I would like to thank the Swinney familiy from New Zealand for sending scans of these pages from the St Leonards Observer as they contain the words of my great great grandfather
St Leonards Observer 1923
SUSSEX GUNPOWDER (Part 1)
STORY 0F THE BATTLE MILLS.
BY HERBERT BLACKMAN April 14 1923
Two centuries are spanned by the story of the manufacture of gunpowder at Battle, and it therefore follows that the mills were of use to the country some of the most famous victories in its history. We get the first mention of the industry as far back as 1676, and we get the closing reference as recently as 1874! Between these two dates the rise, progress and ending Of the works are embraced.
To properly comprehend the historical allusions it is necessary that we should first describe the site of the Old Works. They were situated on the banks of the little 'stream, familiarly known as the " Asten," which rises on picturesque high ground near Normanhurst, and flows in a south-easterly direction, through Battle Park and by way of the charming Crowhurst Valley and the Bulverhythe Flats (which once resounded to the march of William the Conqueror and his army of invasion) into the English Channel at St. Leonards. This was a very useful and hard-working stream, for it fed the series of five gunpowder works which clustered about its banks. The Farthing Mills were the first of these, and stood by a mill pond of some acres in extent; about half -a mile lower down the stream was situated the " House " or the Powder- mills proper, with a pond of about 12 acres•, the "House" was the largest establishment of the series, it included the residence of the proprietor, and there were several im portant works here for the various processes concerned with the manufacture of gun powder
Quaint names appear in the story, for Sussex place-names offer much entertainment to the student; and "Pepper-in-eye" pond and mills, with the "Lower Pepper-in-eye," were two other works in the series, which was completed by the mills at Crowhurst, some two miles farther down the stream. This series of works remained in action to the last, but some time earlier there had been another mill served by a small tribu tary .stream from the direction of Battle Abbey; this can still he traced by the mound of earth which formed the pond bay.
The whole site is one of beauty. Just as it has often been impossible to believe when in the lovely heart of Sussex in the existence of war, or the grim realities of life, so it would seem difficult for the visitor to the " Farthing " or "House "Ponds which remain ?????? missing text????????
Imagine that once upon a time the tide of industry touched the land and disturbed those shimmering waters, and that hardy sons of a county famous for hardy sons brought their in genuity and strength to the making of munitions of war ; yet so it is, and so it has been since John Hammond first obtained his grant This concession forms the first re cord we have of the industry.
THE FIRST POWDER MAKERS.
In the " Original Charters and Muniments of Battle Abbey" we come upon the follow ing entry :-" Francis, Viscount Montague. Lease for twenty-one years to John Ham mond of Battle, of the four parcels of brook- land and upland, commonly called Pepper in-eye lands, in Battle, with permission to erect a Powder Mill, etc.; dated November 11th, 1676." It is evident that neither side had any reason to repent of the arrange ment, and that the project prospered, for there is the chronicle of the renewal on May 17th, 1710, where it is set forth as :
"Henry, Viscount Montague, Lease for twenty-one years of the same to William Hammond, of Battle, powder maker." And. of course, the special interest of the second quotation lies in the fact that it is the first mention of a " powder maker " as a calling or trade then being followed in the district. These ponds seem always to have been har nessed to the purposes of industry; it is not within the province of this little history to deal with their story, it is a subject which deserves a book to itself, were it: possible to discover the adventures, the progress and disappointments of the men who used them to produce the ironwork which was famous, or to grind corn, or to meet any other human need.
They were mentioned in times much earlier than those we have quoted; as wit ness an illuminating and ancient passage from the old chronicle already cited, which runs :-" Simon de Sumeri. son of Simon de Sumery (by deed, sans date) granted to God and the Church of St. Martin at Battle, that the Millpond of Pipering may freely flow back upon his fee of Cattisfeld, without any contradiction or impediment, so never the less that he may be able to use his fee, always to the said pond, whether there be greater or less water; yielding for the same yearly, to the said Simon and his heirs, one pound of wax at the feast of purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary.”
“Testators, Master Richard of battle, Ralph, Rector of Cattisfield, Walter de Sumeri, and others.”
(In a deed dated 1277, Simon de Sumari is referred to as one of the testators, therefore probably we may assume that the above-mantioned deed was about that date).
Then there are entries of some five and twenty years earlier than those relating to the coming of the Powder Mills, which show that one Robert Jarvis, followed by his son, William Jarvis worked here about as ironfounders and millers during the period 1652 until towards the end of the 'century; as in 1652, ." The Park Iron Mill, with all implements, waters, etc.," were leased to Robert Jarvis, and twenty-one years later to his son William, a miller.
But, as we have seen, John Hammond, of Battle, came with his plans, and in Novel». her, 1676, obtained permission to erect his powder mill; thereafter there are notable gaps in the annals, we know that the works progressed, there were constant additions and improvements to the buildings, we know also that the industry had its vicissitudes and calamites, for there were many mishaps and explosions prior to that which moved the poet to mirthfulness. That which eludes our research, and which it would assuredly be interesting and instructive to know, are the stages by which the industry grew from its infancy to its strength, and with what resourcefulness and courage John Hammond and his successors applied them selves to their honourable enterprise. We have to span the years, however, until we find that a branch of the industry, the manufacture of gunpowder, was established at Sedlescombe, when in due course the link is completed with Battle, and the chronicle resumes its way until the end. In the Battle Abbey Charters is the entry :-"April 11th. 1750. George Matthews, of Battel, late officer in the Excise, etc., bond to Sir Thomas Webster, Bart., George Worge, of Battel, Gent., and William Gilmour, gunpowder maker in the penal sum of five hundred pounds, as security for his Trust in the con ducting of the Powder Works of the said parties in the parish of Sedlescombe."
BEST IN EUROPE
How much earlier than this the works at Sedlescombe were in existence we cannot ascertain, but the above entry implies that they were established, and is an arrange ment for their direction. The writer of the Victorian History of the County of Sussex has the following: " It was at Battle that the leading gunpowder factory was estab lished, and about this time, viz., the middle of the 18th century, the reputation of the Battle factory was very high, Defoe men tioning that the town was remarkable for making the finest gunpowder, and perhaps the best in Europe."
????missingtext??? - romance, for six years later 1756 Mr. Lester Harvey, who was with Mr. Gil mour at the Powdermills, probably assisting him in the management, was married to Jane, daughter of William Gilmour, and on the death of the latter succeeded to the Gun powder Works, both at Battle and Sedles combe, and in due time passed on the owner ship and responsibility to his son, William Gilmour Harvey. The Works flourished under the Harvey family, and the Peninsu lar War greatly contributed to the growth of the works, to which at that period there were extensive additions and renewals. At this period the gunpowder was taken to Rye to be shipped, and the vans returned osten sibly with fodder, but, as Lady Westland states, in accordance with the spirit of the time on the South Coast, smuggled brandy and wine were occasionally brought back to Battle in addition. Unfortunately, as so often happens, some loss is mixed with our gains, and while the gunpowder works were in the heighth of their prosperity, a terrible tragedy overtook the family of the pro prietor; two sons and a daughter were drowned in the pond at the " House" before the eyes of their parents, who were power less to help. The eldest son who thus met an untimely end was Captain James Watson Harvey, who had saved his Admiral's life and won promotion for his gallant services; he was only twenty-four years of age, with a career of brilliant promise before him, and he was so much admired and esteemed in the district; that when he came to Battle by the London coach on a visit to his parents the town was beflagged, the people came out to give him a great welcome out of their full hearts, and the mill-hands took the horses out of the Harvey carriage and dragged the vehicle containing the young hero to the house. The tragedy occurred a few days later, the sailing boat was caught by a sudden squall, capsized, and the Cap tain was drowned in an unavailing attempt to save his brother and sister.
WORKS AT MARESFIELD
It was not long after the terrible drama of the Mill Pond that a further change was I made in the control of the Works; in 1817 the firm became known as Messrs. Curtis and Harvey, and removed to Hounslow, the Battle establishment passed into the hands of Mr. Gill,who conducted it for a few years; but the most notable change came when Mr. Charles Laurence, who carried on the manufacture of gunpowder at Pepper-in-eye as well as the branch at Crowhurst, took control and amalgamated the whole of the Works. This was a bold and successful stroke, for he with his son continued the business until as late as 1874, when the firm which had been incorporated with Messrs. Pigou and Wilkes, removed to Dartford, and the manufacture of gunpowder at the Battle Mills came to an end. This is so recent that we have been able to glean from one of the survivors of that regime some impressions and memories of the later days of the old works, and the entertaining confessions of Mr. James Morgan, which deserve a separate chapter, form the link of the re mote and immediate past, which enables us to bring the story to its historical close.
Lady Westland, writing in 1918. speaks of one of her great uncles. "Gilmour," son of William Gilmour Harvey,
of whom we have been speaking, starting gunpowder works at Maresfield, which did not prove a success
financially. In June, 1921. I visited Mares field to ascertain if any relics of these works remained. I found the
site on Park Farm a mile or so from Maresfield Camp in a very isolated spot, manifestly where ironworks had
existed here earlier. One of the old mill stones (a damaged one) lay on the site. There were two ponds here
which an elderly man living in a cot tage close by told me covered 22 acres; he also said that he had heard that
the works were discontinued about 1854, when a packing shop was blown up and two or three persons killed;
he also remembered the large chimney stack standing which was connected with the works.
I could plainly trace by the dried up grass where six pairs of mill stones, had worked; also by the same means
the outlines of one large building could be seen.
The fact that, as Lady Westland states the Curtises were connected with the Harveys by marriage reveals the
fact that the Harveys and their relatives were among the most famous gunpowder makers of that period
BATTLE POWDER MILLS. (Part II)
AN ACCOUNT_ OF THE WORKS.
SECOND RTICLE BY HERBERT BLACKMIAN. April 21 1922
The processes in the manufacture of gun powder wore briefly as follow:-
The grinding or amalgamating was the first process after the preparation of "the charge," viz., the three ingredients, saltpetre, charcoal and sulphur, and from 80 to 100 lbs. of this mixture two or three inches thick was placed under each pair of stone " run ners " in a pan of about nine feet diameter, the stones weighing six or seven tons each, rolling round like two huge waggon wheels in this pan for about ten hours on this dan gerous mixture. The buildings in which this grinding was done were always termed " The Mills."
The gunpowder was then taken to the "presses," where it was placed layer upon layer until about 25 cwt. was in position, when hydraulic pressure of 400 tons to the square inch, was applied by steam power, the powder then resembling hard tile or slate.
It was next conveyed to the "Corning Houses," where the hard cakes were broken up and sifted (or corned) to the various sizes required, from the coarsest blasting powder to the fine-grained sporting powder.
The gunpowder then had a dull brownish appearance, and at this stage was taken to the "Glazing Houses," where it was placed in cylinders resembling barrels, which slowly revolved in a horizontal position, this motion in time producing the well-known black and shining appearance of gunpowder.
THE GRINDING MILLS
Two mills with four pairs of "runner " stones were under the bay of the pond at the "House" mills; these were always known as the Big Mills, because the largest runner stones were here.
Reference is made in the ledger previously mentioned to "building the coomb, 340 feet long, from the water wheels to the stream." This coomb or. brick waterway conveyed the discharge from the water wheels to the stream. There is also the following illumin ating and interesting extract:-
This waterway still exists and passes under Powdermill House, and is large enough for a man to walk up in a stooping position. Mr Morgan stated that one of the ' powder men would occasionally pass through it with lantern and a large fork to catch eels. The large stones from these mills were re moved to Dartford in 1874, viz., when the powder making ceased at Battle.
THE FARTHING MILLS
Under the pond bay was a mill with two pairs of stones or runners; these stones laid on the site. in view, until a
few years ago, when Sir Augustus Webster, the owner of Battle Abbey estate, had this pond cleared of mud by
a numerous gang of men, and the vast accumulation of mud wheeled from the pond over the bay completely
enveloped these stones, which now lay buried several feet deep under this consolidated mud.
Cleaning Farthings Pond
On this site was a mill with two pairs of stones, and these are now lying on the site. Steam power was inaugurated at these mills in 1870.
At Lower Pepper-in-Eye, or "The Brooks," as this site was termed, was another mill with two pairs of stones, near the road lead ing to Hastings Waterworks Pumping Sta tion at Forewood. The site of this mill is now obliterated, but the outlet of the coomb is visible, where it discharged into the stream.
This is most probably the site of the Mill Pool mentioned earlier in this paper, date about 1277.
The site of this mill can be clearly traced and the four runner stones were bought and removed to Hastings by
Mr. Burchell, Mason of Hastings.
The mills here contained three pairs of runner stones, five are lying on the site and one was taken to Dartford.
The whole series consisted of eight separate grinding mills with thirty-four stone runners and with a capacity for
grinding some three thousand pounds in twenty-four hours.
There were three of these; one about one hundred and fifty yards from Farthing pond, by the edge of the bog
which covers severakl acres between Farthing and House ponds.
This bog is very treacherous; as late as 1918 it was with great difficulty a horse was extracted from it; and in
the previous winter, when the coverts were shot over, a cow which had been lost for some months by the
occupier of the adjoining land was found in this bog by beaters, the horns of the animal only showing above
the surface. The will-o'-the-wisp is fre quently seen here.
Another press was at Lower Pepper-in Eye, which was destroyed by an explosion in 1866, and was not re-built,
and as recorded previously, all the powder made at these works since 1870 was pressed by the hydraulic press
There were several of these buildings, one in the wood on the south side of the Farth ing Pond, another near
the press by the bog, one at Lower Pepper-in-Eye, about a quar ter of a mile west of the grinding mill. This was
completely wrecked by an explosion in 1861 and was not replaced.
There was also one at Crowhurst by the river side. After the process of grinding the powder at Crowhurst it was
taken to Battle to be pressed, then returning to Crowhurst for corming and glazing.
At Sedlescombe the corning house stood in the centre of the brook south of the mills, under a clump of trees,
which are still standing. The path by which the powder was wheeled to and from the corning house is still
clearly traceable. Here as at Crow hurst the powder was taken to Battle for pressing.
At Pepper-in-Eye a largo two-storied corning house was built about 1870, and fitted with modern plant, which
is still standing; also the engine house adjoining.
When this corning house (which is now used as a farm building) was repaired some twenty years after the
powder-making ceased, about three gallons of powder dust was collected from off the ledges, roof, plates, etc.,
which had accumulated when the corning machinery was working. , The writer saw this tested, by dividing it
into several portions, and igniting it in the open field. A dense cloud of white smoke immediately resulted, but a
considerable residue of salt petre remained, thus showing deterioration through long exposure to the air.
The stove or drying house at the House Mills has previously been described. There was also one at
Sedlescombe, and this build ing is still standing. At this drying house the furnace and chimney were under the
same roof as the drying room, brick walls separated the furnace from the drying chamber.
Another large drying house was built at Lower Pepper-in-Eye about 1870, after a very brief period this was
taken down and re-erected as a stable at Pepper-in-Eye
MAGAZINES FOR STORAGE
One of the largest of these was in the wood, south of the House pond: and another was erected later at Pepper-in-Eye in a secluded position, about. 80 feet long and sixteen feet, wide; this is now used as cattle sheds. The foreman of the gunpowder works. some years after the work ceased informed the writer that he never had any fear while among the powder but once. On this occasion he was assisting in loading a large consignment of powder front this building It was late one evening and a heavy thunderstorm came on while the loading was proceeding, the lightning being unusually vivid. He remarked that he was greatly relieved when the storm had passed.
There were also several small called "Watch Houses " adjacent to the Grinding Mills, and for the workmen to change their clothing.
While the men were working in the Powder buildings they wore flannel suits and special shoes, provided by the proprietor. There were also large coppers in these Watch Houses for heating water for the men to bath when changing their garments on leaving the works. Only the Watch House at the House Mills remains and this is now used by the gardeners at Powdermill House as a potting shed, and stores.
A CHAPTER OF ACCIDENTS
This is a phrase frequently heard and yet it can hardly have more appropriateness than in a story of gunpowder manufacture.
Oddly enough, it is not the men who par ticipate in the manufacture who manifest the most concern, but the people resident in the neighbourhood.
The people of the district had good reason to dwell in some uncertainty. for the Battle Powder Mills did not rise and end without its fairly crowded chapter of accidents.
The danger of the work was recognised and commented upon. The Susses; historian, Horsfield, makes a note which hints of a little nervousness when he writes in 1834:-
“Next to its Abbey and perhaps its Church. Battle is more celebrated for its manufacture of gunpowder than for anything else. The establishment of this dangerous, though profitable manufacture, is of early date, and it is carried on to a very great extent. The frequent accidents that have taken place in these celebrated Powder Mills it would be harrowing to relate, and perhaps unchari table to publish; recently, however, they have not been so numerous as they were
wont to be." We must not choose the comfortable and comforting course of the county historian in drawing a veil over the accidents. Our purpose is to try and bring before the reader the vision of this industry, with all its progresses and misadventures as far as the records will enable us to set them down. Hence we must chronicle its chapter of accidents, and rumours of accidents, for there were rumour-mongers in days of old, even as to-day, as witness an interesting letter from Stephen Fuller, of Rosehill, Brightling, to Dr. Hans Sloane, a relative, in December, 1741. Describing some phenomenal thunderclaps he wrote: "Our neighbours thought that some powdermills had been blown up, and I looked upon them to be no bad judges in such kind of blast, having been more than once alarmed with them by the powder mills in the neighbourhood."
This enables us to see what food for rumour and speculation the proximity of the works must have been to the gossips; but the first actual explosion of which we have been able to find a record was probably the most dis astrous of the Works.
This happened when the grandfather of the writer was working there, and his grand mother, greatly alarmed, ran from her home at Catsfield to the scene of the disaster with her firstborn infant in her arms.
Through the courtesy of old Mr. Morgan we are able to quote from an old newspaper an account of this exciting event. It was headed: - "Powder Mills at Battle blown up," and is to the following effect:-
" About noon on April 27th, 1798, one of the Battle Powder Mills, with a drying house and storeroom nearly adjoining, were by some unknown accidental communi cation by fire, blown up with two tremen dous explosions and totally destroyed.
"Three men employed at the mill were blown into the air, one was instantly killed; the other two only survived about two hours. Seven separate buildings were completely destroyed. though only two re ports were distinguishable.
"The quantity of powder exploded ex ceeded fifteen tons in weight, and the damage is estimated at upwards of £5,000.
“A house situated about one hundred yards from the nearest building blown was so shaken that it had to be re-built; while a heavy sandstone from the mill was carried several yards over the roof of the dwelling, and pieces of timber to a large wood about half a mile from the mill.
STORY OF BATTLE MILLS. (Part III)
THIRD ARTICLE BY HERBERT BLACKMAN - Saturday, MAY 5th
It is from the writer's own experience that the account of another accident may be drawn, for he had the story
direct from his father, who was working near Crowhurst Church when an explosion occurred at the Crowhurst
Mills, about half a mile dis tant. This was not such a serious accident, but the noise caused considerable
consterna tion, and Mr. Blackman. looking in the direction of the mills, saw the debris in the air and ran at once
to the spot.
The man who had been working at the mill, and who, curiously enough, was leaving the work of powder
making that day, was so injured that he expired just as Mr. blackman got there.
Between 1850 and 1860 an explosion occur red at the " House" Mills. It was on a Monday morning, and the
mills were not running, as it was customary to dust them down weekly and also clean out the "beds " on which
the stones ground the powder.
That morning the foreman had cautioned the mill man not to use a hammer on the beds, but to use a scraper
only. However, it was easier to do the work with a hammer, and the probability is that he ignored the caution,
and in using the hammer raised a spark. The force of the explosion which ensued was such as to throw hint up
into the overhead gear with fatal results, al though the building itself was not greatly damaged.
A Corning house at Lower Pepper-in-Eye was the scene of another accident in 1861, when an explosion
occurred. The man who was working there was instantly killed, and the building was completely destroyed.
Near the same site there was another ex plosion some four years later at one of the “Press" buildings.
In this instance a portion of the floor was to be renewed. It had been damped, and the carpenter was removing
some of the flooring, when a spark was raised and fit ful flashes ran across the floor and reached the press.
There was a terrific report; the carpenter and the mill-man had managed to get outside the building, but they
both sustained severe injuries, which subse quently proved fatal.
The writer's brother, Mr. Alfred Black man, who saw the explosion from some dis tance, thus vividly describes
the scene : " After the explosion I saw the smoke ris ing and expanding like a thundercloud in the sunshine of
an autumn afternoon." It was after the powder making ceased at Battle that the last explosion happened. The
buildings at Pepper-in-Eye were being dismantled and the wooded shaft on which the revolving barrels had
been fixed in the "glazing house " had been taken into the engine house. This shaft was circular, be tween
twenty and thirty feet long and five. inches in diameter.
The carpenter was knocking off the iron rings from the ends of this shaft and a spark was by some means
raised. The powder which had penetrated the cones and cracks in this shaft proved to be sufficient to cause an
explosion of such force as to move the roof considerably and blow out the windows, while the carpenter was in
capacitated for some weeks.
The following extract from the "Burials Register of Battle Church," taken in 1920. is proof of a disastrous
explosion in much earlier days:-
" 1764.-December 5th.-James Gillmore and Thomas Gillmore, both buried in one grave, who were accidently
killed by the blowing up of the Sifting House at Sedles combe Gunpowder Mills, in which house there was
computed to be a ton of gun powder, at which time and place there were two other men killed, which were
buryed at Sedleseombe.”
RECOLLECTIONS OF A WORKMAN
The last phase of the Battle Powder Mills was that during the proprietorship of Messrs. Laurence and son.
In setting forth such a record as this is intended to be, it is seldom that the his torian has the good fortune to
be able to go to men who had played their own part in the little romance of industry he is unfolding but we
have had the privilege of such first-hand information.
There is a smiling and wonderful veteran living in the cottage on the bay of the “House” pond at Battle, whi is
still (at 96 years of age) in full possession of his faculties. His memory is astonishing and he has been
remarkable observant, and even now is a shrewd commentator on things and the men in general. He worked
for many years at the Powder Mills and is able to turn back the pleasant and varied pages of their story.
Mr James Moorgan has lived on the Battle Abbey estate all his life, commencing work as houseboy under Lady
Webster at the Abbey; next he heard the call of the land, (not difficult in this district) and was em ployed by Mr.
Fred Webster, son of Lady Webster, on various farms on the estate, but in 1852 he entered into the employ of
Messrs. Laurence and Son and came to live in the cottage close to the "House " Mill pond, where he continues to
reside. He was head vanman at the works, which, was a position of trust and responsibility in those days. and
by no means corresponded to a similar employment in other towns. It afforded considerable insight as to the
extent of the business and called for great dis cretion as well as complete integrity, all of which qualities Mr.
Morgan brought to his duties.
From him we have gathered many inter esting and valuable notes and statistics, as well as a few entertaining
anecdotes of life at the works.
He confirms the impression formed from a survey of the records, that the Gunpowder Works did not fail to take
advantage of war conditions, and to benefit thereby, although the figures must look strangely insignificant by
the side of the extraordinary munition statistics of the late Armageddon.
During the years of the Crimean War, from 1854 to 1856, he took 1,300 barrels of gunpowder by road to
Tonbridge, where it was, loaded on barges to be conveyed to the magazines at Erith.
There was organisation in those days, not withstanding what is so often said by the pessimists that we never
learn in war but always "muddle through." The head van- man carried powder to Tunbridge but did not return
empty, bringing back Consign ments of saltpetre in the powder barrels: an economy in transport which Mr.
Morgan, in his genial way, would tell us proved that they were not so backward in those far off days as
sometimes in our twentieth century vainglory we like to pretend they were.
A STRATEGIST IN WORDS
If Mr. Laurence was able to handle his men successfully, the men, were sometimes able to handle him, as the
following story told by the veteran shows:-
One of the workmen who had charge of the grinding mills at Lower Pepper-in-Eye works, said Mr. Morgan in
his recitals of memories of the past, once left this charge room door unlocked when he left work on the
Saturday. The proprietor came along and saw this, and on the following Monday morning said to him, "How
was it that you left the charge room door unfastened?" The millman, knowing that his employer was an ardent
sportsman, said, "Ah! I saw a. wonderful covey of partridges as I came by Whyland this morning."
This amusing evasion was not acceptable to the chief. "Yes, but bow was it that you left the charge room door
unfastened?" Mr. Laurence repeated sternly. The man ap peared to dismiss the question. "Yes," he rejoined,
"there was just such a covey there one morning last week when I came along." Presumably the proprietor gave
the man up as hopeless.
When he had gone the fellow workmen be gan to " chip " the man a bit on the replies he had given to his
employer. " Ah well," said the audacious fellow, " I didn't want to hear anything about a door being left un
Surely such a strategist in words was lost in the old Powder Works at battle; he would have been an ideal
private secretary for a Member of Parliament, who has to deal with the grievances of many constituents.
Another anecdote from the well-stored memory of friend Mr. Morgan tells of a surprise return of the proprietor,
and once again throws entertaining light on his relations with his workmen.
One morning after he had been talking with a workman in the millwright's shop, the veteran relates, Mr.
Laurence started off on horseback, ostensibly for the purpose of going to the Sedlescombe branch of the works;
meanwhile this millwright, who was very busy (on his own account) making a pair of compasses, went across
to the blacksmiths shop to work on these instruments.
However Mr. Laurence returned much sooner that he was expected, amd on hearing him returnin, the man
rushed back to the millright’s shop and appeared at once to be very busily engaged in making the cogs which
the chief had set him to do. Mr. Laurence came into the shop, and having evidently made a quick mental count
of the cogs already done before he started, said to the man; “What have you been doing since I went away?”
“Why, working on these cogs,” came the answer.
“But there are no more done than before I started,” returned Mr Laurence
We asked Morgan what he did when the powder-making ceased. He replied : " I went back on the estate to
work until I was 85, when Sir Augustus Webster gave me a weekly pension and the old- cottage to live In, and
in the Sussex vernacular he con cluded: “And here I be now.”
BATTLE'S SILENT MILLS. (Part IV)
CONCLUDING ARTICLE BY HERBERT BLACKMAN 1922
By the tone of the following extract from an old newspaper (kindly lent to the writer by Miss Saxby. of Battle) it
would appear that Mr. Lester Harvey, the proprietor of the " House" Mills and the Sedlescombe branch works,
felt aggrieved by an adver tisement by another firm of gunpowder makers, who appear to have taken over the
Pepper-in-Eye and Crowhurst Works of a Mrs,. Hammond, who was most probably a relative of a descendant of
the Hammonds of 1676, mentioned in the early portion of this paper.
GENTLEMEN,-As by a pompous advertise ment in several public papers, you have inserted that The Gunpowder
Mills you have lately taken of Mrs. Hammond, of Battle, are the oldest, and that the family of Hammond were
the original inventors of making the so much approved battle gun powder, it obligeth me to acquaint the pub lic
in general. and you in particular, that you have been guilty of a very great mis take. as the ancestors of my
father-in-law, the late Mr. William Gillmore, were the sole inventors and only proprietors of the gunpowder
works carried on in this place, until a Mr. Hammond by some means got into that branch of business.
GUY FAWKES' DAY
Before. bringing this paper to a close per haps mention might be made of the doings in Battle in former times on the evening of Guy Fawkes' Day, when from dusk until midnight the High-street was alive with fire works. the front of the old Abbey Gateway being the grand centre.
Large quantities of gunpowder for the purpose of making the "Battle Rousers " were given by Messrs. Laurence, and this amount was possibly augmented by powder procured by more mysterious means, and the late Mr Longley, of Battle, sometimes purchased nearly £30 worth of powder for the manufacture of his famous squibs
As showing this practice was a long continuance, Lady Westfield states that her aunt, who is well between ninety and a hundred years old, and who was born soon after the Harvey’s left Battle, tells her that on Guy Fawkes Day in the Harvey’s time (previous to 1817) every workman at the Powder Works got a certain amount of powder to celebrate the event, and that resi dents of battle never answered a knock at their door that night after dark, as a squib or some other firework would he hurled in. She said if any man had a grudge against anyone in battle they paid it oft very un pleasantly that night.
What remains to this day of the works and industry of which the story has now been told?
The Mills are silent and the methods of making munitions have undergone wonderful changes. Battle has long
since ceased to have a part therein.
Yet it is possible to roam over the sites and reconstruct the old works; there are interesting relics of the busy
past and old Mr. Morgan is happily still alive to assist in calling it back to mind.
The waterways still exist which conveyed water from the water wheels to the stream. The old runner stones lie
on the site of the old mills at Pepper-in-Eye and Sedlescombe, and we may indulge our imagination recon
structing the busy scenes in some of the old buildings of the Powder Works.
The glazing house, the corning house with the engine house adjoining and the magazine still stand at Pepper-
in-Eye; and at the "House " the millwrights' shop, the forge, and charge room remain, also the old cylin der
houses adapted as cottage and stores, and the old watch house.
One relic connected with the "House" Mills is continuing to serve a useful purpose. Probably very few persons
who hear the musical note of the bell summoning the inmates of the new Workhouse at Hastings to meals; etc.,
will recognise in it the tone., nor will they be aware that this bell rang cheerily from its turret by the engine
house at the Central Works, summoning through several generations the workers in this in dustry to and from
their various tasks.
With the closing of the works its activity seemed to have ended, but in the course of time, on the erection of the
new Workhouse, the bell found. a new home and is now serv ing another term of usefulness.
It is a little romance of industry, lit up with alternating success and loss, and the glamour there must for ever be
over the simple story of a village enterprise which became an industry of national importance.