide attempt 2 months later. They had moved to a small cottage in 1865, but in the 1871 census George is still listed as a Miller and Master employing 3 men.
George had married his first wife, Phoebe Rowland, born in 1807, the daughter of William Rowland, a farmer from Chilham, on 3 January 1833, when George was c. 27; by 1841 they had 4 children – Mary-Ann (b. 1833) 7, Phoebe (Alice Edith’s mother, b. 1835) 5, Sarah (b. 1836) 5, George, Jr (b. 1838) 3, Kate (b. 1839) 2, Elizabeth (b. 1840) 1; it is not clear if Sarah and Elizabeth lived after birth. Phoebe died in 1846 and on 21 August 1854, when he was c. 48, George married Charlotte Hilder (b. 1813), in Bermondsey, South London. She was the daughter of John, a farmer, so it is unclear why the marriage was not in the country. Despite the events of 1869, she lived to 70, dying in 1883 and outliving her husband by 10 years.
Of George’s children, Kate is listed as living with her father and Charlotte in The Street in the 1871 census but she married John Wood on 26 November 1872, was living in the 1881, 1891 and 1901 censuses at Monk Hill Hernhill Faversham and in the 1911 census at Heydale Farm Challock, near Ashford. Wood was born in 1843, and so was four years younger than his wife, who was by then 33 and may have waited to marry because of the need to look after Charlotte. Phoebe married William Millen on 23 February 1858. He was born in 1835 in Throwleigh Forstall, the largest hamlet in the Throwleigh district of Faversham. He was living there in the 1841 census and in Wilgate Green nearby in 1851. They had three daughters (Helena, b. 1858; Alice Edith, b. 1861; Bertha, b. 1865) and three sons (James George, b. 1862), Frank (b. 1869) and Sydney William (b, 1876). By 1891 Willam had prospered and was farming in the Syndale Valley at Syndale Bottom; by 1901 he was at Syndale Farm, with a new wife, Phoebe having died in 1889.