Dear Caught by the River,
I was inspired enough by Charles Rangeley-Wilson’s item on 28 January – “A Celebration of Mills” – to send you some pictures of the Loose Valley in Kent, which was once dotted with 13 watermills. I’m also attaching a few words on the valley.
All the best,
The Mills of the Loose Valley
“I know of a valley enchanted,
A valley of crystalline streams,
A valley of Kent in a mountain,
I call it the Valley of Dreams.”
In 1927 Kent artist Donald Maxwell completed The Enchanted Road, including two chapters on the Loose Valley – The Lost Waters of Langley and The Valley of Dreams. He was so enchanted by the unspoilt valley that he refused even to reveal its location.
He said: “The valley stands apart from this work-a-day world. It is a valley where time stands still. I do not tell you the whereabouts of the Valley of Dreams, not because I am selfish or misanthropic but because I fear to write down in a book the position of this haunt, lest it may be opened to the prying of the vulgar and the attentions of the rich.”
While Maxwell’s secret is out, the Loose Valley is still largely unspoilt. At one end of the valley drivers speed along the A229 road into Maidstone and at the other shoppers navigate the aisles of the Tesco superstore, unaware that they are a stone’s throw from this picturesque and historic waterway.
Through the valley runs a five mile stretch of clear water that once powered some 13 mills, supposed to be the highest concentration in Kent.
Milling in the valley dates back to medieval times. Most of the mills started out for fulling, the stream powering huge wooden mallets that beat the cloth to cleanse it of dirt and oils. Small villages grew around the mills, the largest of which was Loose (pronounced ‘Looz’).
By the nineteenth century most of the mills had switched to paper making or corn milling. But gradually the mills in Loose Valley began to close, although the last as late as 1987.
Most were demolished, some were converted into homes. But if you look closely the ghosts of the mills are everywhere: in the remains of a wall, in an old waterwheel, in a man-made pond, and in the memories of the people of the Loose Valley.