Scarratt, F W
About this image
A view looking south-east with Gray's Lodge (later known as the Priest House) on the left and the disused plaster mill to the right. The River Trent is out of view behind the photographer, the road leading to a ford across the same.
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. The aforementioned ford across the river allowed horse-drawn road traffic a direct route from Weston on Trent to Castle Donington and avoided 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, although the cottages in the background are more vernacular in appearance.
This photo is by Derby-based postcard publisher F W Scarratt (his Douglas motorcycle is leaning against the fence) who allocated it the number 938 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.
Less well-maintained is the former plaster mill, which had ceased to operate a few years earlier and is partly roofless. By the 1920s the building was being rented by Messrs Bass, Ratcliffe & Gretton, the brewers of Burton upon Trent, but it was destroyed by fire in 1927. Reputedly, this firm had not made any arrangement with a local fire brigade, as a result of which their own fire engine had to come all the way from Burton. By the time it arrived, it was too late. A local resident later recalled that 'it was a terrifying night having such a fire in such a remote spot ... the water was there all around lit up by the flames but there was no means of applying it'.
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 to its left being incorporated into the new accommodation.