I watched through the fence as they pulled it down; the grand old paper mill, the terraced streets, the workmen’s cottages where I was born. Three generations of us worked there, proud of an industry that had fed the world’s printing presses, stoking its need for news and knowledge.
We belonged to a tradition that dated back 300 years: the papermakers; small family businesses that gradually coalesced into a great industrial enterprise, the biggest in the world with its own railway shuttling between the mill and Ridham Dock.
The water of Milton Creek ran white with our waste; its stink was our pheromone.
Even in wartime, the mill played its part, churning out disposable tanks for fighter planes.
We could always adapt to meet a challenge so, when the end came, we couldn’t believe it. Mass redundancies, P45s printed on someone else’s paper.
Then, three years later, the levelling of the mill: clouds of atomized brick and cement replaced the paper dust. They even blew up the water-tower, the only distinctive feature of an undistinguished skyline.
After that, the archaeologists moved in, stripping the surface away, revealing furnaces and floors, cellars and privies. They unearthed a battered sign: ‘Westbourne Street’ where I had grown up.
I have become history. My life in a bucket, reduced to rubble.
Photograph: Westbourne Street sign retrieved from a cellar. Courtesy of Canterbury Archaeological Trust