East Molesey Mill

Rowland G. M. Baker, 1980

Bridge by Tombleson

The Manors of Molesey

In mediaeval England virtually every manor had its own mill, at which all of the manorial tenants were compelled by rigidly enforced custom, known as millsoke, to take their corn to be ground. The mill was, therefore, a valuable source of income to the lord of the manor, and water mills sprouted on every moving river and stream. Soon to grow into one of the most characteristic features of the English country scene.

From an early age Molesey was divided into two manors, which became identified respectively as Molesey Matham and Molesey Prior. These manors were not coterminous with the later parishes of East and West Molesey. In fact, both manors had lands in both parishes.

Each of these manors had its own mill, and both were worked by the river Mole. That of Molesey Matham stood where the Chartered Bank now has its sports ground, and that of Molesey Prior was about three hundred yards from the junction of the Mole and the Thames. For differentiation they were known as Upper Mill and Lower Mill, but the lower was also called Sterte Mill, which comes from an Old English word "Steorte", meaning a tail of land [1], which accurately describes its position on a narrow neck of ground between the two rivers Mole and Ember. A Reginald atte Sterte is mentioned in 1307 [2]. Since the demolition of the upper mill, about 1780, the title "East Molesey Mill" has applied specifically to the remaining one only, which is the subject of the present paper.

In the early thirteenth century antagonism between the two mill owners burst into open conflict. The manor of Molesey Prior was owned by the priory of Merton (hence of course its name), and in 1214 the prior complained that the owner of the upper mill, one Sampson de Molesey, had diverted the course of the Mole (then known as the Aqua de Mulesia, or Molesey River) and thereby deprived his mill of the water essential for its driving power. The prior said that he had sent his men upstream with picks and shovels to reinstate the river and restore the water so that the mill could turn again, and alleged that Sampson thereupon took away the men’s tools "by force of arms" and prevented them from completing their task [3].

The prior then took the case to the king’s court for settlement, and claimed damages of forty shillings. He asserted that the priory owned and could control all the river from the lower mill right up to "where the water fell from the mill-wheel of which the said Sampson was seized". Sampson denied that he had caused any hindrance or impediment to the course of the water and seems to have suggested that it was the other way round and that it was the prior who had meddled with the river’s flow to the detriment of the working of the upper mill.

The court, sitting under king John in person, listened to both sides and not being able to judge between the conflicting statements of the two, ordered a jury to sit and to establish what the course of the river had been during the reign of his father, Henry the second, and to indicate what should be done to maintain it thus.

Their verdict is a lengthy document detailing what each side could do and what each should do at the various points along the river. Although at this distance in time it is now virtually impossible to identify with any degree of certainty the names and locations mentioned in it [4].

The rest of the Middle Ages seem to have passed with nothing of moment to record. After Wolsey’s acquisition of Hampton Court, the priory of Merton was persuaded to rent the manor to the Cardinal’s gentleman usher, Thomas Heneage; and in 1518 a lease was agreed for a term of sixty-six years, at a total rent amounting to a value of £26 2s. 2d. [5].

Crown Property

In 1536, after Wolsey had presented the noble palace as a gift to his monarch, the ever demanding Henry began to acquire all the surrounding lands to add to his new forest or hunting chase, and annexed the manors of Molesey to his own possession. Heneage, now Sir Thomas, therefore surrendered the lease he had obtained from the prior and received a renewed one from the king [6]. He had built for himself "a sumptuous mansion" in East Molesey, which probably stood not far from the mill, alongside what is now Bridge Road, and which he would be reluctant to leave. His old master was now in disgrace, but from here he could serve the new one with ever greater reward.

However, Sterte Mill was excluded from Heneage’s new lease, and henceforth, although nominally part of Molesey Prior manor, it was let out by the crown separately from the rest of the manor, but sometimes to the same person. Usually it was granted to courtiers or servants of the sovereign, and the mill was farmed out by them on short term leases of a year or so to tenant millers who did the actual work. Thus in 1540 we find the mill in the hands of an Alice Herdynge, at a rent of seven pounds per annum [7], and in 1545 a lease of "Steretmyll, parcel of the manor of Est Mulsey and Honour of Hampton Court", was granted to "Thomas Sheparde of Mulsey", for twenty-one years [8].

Being no longer exclusively a manorial mill, the miller could, and did, grind corn for whomsoever he pleased. That this was so is borne out by a letter which was sent to Thomas Cromwell, the secretary of state, in which we find it written that "a damsel 12 or 13 years old, named Alice Haymond, servant to John Machyn of Weybridge", was stopped, robbed, ravished, and left for dead, whilst "riding on horse­back with two bushels of corn under her to Mulsey Mylne" [9].

About this time the mill found itself implicated in a major scandal, a story of passion and intrigue involving no less a person than the great Queen Bess herself. Elizabeth, as is well known, had a romantic attachment to Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, as a result of which, around 1562, it was widely reported that she had given birth to a son. Some twenty-five years later a young man turned up in Spain claiming to be that son, and was hospitably received by Phillip the second and given a pension. He said he had been brought up by a man named Southern, a servant to Mrs Catherine Ashley, who was a confidant of the queen, to whom she had once been a governess.

Southern, he maintained, was told one day to go to Hampton Court where he would be met by a certain gentleman, who explained to him that one of the ladies of the court had been delivered of a son, that she was desirous of concealing her dishonour for fear of bringing the wrath of the queen down upon her head, and asked him if he could arranged a nurse for the child. He searched around and found that the wife of the miller at Molesey, who had presumably given birth herself, was willing to be its wet-nurse. The next morning, significantly it is emphasised, in a corridor in the palace leading directly to the queen’s private chamber, the babe, whose name he was informed was Arthur, was handed over, and taken to the mill to be suckled. The boy was later removed to Evesham, where he was brought up as Southern’s son, and it was not until many years afterwards that he was informed by Mrs Ashley of the true identity of his real parents [10].

In 1568 the lease of the mill was granted to David Grenesmith [11], and this came into the hands of Elizabeth Crane, widow of Anthony Crane, master of the household to Queen Elizabeth, and lady of the manor of Molesey Prior, who later lost favour when she was involved with the illegal publication of the famous Puritan pamphlets known as the Marprelate Tracts. Mrs Crane surrendered the grant and was given a new one to run for forty-one years. In consideration of which she offered to rebuild the mill, which was then in a very ruinous and decayed condition, at her own expense, within five years, she finding and providing the "great timber to be expended and employed in and about the new building of the same". This she did at a cost of more than two hundred pounds [12]. The tenant miller was then Alexander Turke [13].

The lease granted to Mrs Crane passed at her death to her son-in-law, Gerrard Gore. In spite of this, however, in 1601, when it still had twenty-five years yet to run, Queen Elizabeth, who was then sixty-eight years old and very susceptible to flattery, was prevailed upon by Lady Dorothy Edmonds, the lady of the manor of Molesey Matham, who had entertained the queen to dinner in the manor house [14], to give her a grant of certain other properties around Molesey, including a mill called Sterte Mill. This double grant was bound to cause trouble, and it was not long before the two were at loggerheads.

Gore maintained that Lady Edmonds "tried by every means in her power to get possession of all and every the premises and induce him to give over all his estate right and property in the same. When she could not succeed in so doing she commanded and encouraged divers of her own servants to disturb and molest his peaceable possession of the premises and to take away from his servants his nets and other engines for fishing" [15].

From Lady Edmonds answer to this complaint it would appear that the mill granted to her was not, in fact, the ancient Sterte Mill, but another newly erected one adjoining it, which was also driven by the river Mole [16]. Unfortunately no outcome of this case seems to have survived, so we do not really know what happened, but Gore appears to have held on. The lady now tried a new tack, she had him locked out of the parish church and when he broke into the pew had him committed to the Fleet prison [17]. Whether this subterfuge worked and she managed to get hold of Sterte Mill we know not.

During the reign of James the first the sum of seven pounds a year received by the crown from the rent of the mill was given by the king to various people. Presumably in consideration of services rendered [18].


Under the Commonwealth both Molesey mills were acquired by a gunpowder manufacturer called John Samine [19], a London merchant, who had been made a freeman of the City in 1645, after having served his time as an apprentice in the Grocers’ Company [20]. When in 1640 the Long Parliament revoked the crown monopoly on gunpowder production [21] there were good pickings to be had, and Samine probably moved into the business with capital received from his marriage settlement.

His name first appears as a government supplier of powder in 1649, when he provided two hundred barrels for the use of Cromwell’s army in Ireland [22]. In the following year he received an order to provide five hundred barrels, half of which were to be ready within one month, and the rest two months later. The price contracted for, four pounds ten shillings a barrel, seems somewhat lower than that agreed with other contractors, so Samine may well have been undercutting in order to buy himself into the market. The powder appears to have been delivered on time, and he received further orders to supply the army in Scotland, which they reported to the Ordnance Committee was "very good and serviceable" [23].

Nevertheless the government on their part were very tardy in payment. They were themselves very hard up, and it was some months later that money was forthcoming from the customs received when some ships ladened with goods from India docked in this country out of which he was eventually paid [24].

It was probably about this time that Samine first leased the Molesey mills, which he adapted and enlarged, and erected others probably making at least two mills at each site. He also had a dwelling house here, most likely standing near to the upper mills, which in 1664 was the largest house in East Molesey [25]. Besides which he obtained mills at Leyton and Walthamstow in East London, which were also used for the manufacture of gunpowder, and a wharf in London for its shipment [26]. He went on to become the second largest supplier of powder to the state [27]. By 1656 he had delivered 3,686 barrels of new powder and 1,052 of repaired. Out of 1,132 barrels tried, 536 were found to be defective [28], which although it seems a high proportion, with the rather crude methods of production then available, it was considered quite good and compares very favourably with some other manufacturers, whose failure rate neared ninety per cent. All of his powder, except the repaired, was warranted for two years. He was looked on with favour by the Admiralty Commissioners, who went out of their way to point out to the Council of State that "the state owes him large sums, for want of which he has suffered much" [29].

The process of producing gunpowder involved the blending together of saltpetre(nitre), charcoal, and sulphur (usually in the ratio 75% saltpetre, 15% charcoal, and 10% sulphur) in water, allowing the mixture to dry into a cake and then grinding to a fine powder. An alternative method was to grind and sift the cake into granules, about the size of corn seed, hence this was known as corning, which allowed a much quicker firing time. A Corning House was established among the buildings at the upper mill.

The principal ingredient, saltpetre, occurs naturally only in India, Iran, and some other Eastern countries. In 1653 the Ordnance Commissioners contracted with the East India Company to provide twenty tons to Samine and some other makers [30], but this was woefully inadequate to meet the needs, as was explained, "taking into consideration how necessary it is, in this time of war, to have a constant and certain supply of Gunpowder for the supply of the Armies and Navies imployed for the defence and safety of the Commonwealth" [31].

Saltpetre, however, could be produced artificially by the refinement of a mixture of soil impregnated with animal droppings. To fill the shortfall, therefore, Parliament passed an Act by which owners of stables, dove-cotes, pigeon-houses, and the like were forbidden to floor them with brick or stone, but only with good natural earth, and were to allow commissioners to enter and grub out the guano and take it away to be rendered down into saltpetre [32].

John Samine was one of the commissioners appointed under the Act, with special responsibility to scour the towns and villages in East Anglia and the Fens for suitable sources [33].

The activities of these so-called "saltpetre men" was particularly hated, for the way they could just walk in, obstruct the work of the farm, and remove the natural compost which the farmer needed so much to manure the land. Samine received a command from Cromwell’s Council of State to report the names of any who wilfully impeded his work, that proceedings may be taken against them, and orders were posted throughout the area for mayors and other officers to assist him [34].

However, the job proved to be more expensive than had been anticipated, Samine instead of making a profit again found himself on the losing end of the stick. He poured his heart out to the Council, saying that he had lost £700 on the contract, that he had been ill for ten months due to overwork in the service of the state, and appealed to them to pay the £2,000 arrears owed to him on powder already delivered without which he stands in danger of being put in prison for debt [35]. But still begging for the government to give him further contracts to keep his mills in continual employment.

Although he served the Roundheads well during the Commonwealth, the restored monarchy after 1660 was also hopelessly in need of explosives and of his services. He supplied the new government with their requirements just as eagerly as he had the old. There is after all no sentiment in business, and Samine was nothing if not a businessman, albeit a not too successful one.

Nevertheless he had troubles in other directions. The local people, who wanted to see the ever threatening gunpowder moved as far away from their homes as possible, harassed him at every turn. In 1662 he was taken to the Quarter Sessions and fined for having "forcibly dug up the highway leading from Thames Ditton to Hampton Court Ferry, to the grave damage and common nuisance of the King’s liege people passing, in evil example and against the peace" [36]. The next year he was again before the magistrates for obstinately refusing to pay an assessment levied on him for the repair of Chertsey Bridge [37].

In 1666 they were after him again and on 23 May, thirteen of the "Tenants and other the Inhabitants of Your Majesties Manner and Village of East Moulsey", petitioned the king, stating that about fourteen years before the "late usurped powers had allowed John Samine to erect two powder mills which caused many inhabitants to let or sell their houses; also of two others which he lately erected to the danger and terror of the whole town", one of which, they were careful to point out, stood directly opposite to his majesty’s own house at Hampton Court. They besought the king in his "princely goodness to order that the said mills may be taken away or removed to such distance from the said Towne that your petitioners may quietly enjoy their habitation and not be left in such perpetual fear and terror" [38].

The first signature to this entreaty was that of Richard Eades, who probably lived in the house later called "Bridge House", which although much altered is now East Molesey Post Office. Only a few hundred yards from the mill. No wonder he was apprehensive.

After receiving this request the king was "graciously pleased to refer the petition to the Commissioners of the Ordnance to consider of their complaint and what remedy it is capable of. And to certify the same to his Majesty who will then declare his further pleasure". Unfortunately if this was done no record seems to have survived, and we have no knowledge of what "further pleasure" the king took in the matter.

That the mills were, in fact, a standing menace to the surrounding residents is manifest by the number of catastrophies which are recorded to have taken place. As early as 1655 Samine reported that he had had explosions in five of his mills [39], and in 1669 one of his stores in Molesey caught fire, and in the combustion he lost powder of his own to the value of twelve hundred pounds, a not inconsiderable sum in those days, as well as six hundred pounds worth of powder belonging to the king for which he was responsible. In this instance, because at great risk he had saved a hundred and fifty barrels of gunpowder belonging to the king during a fire at the Custom House, the crown discharged him from responsibility of repaying the loss on the royal powder [40].

Poor Samine! this fire obviously contributed to his serious money problems. Even after the Restoration the state still owed him large sums, which he tried to recoup by selling gunpowder to the Continent whilst neglecting to fulfil his contract to the government. Whereon the king ordered the customs to seize any powder of his which they might find ready to be shipped abroad [41]. All these things combined to keep Samine permanently in debt. Most of his properties were mortgaged to somebody or other, and after his death it took a private Act of Parliament to unscramble the financial tangle he left behind [42].

Whether it was because of the fire, or the petition, or the general decline in the demand for gunpowder, or some other reason, is not clear, but it seems almost certain that around this time Samine gave up Sterte Mill, and it reverted to grinding corn, although the upper mill continued to manufacture gunpowder, with some calamitous results, upto about 1780. However, at least part of the premises were used at one time for milling lead, and as late as 1819 a portion was described as "An old building, formerly a Lead Mill" [43].

It may well have been this building which was alluded to in an advertisement which appeared in 1699: "At East Molsey, near Kingston Upon Thames, in Surrey, is lately erected a Workhouse and Mill for milling of Lead (which hath always been Experienced to be much Cheaper and Lasting than Cast-Lead) and that the lead there mill’d is much Smoother, Broader, and consequently Better than any heretofore, and may be had at the Mill aforesaid, and at Mr. John Fincher’s, Plumber, at the Cock without Bishopsgate, and over against Devonshire Square. Of the Goodness and Usefulness of the said Mill’d Lead, Papers will be printed at large in a few days" [44].

As we have seen there were at times at least two separate mills adjacent to one another on the site, and it is possible that the milling of corn and of lead could both have proceeded contemporaneously side by side without interfering with one another.

The Martin Family

After Samine withdrew from the mill his interest seems to have been acquired by James Clarke, the lord of both Molesey manors, and again let out to working millers. Thus a Pellar (Peter?) Kingum, of Lower Molesey, miller, is mentioned in 1692 [45]. Shortly afterwards the mill was in the hands of the Martin family, who continued as tenants for four generations, and to work it for over a century.

Jacob, the founder of the dynasty, died in 1708, and was followed in turn by his son Thomas, his grandson Thomas, and his great grandson William Greening Martin. They lived in a house by the side of the mill, all played a part in the life of the village and took their place in filling the parochial offices, and when it came their turn they were buried in the family vault in St. Mary’s churchyard, together with their wives and children.

In 1756 Thomas Martin insured the mill and the house with the Hand-In-Hand Fire Insurance Society, and from the entry in the policy registers a good description of the property as it was then, and at each subsequent alteration, can be obtained. First, the house was brick built, of an irregular shape, with two stories and garrets and a brewhouse, valued together at £400. The mill itself was constructed of timber, 88 feet X 38 feet, with another building 14 feet 6 inches X 6 feet by the side, which with a barn, sheds, storehouses, and stables, all built of wood, were together worth £600 [46].

By 1763 a new wooden construction had been added to the mill, consisting of a story over the wheel 28 feet X 18 feet, and a large building at the side 45 feet X 26 feet [47]. Three years later the house and domestic offices were improved by the addition of a new room 10 feet X 10 feet, a new kitchen, washhouse, and pantry, all in wood. Pushing the timber portion up to £1,000 [48].

These surveys indicate a large rambling wooden water mill, the sort of scene that was bound to find its way onto the canvases of eighteenth century "picturesque" painters. Sir James Thornhill (1675-1734), John Inigo Richards (1720-1810), Thomas Girtin (1775-1802), and John Hassell (d.l825), all set up their easels across the river and by brush and palette recorded for posterity their impressions of the scene.

All the time the Martins were involved in the mill it turned over a steady profit, which was wisely invested not only in improving and enlarging the mill itself, as we have seen, but in buying up lucrative property whenever the opportunity presented itself. Houses and farms in East Molesey, Thames Ditton, and Kingston, as well as elsewhere, were snapped up, and the Martin investment empire grew. By the time that William Greening Martin took over the business, in 1796, the family was remarkably affluent, but he still continued to run the mill. When he was coming up to his fiftieth year, however, he decided as none of his sons wished to carry on in the family tradition that the time had come to leave. The opportunity was offered when his lease came to an end in l8l7, and shortly afterwards he purchased the freehold of a large farm on the other side of Bridge Road [49], and settled down for the rest of his life as a gentleman farmer [50]. Thus ended over a hundred years connection of the Martin family with East Molesey Mill.

The Andrews Family

Throughout the eighteenth century, whilst the Martins had been the tenants, the crown lease of the mill seems to have been in the hands of the lessees of the manor of Molesey Prior. Firstly several generations of the Clarke family and later Sir Beaumont Hotham and Sir Thomas Sutton as joint proprietors.

The lords of the manor now offered a new lease for sale. The advertisement described it as "To be let upon Lease, for 14 years, by Messrs Driver, a very capital water corn-mill, with 8 pair of stones, capable of grinding, in a short season 20 loads of wheat per week, most desirably situate at East Moulsey, in the County of Surrey, with the advantage of water carriage from the Thames communicating therewith by a creek, and only 2 miles from Kingston, and 11 from London" [51]. However, it seems as if the lease was not let, and for a few years the lords of the manor themselves, who were then Lord Hotham and Sir George H.F. Berkeley, ran the mill. Presumably through a paid manager [52].

In 1816, in order to provide sufficient capital to facilitate the purchase of Claremont as a residence for Princess Charlotte, the crown decided to sell off some of its land assets [53]. Molesey Prior was offered to the sitting manorial lords, and on 12 October 1820 the purchase was completed [54].

As they were now the owners of the freehold, Hotham and Berkeley decided that the mill needed modernising. The lumbering old timber structure might look very scenic on the canvas of some landscape painter but as a commercial venture it was very inefficient. Therefore, in 1822, they had it demolished and a stark brick-built mill was erected in its stead. Once again we can turn to the fire insurance survey to tell us something of its construction. The old mill house, where the miller lived, was already built of brick, as we have seen, and this was left intact. The new mill was four stories high, 42 feet X 40 feet, with a stage in the roof. This top stage incorporated two cabin-like projections, which are a prominent feature of later illustrations. These extensions, known as lucarnes [55], were used to hoist the sacks of corn upto the top of the building to start on their journey of process through the mill to emerge at the bottom as flour. There were eight pairs of stones, driven by two undershot water wheels, each seventeen feet in diameter, and over each wheel the building protruded a further eleven feet. Besides which there were stables and a wheelwright’s shop, in which was a kiln for drying the grain. The value of the whole was now raised to three thousand pounds [56]. This rebuilding is commemorated on a stone plaque still to be seen in the present building. It was later described as "a large and factory-like and most unpicturesque mill" [57].

The first tenant of the new mill was a man named Nathaniel Cherry, but he stayed here only a few years [58], and in 1827 the lease was taken over by Thomas Andrews, an ambitious young man just twenty-three years old from Brentford in Middlesex, who was to set up a connection with the mill throughout the nineteenth century which was closely to rival that of the Martins in the previous one.

By 1846 Andrews had expanded his business and besides the milling of flour he also undertook the sawing of timber and the supply of slates [59]. It was probably to house this extra trade that-an additional building was constructed on the east side of the mill which is shown on a print of 1849 [60]. In 1851 the mill employed seventeen men and four boys [61]. However, the motive power of the river was insufficient to work both mills at the same time, when the sawmill was required the flour milling had to stop and vice-versa. The flour mill had fifteen pairs of stones but only twelve were capable of being used at any one time [62].

Business boomed, and Andrews, like the Martins a hundred years before, made considerable profit from the mill. In the 1860s the ancient mill house proved insufficient for his increasing family and his rising status in the village as local councillor and churchwarden. A handsome modern house was built on land belonging to the mill, fronting onto Creek Road, which he named "Creek House". The cost of its construction was some £2,000, which was shared between Andrews and the land owners [63]. The firm was expanded when his son, Herbert, and his son-in-law, Walker Garland, entered the business. Like the Martins, too, they invested heavily in property, particularly in the development of East Molesey Park, when that came onto the market in 1876.

Thomas Andrews died in 1892 and by special permission of the home secretary was laid to rest in the same grave as his wife in St. Mary’s churchyard, which had been closed for nearly thirty years. The last time that this right was so allowed. The firm carried on under his son, although the flour milling was discontinued and the business was concentrated on timber sawing.

Herbert Andrews was a cultured man. He composed poetry, published a rather wordy and not too serious a history of East Molesey, and was chairman of the old East Molesey Local Board. He died in 1913, but the sawmill seems to have closed a year or two before that.


After the termination of Andrews timber business the mill stood unoccupied for some time. A number of schemes were put forward for its use, none of which reached fruition. The most interesting was an ambitious proposal by Sandow’s Cocoa Company to enlarge it and turn it into an up-to-date chocolate factory.

Mr Eugen Sandow was a zealous physical health and strength enthusiast, who wrote nearly a dozen books, with titles like "The Science and Art of Physical Development", "Strength and how to obtain it", "Body Building or Man in the Making", and so on [64]. He started a "Curative Institute", which ran foul of the General Medical Council, but managed to get himself appointed as "professor of physical culture" to king George the fifth. Sandow grasped upon the health giving properties of chocolate, and initiated a campaign of "health and strength through cocoa", floating a company, with a capital of £350,000, but run by himself of course, to manufacture and market the product [65]. The sales initially increased very rapidly, but the company became entangled in a legal wrangle over the use of a trade name [66], and the grand scheme to develop Molesey Mill came to naught.

Eventually a long lease to commence from Christmas Day 1913 was arranged with the Zenith Motor Company [67], which had been started several years before with premises at Weybridge, where they manufactured motor cycles.

Zenith motor bikes earned a very good reputation. More particularly after 1908 when a patented system of gears was adopted. Called the "Gradua Gear", it gave an infinitely variable ratio between top and bottom gear, made possible by a belt drive onto a conical pulley on the rear wheel, which slid in and out to take up the slack. This was most effective, especially on heavy work such as hill climbing, and gave a distinct advantage over machines fitted with fixed gear ratios. So much so that as Zenith picked up more and more awards in competitive trials, they were barred by many clubs from taking part in these events. This was a tacit admission of the superiority of Zenith machines, which was not lost on the manufacturers, and which they were not tardy in exploiting to the full. Thereafter the word "Barred", with an allegorical design of bars was incorporated into the Zenith trade mark [68].

Before the company could move, however, considerable alterations had to be made to the mill to transform it from a sawmill into an engineering factory. Much new machinery had to be purchased and installed, and adapted to work from the mill wheel, and a number of new workshops were erected in the grounds for assembly work. The opening of the factory foreshadowed a welcome increase in the employment situation in Molesey, and the Surrey Comet predicted that "the influx of householders as a result of the advent of the Zenith Motor Company, should greatly facilitate the letting of the few remaining empty houses in the village [69].

The firm moved their production to the mill in March 1914 [70]. But it was not long afterwards, of course, that the dark clouds of the First World War descended upon the country, and the company had to think of more serious things than competing in speed racing, hill climbing, and endurance trials. Henceforth production was geared to the requirements of the army and commercial trade. Within a month of the outbreak advertisements were saying to shopkeepers and tradesmen, "If your horses have been commandeered, the Zenith Commercial Side-car will fill the bill", and along with the first landing of the British Expeditionary Force came pictures of Zenith machines being unloaded for the use of despatch riders in France [71].

After the end of the war, however, the great peace rejoicings had not long died away when the great slump followed. The motor cycle industry fell to a low level, and by the end of the twenties Zenith’s sales could no long recover their costs. At the beginning of March 1930 orders were issued, on the petition of the advertising agents, for the company to be compulsorily wound up [72].

Nielsen’s Tent-Works

The failure of the Zenith Company came just at the time when great changes were taking place in the environs of the mill. The construction of the new Hampton Court Bridge and its approach roads, required the filling in of the Creek between the mill and the Thames, and the diversion of the river Mole into the Ember, which necessitated a much wider weir, on the other side of the mill.

The mill and its surroundings were purchased by the Surrey County Council to facilitate the progress of the works. Creek House, the home built for Thomas Andrews, was demolished to enable Creek Road to be widened.

After the civil engineering work in connection with the bridge and the roads were completed, and the county council no longer had any use for the mill, it was sold to C. Nielson and Son, as a factory for the production of sails and tents [73].

Christian Nielson, the founder of the firm, had had a very interesting and varied life. He was born in Denmark in 1863, was apprenticed to a sailmaker, and at a very young age practised this craft before the mast in wind-jammers. He often sailed into the port of London where he met and eventually married a young lady, and settled in this country, coming to East Molesey in 1890 to find work with the local boat builders. In his spare time he made awnings for house boat owners, a side-line which developed so well that he threw up his job and opened up business in his own interest in Bridge Road, making sails, awnings, shop blinds, and tents, in fact anything which could be contrived out of canvas. Later specialising in tents and marques. From these small beginnings the firm developed into what was at one time one of the largest tenting contractors in the country [74].

Warwork Again

The run up to the Second World War created a crash rearmament programme, and in 1938 a part of the mill premises were taken over by Messrs Gays (Hampton) Ltd., toolmakers and precision engineers. Who employed about seventy people, mostly skilled hands, producing tools, jigs and fixtures for the manufacture of Bristol "Blenheim" bomber aircraft. During the war itself the personnel was increased and reached a maximum of two hundred. The company was the first to manufacture bomb carriers for eight thousand pound "block busters", when these massive engines of destruction were introduced by the R.A.F.

After the conclusion of the war the workforce was reduced to about sixty, and a few years later the company closed the works altogether and concentrated manufacture of all products at their Hampton factory [75].

Ferry by Sir James Thornhill

Fig. 2 - Sir James Thornhill (1675-1734). View from the Toy Inn, hampton Court, looking up the creek to the mill. Pen and ink sketch 1731. Now in the Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester.

Mill by John Inigo Richards

Fig. 3 - John Inigo Richards (1720-1810). "The Mill at Mouseley". Showing the rabbling wooden mill and brick Mill House.

Mill by John Hassell

Fig. 4 - John Hassell (d, 1825). "Old Mill on the Mole". Water-colour in the British Library. Dated 1824 but must be older than that, as the timber mill was demolished in 1822. The structure high up on the right is probably the "story over the wheel", 28 ft. X 18 ft., added in 1763.

Bridge by Tombleson

Fig. 5 - Print by Tombleson, published in 1845. Showing the mill as rebuilt in 1822, with the two lucarnes prominent on the top story.

Hampton Court Station

Fig. 6 - The mill and Hampton Court station in 1849.

Mill 1894

Fig. 7 - The mill about 1894, from the north, showing the corn mill on the left and the sawmill on the right.

Mill 1894

Fig. 8 - The mill about 1894. Showing the Mole flowing out from beneath the mill after turning the mill-wheel. Thomas Andrews' daughters standing on the jetty.

Andrews Advertisement

Fig. 9 - Advertisement for T. Andrews & Son, 1907.

Zenith Catalouge

Fig. 10 - title page of zenith Motors catalogue, 1920.

Zenith Advertisement

Fig. 11 - Advertisement for Zenith Motor Cycles, 1914.

Mill Cottages

Fig. 12 - South side of the mill and Mill Cottages, about 1960. The enlarged weir to take the Mole into the Ember is seen on the left.

Mill 1980

Fig. 13 - East Molesey Mill, 1980.

Weir 2008

Fig. 14 - Weir, 2008.

Mill 2008

Fig. 15 - East side of mill, 2008.


  1. A. Mawer, The Chief Elements used in English Place Names, English Place Names Society, Vol. 1(ii), C.U.P., (1930), p.56.
  2. Hardy and Page Papers, Surrey Record Office, Special Collections 27/10, appendix 4.
  3. A. Heales, The Records of Merton Priory, (1898), pp. 69-70.
  4. Hardy and Page Papers, app.1.
  5. W.E. Brayley, History of Surrey, (1878-80), vol. ii, p. 74.
  6. O. Manning and W. Bray, History and Antiquities of Surrey, vol.1 (1804).
  7. Hardy and Page Papers, app. 5.
  8. Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII, vol.xx(i), (1906), p.679.
  9. Ibid, vol.x, (1887), p.331.
  10. Calendar of Letters and State Papers belonging to the Archives of Simancas, vol.iv, (1899), p.101; E.A.B. Barnard, Evesham and a reputed son of Queen Elizabeth, (1926); Ernest Law, The History of Hampton Court Palace, vol.i, (1885), p.288.
  11. Calendar of the Patent Rolls, 1566 - 1569, (1964), p.322.
  12. Hardy and Page Papers, app. 10.
  13. British Library, Harlian Manuscripts, 779, f.24v.
  14. Manuscripts of Lord de Lisle and Dudley, Hist. Mss. Com., vol.77, (1934),p.404.
  15. Hardy and Page Papers, app. 10.
  16. Ibid.
  17. Manuscripts of the Marquis of Salisbury, Hist. Mss. Com., vol.9, (1923), p.279.
  18. Victoria History of the County of Surrey, vol.iii, (1911), p.455.
  19. Also sometimes spelled Samyne, Semaine, Semeigne, or Seamayne.
  20. Information kindly supplied by Mr G.B. Greenwood.
  21. Statutes of the Realm, vol.v, (1810-1828), p.131, 16 Chas. i, c.21, An Act for free bringing in of gunpowder (1640).
  22. Calendar of State Papers, Domestic, 1649-50, (1875), p.584.
  23. Ibid, 1650, (1876), pp.146, 147; 1651, (1877), p.178.
  24. Ibid, 1651, (1877), p.576; 1651-2, (1877), p.581.
  25. Surrey Heath Tax 1664, Surrey Record Society, (1940).
  26. V.C.H., Essex, vol.vi, (1973), pp.201, 267.
  27. V.C.H., Surrey, vol.ii, (1905), p.323.
  28. Calendar of State Papers, Domestic, 1655-6, (1882), p.272.
  29. Ibid.
  30. Ibid, 1652-3, (1878), p.478.
  31. Acts and Ordinances of the Interregnum, vol.ii, (1911), p.699.
  32. Ibid.
  33. Calendar of State Papers, Domestic, 1653-4, (1879), p.369.
  34. Ibid, p.370.
  35. Ibid, 1655, (1881), pp. 28-9.
  36. D.L. Powell and H.Jenkinson, Surrey Quarter Sessions Records 1661-3, (1935), p.151.
  37. Ibid, 1663-6, (1938), p.108.
  38. Public Record Office, SP/29/156, State Papers, vol.clvi, no.103.
  39. Calendar of State Papers, Domestic, 1655, (1881), pp.28-9.
  40. Ibid, 1668-9, (1894), p.573.
  41. Ibid, 1663-4, (1862), p.555.
  42. 29 & 30 Chas. ii, c.22, An Act to enable Trustees to sell lands for the raising of money to pay the Debts of John Samine, Esquire.
  43. Sale catalogue of freehold lands in East and West Molesey.
  44. London Gazette, no.3497, 15-18 May 1699.
  45. J.S.L. Fulford, An Index of Kingston Quakers in the Seventeenth Century, (1971), p.21.
  46. Guildhall Library, MS 8674/85, f.313.
  47. Ibid, /98, f.316.
  48. Ibid, /104, f.297.
  49. Surrey Record Office, Special Collections, 81/2/4.
  50. He died in April 1827, aged 58 years.
  51. The Times, September 1817.
  52. Surrey Record Office, Land Tax Assessments, East Molesey; East Molesey Parish, Poor Law Rate Assessments.
  53. 56 George iii, c.115, An Act for Ratifying the Purchase of Claremont.
  54. Fourth Report of the Commissioners of H.M. Woods, Forests, and Land Revenues, Parliamentary Papers, 1823, vol.xi, pp.88-9.
  55. Pronounced Lucam, and sometimes spelled vernacularly as Lucam, Lucum, Locum, or Lucomb.
  56. Guildhall Library, MS 8674/l47, f.236.
  57. J. Thorne, Rambles by Rivers - The Mole, (1844), p.66.
  58. Surrey Record Office, Land Tax Assessments, East Molesey; East Molesey Parish, Poor Law Rate Assessments.
  59. Illustrated London News, 3 February 1849, p.76; see fig. 6.
  60. W. Kelly & Co., Post Office Directory of London and Nine Counties, 1844, p.559.
  61. Public Record Office, HO 107/l604/Book 43/3, Census Returns 31 March 1851, East Molesey.
  62. Surrey Comet, 14 January 1871.
  63. Ibid.
  64. British Library Index.
  65. The Times, 29 April 1912.
  66. The Times, 1912.
  67. Information kindly supplied by the late Mr J.M. Nielson, from title deeds to the mill.
  68. Zenith trade publications in the Science Reference Library (formerly the Patent Office Library), shelf LP78y.
  69. Surrey Comet, 24 January 1914.
  70. Ibid.
  71. Motor Cycling, 15 September 1914.
  72. The Times, 4 March 1930; London Gazette, 1930, vol.1, pp.1160-1, 1570, 1878.
  73. Information per Mr J.M.J. Nielson.
  74. Christian Nielson, From Birth to Eighty, privately printed, (1943).
  75. Information kindly supplied by Messrs. Gays (Hampton) Ltd.

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