East & West Molesey

A Dictionary of Local History

Rowland G. M. Baker, 1972

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There were two mills on the river Mole. The upper, which stood behind the Wilderness, was the mill of the manor of Molesey Matham; the lower, sometimes called Sterte Mill, now Nielson's tent works, belonged to the manor of Molesey Prior. Both mills were the subject of a lawsuit in 1215. During the Commonwealth both were acquired by a man named Samine for the manufacture of gunpowder. At the Restoration a petition was submitted to have the making of so dangerous a commodity discontinued. The request seems to have been granted in so far as the lower mill was concerned, which reverted to grinding corn. The upper mill continued to manufacture gunpowder until the late nineteenth century (see East Molesey Park). A number of serious accidents are recorded. As early as 1669 the store caught fire and Samine lost powder to the value of 1,200, as well as 660 worth of powder belonging to the king for which he was responsible. In 1754 a newspaper reported that on "Saturday, October 19th. About two in the afternoon, a place called the Dust-house, belonging to Mr. Norman's gunpowder mill at Moulsey, in Surrey, blew up, and killed one man who was barrelling up the gunpowder. 'Tis reckoned there were about 30 barrels of powder in the storeroom each barrel containing about 100 pounds weight (i.e. nearly one and a quarter tons). The building was blown into a thousand pieces, the poor man's body was blown limb from limb, seven or eight great elms torn up by the roots, and the adjacent buildings terribly shaken. Another store-house had the roof blown in, and a man at work received a light blow on the back of his neck by a piece of timber, but the powder remained safe. The houses for many miles about were shaken by the explosion, particularly Hampton Court palace, and the Speaker's house (Ember Court). At Croydon it was thought to be the shock of an earthquake". The burial register of East Molesey parish for 28th September 1771 contains the entry: "Francis Weasen and Thomas Hawkins distroyed by ye gunpowder Mill".

The lower mill was rebuilt in 1828 and later became a saw mill. In 1913 it was purchased by Zenith Motor Ltd., for the manufacture of motor cycles and became Nielson's tent works about 1934.

Embercourt mill, on the river Ember, was partly in East Molesey parish and partly in Thames Ditton. It was demolished about 1837.

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