John Dengate


Born: 9 September 1825, Northiam, East Sussex

Baptism: 27 August 1826, St Mary's Church, Northiam, East Sussex

Marriage: 12 July 1846, Westfield Parish Church, East Sussex

Death: 4 March 1853, Whatlington, East Sussex

Burial: 9 March 1853, St John the Baptist Church, Sedlescombe, East Sussex


John Dengate was born to James and Sarah Dengate on 9 September 1825 in Northiam, East Sussex.  He was baptised in St Mary's Church, Northiam on the 27 August 1826.  

St Mary's Church, Northiam, East Sussex, 2003

John and his siblings were raised in Northiam where their father James worked as a miller. John's infant brother Walter died in February 1833 and was buried in St Mary's Church, Northiam.  Between Walter's burial and 1841 the family, consisting of  James, Sarah and their children John, Sarah, Elizabeth, Thomas and Mary, moved to Sedlescombe, where they are recorded on the 1841 census living in Mill House.  Beryl Lucey, in her book on Sedlescombe history writes, "In 1841 when the Tithe Map was made, William Bates, farmer of Riccards, was the mill-owner and James Dengate, the miller's man.  In 1849 both were still there.  Bates owned also Whatlington Mill only a mile away and it was probably here that he lived in the larger and better house, letting the cottage of Hancox Mill to his assistant, James Dengate." Despite undergoing renovations and extension, including the front elevation, the cottage remains remarkably similar both inside and out to how it would have been in the 1840s.

Windmill Cottage, 2004

(Left) The highest point for miles: the site where the mill is believed to have stood

(Right) The remarkable views and high winds this site is exposed to

Aged twenty, John Dengate married Harriett Catt on the 12 July 1846 in Westfield Parish Church, when Harriet was five months pregnant with their son Christopher Dengate.  Witnesses to the marriage were William Pankhurst (or Parkhurst) and Fanny Catt, Harriet's sister.  John was recorded on the marriage certificate as being a miller, the same occupation as many of the Dengate family including his father James, grandfather James and brothers Thomas and Charles Dengate.  John was a journeyman miller, which meant that he was paid by the day and was not permanently employed by any one mill.  Therefore, as the title suggests, the family moved about from mill to mill finding work.

Westfield Church, East Sussex, 2002

John and Harriett had four children, Christopher, James, Emily Mary and Susannah.  Christopher was born on the 23 November 1846 in Buxted, East Sussex, where John was working as a miller at Buxted watermill, where the family would reside for around 3 years.  Christopher was baptised 31 January 1847 in St Margaret's Church, Buxted, East Sussex

Buxted Watermill, 2004

Top right is original mill wheel and the bottom photograph is the original flour chute

Buxted Watermill is now the only remaining slate-clad mill in East Sussex.  The current owners have carefully converted the mill into a family home whilst retaining many original features and maintaining the exterior face of the building.  The lower floors of the mill are made of concrete, so as to provide sufficient support for the powerful waterwheel.  The original chute which the flour would be poured down into sacks has been retained in the property.  The mill ceased working post 1945, for various reasons including the fact that the River Uck had been expanded in 1940 to provide a defence against possible enemy invasion, thereby lowering the water level, which could no longer reach the wheel.

Around 1849 the family moved on to Frant, where John and Harriet's second child, James was born 15 January, though they did not remain there long as he was baptised on the 13 May 1849 in St Andrew's Church, Fairlight.  Twins Emily Mary and Susannah Dengate were baptised 3 November 1850, also in St Andrew's Church, Fairlight  In 1851 the census shows the family living in Fairlight, East Sussex, with John working as a journeyman miller.  Also living with the family is John's niece, Frances Dengate - daughter of his elder brother Charles Dengate.  The mill in Fairlight was a Windmill, situated on Mill Lane and was destroyed by fire in 1872, leaving no trace of its existence.

Unfortunately the twin sisters both died in Fairlight of whooping cough within weeks of each other.  Emily Mary died 4 May 1851, and Susannah died 25 May 1851 and were both buried in St Andrew's Church, Fairlight.   Harriet Dengate was present at both girls deaths.  There is no headstone or memorial to them in the churchyard.

St Andrew's Church, Fairlight, 2002

John Dengate himself died just two years later on the 4 March 1853 in Whatlington, East Sussex aged 27 years of disease of the lungs which he had had for 9 months.  John was likely working at Whatlington mill, as did his father James Dengate at the time of his death.  James Dengate - probably his father, (possibly his brother) was present at the death.  He was buried 9 March 1853 in St John the Baptist Church, Sedlescombe.  His parents James and Sarah were buried with him when they died in 1869 and 1873 respectively.

John, James and Sarah Dengate's grave, St John the Baptist Church, Sedlescombe, 2002

The grave inscription reads, "In affectionate remembrance of James Dengate who died January 19 1869 aged 82 years.  Also of Sarah Dengate wife of the above who died August 19 1873 aged 84 years.  Also of John Dengate their son who died March 4 1853 aged 27 years.  ?? we believe that Jesus died and rose again even? so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him _ness."

John's wife Harriett took her two remaining children, James and Christopher to Pennsylvania in 1856.  The journey took 42 days and was suggested in part by a physician who thought a sea voyage would help Harriet's failing health.  On arrival in Pennsylvania, the family settled in Sinking Valley with Harriet's brother Christopher Catt.  However, Harriet's health deteriorated and she died 15 April 1858 of tuberculosis, as did her sister-in-law, Mary Catt, and the two young children were indentured to a farmer in another valley.  Harriet was buried in Arch Springs Cemetery, Pennsylvania.  Christopher Catt, a miller,  then took his children to their grandparents in Huntingdon.


Harriet Dengate's original headstone (left) and new headstone (right), Arch Spring's Cemetery, Pennsylvania, 2003

The grave inscription on the left reads, " Harriet, wife of J. Dengate, native of Eng.  Died April 15 1858 aged 32."  There is a 7 year discrepancy in the date on Harriet's grave and her baptism date of 1819, which can only be explained due to her death and the deaths of those close to her who might have known her correct date of birth.  The 1851 British Census corroborates her baptism date, which she herself would have to have given to the census enumerator.


1841 Census

1851 Census


Information on Buxted, Frant and other Weald areas: - The Weald is "the place where London ends and England can begin"

Grateful thanks to Mary Ann Zimmerman and Pat Ove for the photographs of Harriet Dengate's grave and biographical information and to Paul Cheesebrough for information regarding Buxted Watermill.

Copyright N. Goodwin MMII