Scarratt, F W
About this image
A view looking south-west up the tailrace (or Fleam) towards the plaster mill with Gray's Lodge (later known as the Priest House) on the right. The rustic footbridge connected the road to the Mills (left) with the 'island' formed between the mill stream and the main course of the River Trent.
King's Mills, a hamlet west of Castle Donington on the border formed by the 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 decorative detailing that can be seen on some of them here.
This photo is by Derby-based postcard publisher F W Scarratt who allocated it the number 937 in his series. It was taken shortly after the previously dilapidated Gray's Lodge (see DCHQ010244) was renovated as a residence for the Commandant of the German prisoner of war camp at Donington Hall and both this and the rather more vernacular cottage in front of it appear to be in good condition.
Less well-maintained is the former plaster mill, here depicted almost in silhouette. This had ceased to operate a few years earlier and in fact its use for plaster grinding was relatively shortlived, having only commenced in the mid-nineteeth century when gypsum began to be mined on Aston Moor between Aston on Trent and Chellaston.
Although only about two miles away as the crow flies, getting the mineral to King's Mills was a convoluted process and involved first taking it via a tramway from the pits to a wharf on the Trent & Mersey Canal between Shardlow and Aston and then taking it by boat to Weston Cliff, where it was tipped out at a point where the Canal and the River Trent came side by side. Loaded onto another boat here it was transported down the river for 1.5 miles to King's Mills. In the opposite direction, the bagged plaster went back to Weston Cliff for transhipment into a narrowboat but was then taken westwards to Swarkestone where it turned off northwards onto the Derby Canal in order to reach Derby itself. Its final destination was the works of Messrs Pegg & Co on the Morledge, where the powder was used to produce various materials for the building trade. Latterly it was Pegg's who leased (at a cost of £400 per year) the mill at King's Mills but eventually the economics of the operation caused the grinding to be transferred to their premises at Derby and the plaster mill on the Trent closed sometime between 1900 and 1914. By the 1920s the mill was being rented by Messrs Bass, Ratcliffe & Gretton, the brewers of Burton upon Trent, but it was destroyed by fire in 1927.
The flow of the tailrace, which emanates from two arches beneath the plaster mill, depended on the extent to which the sluices controlling its admission to the large waterwheels within the building were opened. The flow here looks to be quite energetic, suggesting the sluices are open. Writing in 1960 Geo H Green observed that this stream 'is always one to be wary of and in wet periods becomes almost a river in its own right, broad, imperious, swift'.
The rustic footbridge - somewhat surprisingly based on its appearance - was a fairly new feature when this photo was taken - it is not shown on a map of c 1900 so must have been added after that. It survived until 1947 when it was washed away by the great flood of that year, the same flood that destroyed the better known Cavendish Bridge just downstream at Shardlow.
While the plaster mill was demolished after the 1927 fire, 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 much later duly became The Priest House Hotel. The original building was greatly extended to fulfill this new role with the cottage on the right being incorporated into the new accommodation.