Scarratt, F W
About this image
A view looking south-east showing Gray's Lodge (later known as the Priest House) on the left and the plaster mill on the right.
King's Mills, a hamlet west of Castle Donington on the border formed by the River Trent between Derbyshire and Leicestershire, 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 north and south 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 buildings seen here. However, in this view, taken around the start of the First World War, all appear to be in a state of disrepair with broken or boarded up windows and holes in the roof, and the presence of workmen and ladders might suggest demolition is just beginning.
However, that is not the case. Derby-based postcard publisher F W Scarratt took this photo and allocated it the number 788 in his series. Fortunately, the original annotated negative envelope he prepared has survived (and is considered of sufficient historical importance to be included on Picture the Past - see DCHQ010244A). This provides an explanation by way of a sketch, from which we learn that the derelict-looking single storey portion to the right of Gray's Lodge is indeed about to be pulled down but that this is in connection with renovation of the remainder 'as a residence for the Commandant of the regiment guarding the German Officer Prisoners at Donington Hall'. The refurbished building can be seen in DCHQ010280, a later view by Scarratt.
The disused plaster mill was not similarly rejuvenated and was mainly demolished after a fire in 1927, although the lower portion of the buildings and the large waterwheels that drove the grinding machinery inside survived derelict. By 2009 they had become a feature in the grounds of Gray's House, which had assumed the title the Priest (or Priest's) House from the 1920s and was subsequently extended to form The Priest House Hotel, offering 4-star accommodation.