Boathouse on the River Trent at King's Mills, Castle Donington, Leicestershire, c 1910-11
Scarratt, F W
About this image
Rustic boathouse on the south bank of the River Trent upstream from King's Mills, looking south-east during a period of low water levels.
King's Mills, a hamlet on the border between Derbyshire and Leicestershire, west of Castle Donington, is a picturesque location with a long and complicated history. A mill was recorded here at the time of the Domesday Survey (1086) and until 1581 the location was owned by the Crown (hence its name), after which it became attached to the Donington Park estate of the Hastings family. At various times the site was engaged in corn and grist milling, the forging of iron, cloth fulling, paper manufacture, and the grinding of plaster and flint. Stone quarrying, timber felling, button making and fishing also featured and industrial activity did not finally peter out until the 1920s.
In addition, the location was something of a transport hub. Until 1805 the Trent was navigable up to Burton upon Trent and there was a lock at King's Mills enabling boats to bypass the weir that provided a head of water for the wheels powering the mills. For many years there was also a ford across the river allowing horse-drawn road traffic a direct route from Weston on Trent to Castle Donington and avoiding a considerable detour via the bridges at Shardlow or Swarkestone. Until 1942 there was a chain worked ferry as well, latterly only for pedestrians, although in earlier times carrying wheeled vehicles.
Many of the buildings at King's Mills were constructed in either a Gothic or rustic style as a result of their association with Donington Park (where Donington Hall itself was built in a 'fanciful Gothick manner' during the 1790s) and this accounts for the design of the boathouse. Although part of the Hastings estate (which from 1902 until 1976 belonged to the Gillies Shields family) public access was allowed and paths were laid out within the steep-sided Boathouse Walk Plantation, seen to the rear in this view. Indeed, King's Mills and Weston Cliff (1.5 miles upstream) were popular destinations with day trippers during the Edwardian period with picknicking, river bathing and woodland walks to the fore.
Worthy of further explanation is the low level of the river in this view. About 1900 the lengthy weir at King's Mills was breached and around a decade elapsed before it was repaired. This caused the height of the river in Mill Deep and Castle Deep above the weir to fall dramatically and resulted in a narrower width to the river with increased margins of sand and shingle. To a great extent, it was these newly formed 'beaches' that made King's Mills so popular with visitors (and therefore postcard producers) during this period.
Derby-based postcard publisher F W Scarratt took this photo and allocated it the number 472 in his series. However, he was clearly not happy about the appearance of the water, so for the postcard that resulted he indulged in a bit of fakery, carefully slicing away the original shoreline and moving the water upwards so that it came higher up the timber staging and actually entered the boathouse instead of flowing past it!
As will be appreciated, throughout the period of the breach the boathouse would be largely unusable. The building no longer exists today, having disappeared by the early 1960s.