The locality and its history

This area of East Sussex west of the village of Mayfield, being the undulating High Weald and situated on heavy Wadhurst clay was slow to develop in the 19th Century. In the middle ages, being mostly wooded it was suitable mainly for pannage or pig rearing in the oak and beech woods. Hence Salters Green, and the farm that bears its name would have been where pigs and possibly other livestock would be brought to be salted and cured for winter eating. The horses and carts could only get through the heavy mud in the late summer and autumn, hence the corn could be brought to the Mill at this time after the harvest. Later in the year transport would have been very difficult. It has been quoted elsewhere that in Winter and Spring even the gentry had to be transported to Church in Mayfield by Ox carts, the horses being unable to struggle through the mud. The journey to Tunbridge Wells was also hazardous, with accounts of travellers being benighted in winter en route to Mayfield. As late as 1866 the road from Argos Hill to Rotherfield had to be closed sometimes in winter, there were gates at either end, to prevent travellers being lost in the mud.

Smuggling was a major and sometimes violent activity in Sussex in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Windmills were usually the main focal point in this trade as the smugglers could set the sails at a certain angle to warn other windmills and their nefarious gangs when the customs men were in the area. There were and still are several mills in view of each other so this chain of communication was very effective. It has been said that the large building on the ground floor of the Bakehouse, now a garage, shows signs of this being a smugglers lair. The current owner has not found them.

In the 1840s when the railway penetrated the Sussex Weald, life began to change, although the line to Mayfield was not built until 1880, this by Irish labourers who lived in huts near the Mayfield Station and it is said frequently enlivened the village. Instead of the proliferation of small labourers' cottages dating from 1500s, larger more substantial houses were built. In the late 1800s the condition of the roads started to improve, so this rather forlorn and undeveloped area started to grow. Semi-detached cottages seen today in Rotherfield often belonged to the big estates of the area, as the dates and crests on the front of these cottages show.

From Argos Hill post mill today, looking in a South Easterly direction, one can see as far as the wind turbine farm beyond Rye, at Camber. There are far reaching views in all other directions too. So, although mills were subject to the vagaries of the wind, the Argos Hill mill was better placed than many of the others.

A map dated 1874 shows five windmills in the immediate area. These were Stone Mill in Rotherfield, Walters Mill at Mark Cross, the two Mills at Cross in Hand, and the Argos Hill Mill. There were also five water mills, Merryweathers, Coggins Mill and Moat Mill in Mayfield, Redgate Mill in Rotherfield, and Pottens Mill between Mayfield and Broad Oak.

Social and economic context

The windmill provided a focus for rural employment in the immediate area. The miller would usually have been employed by the local landowner. He would have been able to keep cattle, though not chickens and pigs, thus avoiding the temptation of feeding them with the landowner's grain. A miller was seldom considered to be scrupulously honest. In fact there was a local saying ‘that only a miller with hair growing on the palm of his hand was an honest miller'.

As the miller was usually the only person with scales, measures could not be verified by the farmers bringing their corn. The usual miller's charge was 1/14 of the weight of the corn, which was transported in large 14 stone hessian bags. These were often brought by donkey drawn carts, donkeys being cheaper to keep than horses and also more sure-footed on the steep tracks and roads of the High Weald. Bartering was a common method of payment.

The rural way of life changed little from year to year. Families generally were able to celebrate Christmas well, often finishing their meat supply. Most cottages with a garden kept hens and a pig or two. There would have been a large brick wood oven for baking bread. Hams were hung in the big kitchen chimneys to be dried and smoked. Potatoes were not as important as bread to the diet of poor agricultural workers. From January until Spring, when there was new life on the farms and some fresh meat again, the diet depended heavily on bread. Often agricultural workers lived in poor cramped housing and damp conditions, and flour could only be kept for a fortnight or so. Grain stored much better than fresh flour, so during the windy winter months the mill functioned regularly to grind the flour as required.

Before 1820 there was no such thing as white bread. Flour was stone ground, containing the five layers of the tough outer skin of the corn which then was seen as a mixture of irregular light brown flakes in the flour. The flour was 100% locally milled, sometimes with added grit from the millstones for good measure. As a major foodstuff it was invaluable, containing carbohydrate and Vitamin B complex essential for a balanced diet.