About this image
A view looking south-east with the disused plaster mill to the left of the tree and the ruinous paper mill to its right. In the background is a small part of the very long weir that impounded the flow of the River Trent and thereby provided a head of water for the wheels that had once powered the various mills. In the foreground is the easternmost branch of the river; the Trent splits into numerous different channels divided by low lying islands once over the weir, while below the paper mill is an arch through which water is flowing into a short tailrace. A couple of small boats are moored here.
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. A 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 here.
The former plaster mill, which had ceased to operate a few years earlier, appears to be semi-derelict, being partly roofless and with boarded up windows. 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'.
The paper mill is in an even worse state, having been burnt out in 1864. Although its ecclesiastical appearance might suggest it may once have been a chapel, there is no evidence to indicate that it was ever anything other than an industrial building. Paper making was underway at King's Mills as early as 1680 and latterly was in the hands of a firm called Hobson & Siddel of Derby. The mill's remains were most likely cleared away c 1927, at the same time as those of the adjacent plaster mill.
While the mill buildings were all largely demolished at this time, the lower portions of both structures and the large waterwheels that drove the machinery inside survived derelict. By 2009 the three surviving wheels - by now reduced to iron skeletons - had become features in the grounds of the adjoining Priest House Hotel. Once known as Gray's Lodge, this Gothic styled building (see DCHQ010280), had been known as the Priest (or Priest's) House only since about 1924. Why it received this appellation is unclear, unless it was based on the misconception that the remnant of the paper mill had once been a place of worship.
This photo is by Derby-based postcard publisher F W Scarratt who allocated it the number 939 in his series.