"Crossing the White Line"




Crabble Corn Mill was built in 1812, when Napoleon had threatened to emulate William the conqueror (or William the B*stard as he's properly known in unconquered Kent) and annexe our little nation of shopkeepers. With the continental system obstructing imports, and the need to feed British troops, mills were not only needed, but probably a good business investment as well. 

Fortunes change. Just eight decades later the Mill was no longer commercially viable. Fortunately, it was kept in a good state of order until the late 1950s, when it was abandoned. Twenty years later the Mill was a virtual wreck.

The Mill was saved by a Trust of enthusiasts and local volunteers, and now, nearly three centuries after it was built, it's a focal point for the community. Weddings, funerals, folk nights,the panels quizzes, and talks - and an annual beer festival - are held here. Oh, and the mill still sells its own flour, ground by a new generation of traditional millers.

In the ground floor gallery a group of young people met to paint two of the panels for part of an exhibition later in the year. Designed by London artist Jonathan Boast, the panels depict Walter Tull's two pioneering careers, as the first black outfield professional football player, and, during the Great War, as the first black combat officer in the British army.

The panels are to be painted in places associated with Walter's life. The first two were done in Northamptonshire, where Walter played for Northampton Town, and segments three and four will be finished in Glasgow, where his brother Edward lived, and London, where Walter and Edward stayed in an orphanage after their parents had both died. .

close up of painting Jonathan showing design

The second segment, which Jonathan assures us was the most complicated(!), was painted in Dover, at the Mill. It's a fortuitous spot, because Walter's two younger sisters, Elsie, and half-sister Miriam, lived close by, with Walter's stepparents, Clara and William Beer. The family would have seen the Mill often - perhaps as they strolled home after Chairman and Mayorchurch -  and, who knows, maybe even Walter himself would have done so, when he came to visit his family. 

If the picture is tricky to fill in, it helps to have your friends along! The Right Worshipful The Mayor of Dover, Councillor Bob Markham, dropped in to lend a hand -or rather, brush - as did the Chairman of the River Parish Council, Councillor Derek Leach, OBE. The event attracted a fair amount of publicity - one wag was heard to suggest the next day's headlines could be "A Brush with History".

A master of historical arts is Alan Goldup. He's one of the Millers, and here he is, below, dressing a millstone. Maintaining the "farrels" and "lands" is a skilled task - and it's not one to get wrong, either. The penalty is not only badly-ground meal, but, as the stones rub, one against another, could be sparks too. That's not something to be recommended, in a flour-dust laden atmosphere in a wooden mill!

dressing millstone

tour of mill

Alan kindly guided a tour around the mill for our young people, introducing them to more delightful words as "wallower", "tiver", and "bist"*. He also teaching dressingintroduced them to the not-so-delightful rat-catcher, whose wife really did cut off their tails with a carving knife. (She then would present them to the miller to prove her husband had earned his fee!)

Residents of the mill not so unwelcome are the ghosts. One is said to be that of a boy who died when he was trapped in the working mill machinery; he's been seen by a number of visitors and volunteers. They ghosts were quiet this time - perhaps advisedly so, as the lad who asked the most questions on the tour ended up with an invitationmore painting to try his hand at stone dressing!

After lunch it was back to the painting again. Walter's stripey football kit is becoming clearly visible. When the panels are all completed, they'll be displayed at the National Army Museum, and then the National Football Museum. The exhibition is part of the commemorations this year for Walter Tull - it's the 120th anniversary of his birth and the 90th of his death. Led by the City of Westminster Archives and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, "Crossing the White Line" is a collaboration between the museums, the Football Association, Kick It Out!, the Scottish Football Museum, Methodist Central Hall, NCH, and the Dover War Memorial Project. There are a number of events - others include senior citizens' discussion groups, drama workshops, and the creation of an animated film by Walter's old school, now known as Mundella School, in Folkestone.     

Here's Jonathan, with the next two panels completed. Doesn't he look pleased! And rightly so - the panels look great.
completed panels presenting certificate

Our young folk got a round of applause as Councillor Derek Leach kindly presented all of them with certificatesgroup by panels of achievement, and  goody bags supplied by Dover Town Council.

Here they all are, a good day's work well done, and a grand day at the Mill.

But what of Walter Tull? We'd all gathered to remember him and his amazing achievements - but he's been remembered close by for over eighty years.

The local church is just up the road. It was the family church - in the 1920s both his sisters married there. Inside the church is a memorial scroll, and outside, a war memorial. On both Walter Tull's name is commemorated. In 1921, when the memorial was unveiled, his family were there. They laid a wreath, "From Mum and Dad, Elsie and Miriam".

Dual heritage, an icon of our modern age, a national hero and pioneer -  perhaps the greatest epitaph of all is that Walter Tull, like so many others, remained a much-loved and sorely-missed son and brother. 

pictures by Simon John Chambers

*Post Script - what do the words mean - and more. See The Miller's Tale

Copyright 2008 Marilyn Stephenson-Knight. All Rights Reserved