Chesterton Mill

Photograph of French's smock mill courtesy of Caroline Mead

Teenage me had a paper round and I used to deliver papers to a converted mill in the mid-1990s. It was the office building of an educational publisher called Pearson Publishing. Their order was all the daily papers plus a large amount of trade press. I used to have to do that drop-off first, then go back to the newsagent and collect the other papers. The mill is down a badly-lit private road and on dark winter mornings felt slightly eerie. But what was simply a nuisance to me at the time is actually an interesting place.

The mill itself dates from around 1850. Back then, the mill was surrounded by open fields (very difficult to imagine now). It was run by the miller William French and his family – hence the name of a nearby road, French’s Road. There was an orchard and smallholding on site, and other family members ran a bakery and general store on nearby Searle Street. By 1868, the family had installed a steam engine to enable work to take place more easily. The sails were removed in 1912. The mill was run by several generations of the French family for more than a hundred years, until 1955. William French is buried in the nearby Histon Road Cemetery.

Chesterton Mill is a Grade II listed building, due to its specific architectural and historical interest – it is the last smock mill in Cambridge. In 1986, the mill was converted to commercial use, which is how it is used to this day.

Caroline Mead was born and grew up in Cambridge, and works as a copywriter for the RSPB. Covid-permitting, she also enjoys choral singing, flute playing, bellydancing, ballet, running, walking, and discovering little-known parts of Cambridge. She has BAs from the Open University and the University of Birmingham, and an MA in Sociology from the University of York. She is also a qualified massage therapist.

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