The Snake Catcher

Monday 14th January 2013

Born 19 March 1840
Died 1 July 1905 (aged 65)
Resting place Brockenhurst
Residence The New Forest
Other names Busher Mills
Occupation Snake catcher

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.

    Brusher Mills' gravestone

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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Enjoy0.jpg     Gerry A/C 2013


31 thoughts on “The Snake Catcher

  1. What prompts you to write about such rare and eccentric people or places? Fascinating stuff, to be sure! Just wondering if you collect these stories or they are part of the lore of where you live…

    1. They are all little snippets of memory from my old home area, and are stories of real people and incidents..and think they are fascinating and interesting for people to read..;)

  2. Okay, My Kind Sir. Can you help an American girl out, what is “sweep a pitch” please? I will forget to ask you if I don’s ask now.

    I will have to say that although my feelings about snakes caused to approach this post with some trepidation I was not to have worried, Not a creepy crawly one lurking about anywhere. (relief for this snake phobic person)

    How I would have loved to pick his brain about the natural medicinal properties & value of herbology, from the land of your village no doubt has some unusual factors not seen anywhere else. . I think it would be fascinating to learn just what he did and how to survive for 65 yrs during that era, and how he got along without things like pharmaceutical medicines. I’m thinking it was far more than chamomile tea.

    This man who was so man so knowledgeable snakes of your homeland no doubt knew all kinds of useful details for living off the land as he so obviously love doing.
    I echo what your other readers are saying; you are introducing us to some very different people here at restawyle. My kind of people…. marvelously eccentric. How utterly sad some people and their cruelty can have such a fatal affect on someone’s life.

    Great post Gerry.., Do it again please!

    (Remind me some day to tell you about Rattle Snake Ed from my life).

    1. Well, do you know the game of Cricket.. assuming you do then there are two batsmen and they have a wicket and set at 22 yards apart, and during their breaks someone will sweep this area to clear lumps and try to maintain a smooth as possible wicket..
      I bet he had lots of remedies and wonder if any were recorded.. thank you again my lady, and you never stop surprising me.. thanks and welcome..;)

      1. I thought sweeping the pitch was going to have to do with something with score. Even though I don;t even make a good American Baseball fan here where it is supposed to be this nations r# 1 sport, I do know that in baseball a sweep has something to do with winning all the games in set time.
        I get the sweeping in cricket, makes total sense. I can even see why they would ant no lumps on the ground Sweeping the pitch sounds like just what it is. Amazing concept!

        Love the thought of recorded evidence of using herbology in the idea of practicing medicine.

      2. There you go my lady you have now learnt something on the boring English game of cricket.. but can you imagine making a living doing this.. I also learn from you and your games.. thank you and welcome..;)

    1. It is always the same people harming people in those days but this was reckoned because of Forestry right he might be entitled to ..:) welcome and thanks Jo…

  3. How very sad that he was not destined to end his life in the home he so eagerly prepared. I hope the vandals/and or vested interests who incited them, have since died long and lingering deaths.

    1. And you know what I think they should all be remembered for their way and their stories.. characters like this make the world a better place..thank you so much always welcome..;)

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