The Snake Catcher
Monday 14th January 2013
|Born||19 March 1840|
|Died||1 July 1905 (aged 65)|
|Residence||The New Forest|
|Other names||Busher Mills|
Harry ‘Brusher’ Mills was an eccentric figure, drawing tourists to the New Forest, where he lived, from all around to listen to his wisdom and country lore, and have their photographs taken with him. Brusher became a folk hero whose chosen profession was far removed from the growing materialism of the age. He was the New Forest snake catcher.
Harry Mills was born on 19 March 1840 and lived at Emery Down near Lyndhurst until at least 1861. By the mid-1870′s he had become the snake catcher in the woodlands near Sporelake Lawn, not far from Brockenhurst, living in a mud hut of his own construction.
Mills had no fear of adders, catching them with his bare hands. An adder bite can be treated by an ointment made from the adder itself and before medical aid was readily available, New Forest residents went to the snake catcher if they’d been bitten. Those that weren’t used to produce ointment were sent to London Zoo to provide food for the animals.
Harry Mills took time off from his unusual occupation whenever a cricket match was played at Balmer Lawn and became a familiar figure as he carefully swept the pitch between innings, acquiring his nickname of ‘Brusher’.
Here on the front Lawn is the cricket ground where he would brush the pitch. There is still cricket being played here. I once played because the local were short, I was watching, nothing better to do that hot sunny day. It was not a day to brag about.. heehee!
This remained his way of life for nearly thirty years by which time an old forest law entitled him to claim the land on which his home stood. He decided to build a more spacious hut to give him greater comfort in his old age but vandals destroyed his new residence just as it neared completion. He never recovered from the shock of seeing his new home in ruins and died soon afterwards in 1905.
The Railway Inn.
On the day Harry returned to his home his simple hut in the forest, and found it vandalised – he became homeless. Nobody was caught but it’s possible the hut was destroyed to prevent Harry claiming any kind of squatters’ rights or using forest law to claim the land on which he’d lived for so long. He took up residence in an outbuilding of one of his favourite haunts, the Railway Inn in Brockenhurst, where he died not long after. I used to go to the pub regularly myself. This pub used to hold Bingo sessions in the back hall where my mother often visited. As a young child I would to go with her. Once a month there were meetings with the secret society for the ‘Buffaloes’ and on research they seem a rather self centered group. Will probably do a separate post on these. But the point I was intending to make was that hut that Brusher Mills lived until death was still there in the back garden area of the pub. Well it was what we were told.
Many years ago…
Many years later the pub changed hands through the death of the landlord. They promptly changed the name to ‘The Snakecatcher’ which although it was to honour this man. My personal view was to keep it as The Railway Inn because it was this name that ’Brusher Mills’ knew it as when he drank there and lived there. The pub was promptly turned into a dining house and became a pub specialising in Holiday makers and visitors to the area. It still stands and is still popular with the tourist, and not so with locals.
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