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JMW Turner in Pembury

JMW Turner, A Watermill [Pembury], circa 1796: watercolour and pencil on paper

Turner Watermill

It appears that JMW Turner – yes, that Turner – must have spent some time in Pembury. He produced a number of works here, one of which is the above rather intriguing piece. The question is where is or was this mill house? Go to the best and play with us A big bonus for everyone who came!

Mary Phillips has kindly sent me the following email (many thanks, Mary):

A friend of mine was on duty at the Old Church in Pembury and was browsing through the pictures of the new kneelers which were made to commemorate the Millennium (they are very interesting and depict all aspects of village life – Janet Field did one with cards on for the Bridge Club!) and found one of a Mill which could tie in with the picture. It was something like Spring Grove Mill. Spring Grove was a house in Redwings Lane near the waterworks in Pembury. I also found a Herrings Mill in the area on an old local map. Anyway, I thought this was a step closer to solving the mystery.

Janet Field has also obtained similar information and has provided some very useful contacts (well done, Janet).

And after further excellent research Mary has added the following information:

I have a book called Pembury in the Past by Mary Standen which I have had for some time but never read completely. I was browsing through it and found a picture with this caption:

Keyes Mill was the subject of a well-known painting by Turner. It was situated on Stone Court Farm, the mill house being pulled down just before the second world war. The picture is a different view from the one in Turner’s picture.

I have also discovered that the house Spring Grove became the house on which Kent College is based – no wonder I could not find it.

Geoff Plummer was contacted by Dr Selby Whittingham ( in the following email:

Sent: Thursday, September 7, 2006 11:55
Subject: Re: Pembury Mill(s)

We now hope to revisit Pembury on Saturday.

The question of Keyes Mill remains unresolved, but I hope to look at what seems to be the site.

As regards Spring Grove Mill, Redwings Lane, (to which you refer), I think that I may have been wrong about the course of the stream. From what mill experts have said, I think it must have passed to the North of the millhouse and not, as I wrote in “JMW Turner’s Tonbridge & District”, to the South. But, again, that needs verifying.

I now wonder whether the drawing of the unidentified mill which I reproduced might have been of [message ends]

Regards, Selby Whittingham

The following interesting email communications between Mrs Kathryn Franklin ( and Dr Selby Whittingham ( and kindly copied to us:

Sent: Friday, September 08, 2006 7:45 PM
Subject: Re: Pembury Mill(s)

Dear Mr Whittingham

With regard to your e-mail. I can confirm that the stream at Springrove Mill in Redwings Lane has been diverted at some time. The Pembury history group visited there about 20 years ago and the then owner explained how the well known picture fitted the building. The house has also been extended forwards. (The picture was painted some 200years ago after all.)

The other mill, of which there are 2 paintings, is on footpath WT 226 just as you enter the woods from Stonecourt Farm. There is some evidence of brickwork and the land drops to the left into what was the lower pond. the footpath runs along the back of where the house was. There is clearly a certain amount of artistic licence in the pictures, but if you get down into the pond area it is possible to imagine how it was. If WT 226 is not as I have described then it will be on WT 222, I am afraid I can never remember from the map which path it is on.

I hope this is of some use,

Kathryn Franklin

Sent: Sunday, September 10, 2006 7:21
Subject: Re: Pembury Mill(s)

Dear Mrs Franklin

Thank you for the further comments. I had been encouraged to pursue the matter further by the page on the Pembury Bridge Club site, which reproduces the watercolour at the British Museum. It mentions a kneeler in Pembury church depicting a mill, but I am not sure of that helps? I also noticed that Keyes Mill appears as the subject of two Turner watercolours in “Tunbridge Wells Circular” Walks (published by Kent High Weald Project, Cranbrook).

Our visit yesterday was too hurried to help much. And we got lost looking for the site of Keyes Mill. I trust that you may be right that it lies between the two millponds. What would really help is the painting of it before it was demolished. I imagine that the site, as so many others depicted by Turner (eg at Somerhill) has got more densely wooded since his day, making identification difficult? However I got a picture of the general layout and the rise and fall of the land and took a snap of a wooden bridge.

We would have done better to stick to our original plan to take a taxi to Little Hawkwell, but instead we found a bus about to leave for Stone Court lane, and so did the walk in reverse. However it confirmed my view that Turner, if staying at Little Hawkwell, might easily have been induced to walk to Keyes Mill.

Whether he might have gone on to Herrings Mill is questionable. The unidentified drawing of a mill (sometimes called Pembury) which I reproduce in “JMW Turner’s Tonbridge & District” I now wonder if it might represent Groombridge Mill, which we know he did draw. Perhaps the Sussex mills experts will have view on that.

It seems that Turner may have visited Pembury c1793 and maybe again later. It has been pointed out to me that his schoolfriend Henry Scott Trimmer was at Tunbridge Wells in July 1789 vsiting his sister (staying with the Countess Spencer) and so it is concerivable that Turner stayed with his aunt (then at the vicarage at Tonbridge until the end of 1790, moviing then probably to Little Hawkwell) in that year or the next. He later called his second daughter Georgiana, perhaps after Countess Spencer or her daughter the Duchess of Devonshire.

We did not have time to revisit Spring Grove Mill. I gather that the earliest 25 inch map may be of the 1890s and Tunbridge Wells Library did not have that (the Archives at Maidstone have said they will send a copy). I know that Mr Gruninger has argued that a channel to the South of the house has been blocked up and that was the original course of the stream. But, according to Mick Fuller, a wheel on that side would entail the water flowing in the wrong direction for Turner’s print (which is unlikely to reverse his original (lost) drawing). The only conclusion I can think of is that the damned up channel was an overflow one and that water passed either side of the house. If that is so, the scene would represent a morning one, as Professor Herrmann assumed. The site deserves a thorough survey by the archaeologists. Unfortunately I made that suggestion to the House Detectives for their series.

Regards, Dr Selby Whittingham

PS A chance byproduct of our visit was that I found a photograph of the Tonbridge vicarage c.1865 before it was rebuilt reproduced in a book of old Kent photos, though no one I had asked knew of this!

Sent: Tuesday, November 21, 2006 17:05
Subject: Re: Pembury Mill(s)

The following is a letter which I have written concerning the problems posed by the identification of Pembury/Hawkwell/Spring Grove mill, Amhurst Bank rd/Redwings Lane as the mill depicted by Turner in his Liber Studiorum print, following further correspondence with Mick Fuller. Comments and suggestions would be very welcome.
Dr Selby Whittingham

Mr Hermann Gruninger
The Old Mill
Amhurst Bank Rd
Pembury TN2 4AP
21 October 2006

Dear Mr Gruninger,

Pembury mills again

This topic (the mills and Turner) has been highlighted anew on the Pembury Bridge Club website and in a book of walks around Tunbridge Wells. I tried to examine the site of Keyes Mill last month, but without learning much. As regards Hawkwell/Spring Grove Mill Mick Fuller has raised a strong objection to what we had thought might be the case. I enclose a copy of his letter and of my reply proposing a solution. I wonder if you find that convincing? Various sources could help verify it:

1. Traces of foundations of a separate mill building.
2. Its appearance on the first edition of the Ordnance Survey 25″ map, c. 1870s. The Ordnance Survey says its copy is damaged and copies cost £25. Presumably there must be complete copies somewhere.
3. Deeds of The Old Mill going back to the 1860s/70s when the mill was still in operation. Earlier documents seem to refer to buildings in the plural, but the deeds might be more specific.

It would good to get the question settled definitively!

From: Selby Whittingham
Sent: Sunday, Apr 20, 2008 at 20:03
Subject: JMW Turner and Pembury

On Turner and J.M.W.Turner, see the 2nd edition of
“J.M.W.Turner’s Tonbridge & District” by Selby Whittingham, 2007, appendix 8 (
There is still room for uncertainty and the need for more research.

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