The Hogsmill River


We are grateful to the family of the late Derek Phillips for their permission to use much of the text and images from the website that was set up and run by him. Derek was very interested in local history and his community and a short biography can be viewed on the introductory page.

Bourne Hall Lake
The source of the Hogsmill River at Bourne Hall Lake. February 2004
Image courtesy of the Phillips family © 2007

The Hogsmill River flows from its source in Ewell Village to the Thames at Kingston. Its journey can be easily traced on foot or by cycle. Information about its history and suggested routes is available from both Epsom & Ewell Borough Council and The Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames. A 45 minute video about the river is available from Bourne Hall Museum Shop (Ewell) and the Tourist Information Centre (Kingston) as well as many local Libraries.


This one minute clip was made for the Kingston Council website
and so it shows proportionally more of the Kingson end of the river.
If you live in Ewell don't be dissuaded - there's plenty for you to enjoy in the DVD!

Less than a mile downstream from its source, a wooded area sometimes known locally as "the wilderness" contains some of the last remains of the gun powder mills that made Ewell notorious in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Sadly the notoriety was not for the quality of the gun powder that was produced, but for the numerous devastating explosions that ripped though the works. The reports of these are not for the faint hearted! See the gunpowder mills page for more details.

Holman Hunt - Light of the World
Holman Hunt - Light of the World

The pre-Raphaelite artist [Holman Hunt], who painted the picture "Light Of The World" on the banks of the Hogsmill River, wrote of a journey along the river at the time the picture was painted (1851) in his memoirs written in the early 20th century. You can read this description below.

The remains bear no resemblance to any building or process, so these pages aim to use archive photographs, maps and views of the area today to show what went on in various locations around the river and some of the stories that have been recorded in accounts of the explosions.

The only known photograph of one the Ewell Gunpowder Mill buildings
The only known photograph of one the Ewell Gunpowder Mill buildings c.1900
Taken around the beginning of the last century it show the Corning house
which was later used to generate electricity for Ewell Court House.
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

Today the location of this building is marked by a simple concrete weir. The mill pond which supplied the water to drive the mill was emptied when the sluice was breached and was filled in sometime later when the river was straightened.

The remains of the Corning House can be found in the form of brickwork on either side of the weir

A Friends of the Hogsmill group was formed in March 2004 and can be contacted via Epsom and Ewell Borough Council Countryside Team on 01372 732000.


Text written by the late Derek Phillips



A Walk Along The Hogsmill River
With William Holman Hunt c.1850

This text was written by William Holman Hunt around the beginning of the 20th Century. It describes the Ewell and the Hogsmill around 1850. I have illustrated as best I can with photos available to show definite or supposed locations described.

Line Drawing of Ewell Spring. Taken from WHH's memoirs
Line Drawing of Ewell Spring. Taken from WHH's memoirs

Ewell.....in Surrey, at the time I speak of, had a true claim to be a home of repose....... when the pedestrian, a-dust, a-thirst, and sun dazed, stepped within the surrounding rails of the crystal well, his eyes rested on the refreshing waters ere he raised them to his parched lips. The wide earth's thank offering of a spring of water out-pouring in its sparkling purity is ever a delight to the soul of man.

The village itself had no sense of modern bustling or hurry; all was arranged spaciously, all work executed with deliberation, and with such unostentation that externally there was little to distinguish the chemists shop from the bakers, or any other tradesman from that of his neighbour. On the outskirts of the trading centre there were gentleman's' homes and farmsteads ......Banstead and Epsom Downs formed the horizon to the south........

The water from the spring bore itself away in an opposite direction, first carolling along a pebble-strewed channel into a shallow pool crossed by a flat bridge, whence by the quiet searcher might be seen red spotted trout poised in mid-water, and casting their sleeping sun shadows on to the mossy gravel below, steady as though painted there. In the region beyond, the stream expanded bordered by well-tended lawns, and patterned with gaily flowered garden beds; between these widened borders lay an islet with weeping willows kissing the surface of the water. Peering down between the reflected boughs into the varnished shadows of the forest of weeds, the loiterer, lightly tiptoeing forward, might see the suspicious fish flitting lightning-like into unsearchable caverns.

A stone's-throw off, the pulsing wheel drew ones attention, and enticed one's steps along a road to the face of the mill, where whitened men bearing sacks of flour descended and ascended inclined planks between upper doorways and vans.

A further mill was so walled up as to conceal the water in its channel.

The Upper Mill. 1966
The Upper Mill. 1966

In the meadows below, the young current revelled in freedom, ofttimes taking a double course around mounds of earth well furnished with flourishing growth, then joining again and channelling itself through ditch-divided banks, under a forest of willows, with but occasional signs of any masters control.

An opening in the wooded hollow led to a track of cart ruts, winding around the river, where it broadened out into a shallow ford; the wheel marks led the way and tempted reckless feet to ford the transparent glaze of shining water, leading to a road bordered by blossoming trees and an ancient orchard, the herald of a farmhouse telling of past centuries. Beyond the house was a nave of noble elms extending in perspective to the skyline.

Stopping at the entrance to the avenue, any lover of natures shy creatures would be drawn to-wards a large lonely tarn, well-nigh carpeted with duckweed and white blossom wherever the reeds and flags had not pierced through the surface, or where far, or near, the wild fowl, or farm ducks and geese, had not cleared a domain for themselves..........

Mill Pond for Corning House
My preferred location for the above description is the mill pond
for the Corning House pictured here. Today, the viewer would be standing
on the wooden bridge facing west, with the Pack Horse bridge 45 degrees
to the right and the running track 45 degrees to the left.

Our little river below had to narrow itself to pass under the span of a brick-built arch made for neat booted lasses and swains; ...it then deepened and passed between banks, husbanding the currents force for man's further will; it rippled along, circling in dimples as it was driven under sheltering willows, its banks strewn with long-disused millstones, discarded roller beams, and ruined timber cog-wheels. Soon the flood was imprisoned by sluice gates; close at hand were abandoned huts, shuttered, overgrown, and choked with rank weeds.

The Pack Horse Bridge. A colourised photo from the early 20th Century
The Pack Horse Bridge.
A coloured postcard from the early 20th Century

Here the kingfisher arrowed his way, the wild pigeon chattered and cooed, and the distant cuckoo voice noted the season. Between all could now be heard the plash and cranking of a near water wheel. Now cut off from confiding trust, not even the lonely angler ventured thus far; the region was out of the ordinary world; being thus beyond the limits of common experience when, in the remoter solitude, a being, black as a creature of dark Avernus, passed by, he seemed fitly to haunt the scene. He was, however, only one who, for extra pay and much idleness, passed the day and night in turn with another man visiting at intervals a neighbouring gunpowder mill, shovelling up the deadly mixture always being ground by a revolving crusher on a circular platform.

Corning House Foundations
This photograph shows the foundations of the corning house
in around 1947. But the moody lighting fits the description.
The actual location described is probably just a bit up-stream from here.

The water served two neighbouring mills, and then for a mile or so it revelled in wanton freedom, cutting deep down into hollow meadows, nearly covered in border tangle. It emerged again between well-trimmed banks for further mill service before it got finally free in wide meadow-land.

William Holman Hunt c.1850




Boring legal stuff relating to this page

As explained earlier the text and images for this page came from the website run by the late Derek Phillips. To preserve his work and allow ready access to it, it was decided to merge his local history pages into the Epsom and Ewell History Explorer website. Of necessity some minor changes to the text were necessary and the layout has been changed to fit in with the house style of Epsom and Ewell History Explorer but in essence the web page is Derek's.

The family of the Late Derek Phillips makes every effort to ensure that the information on this web page is accurate. However, they cannot accept responsibility for any loss or inconvenience caused by reliance on inaccurate material contained in this site. Links to other sites are provided for your convenience, the Phillips family cannot give endorsement of them. They cannot be responsible for any information contained on other websites.

All material on this site (including text and images) is copyright. Every effort is being made to ensure that all sources are credited. Where no credit is given then it should be assumed that the copyright in any particular item resides with the Phillips family or that the Phillips family should be contacted to ascertain who owns the copyright before text or photographs are reproduced elsewhere. Educational use is permitted provided that no changes are made to the material and Derek Phillips is acknowledged as the source.

Commercial usage is prohibited unless formal written permission is obtained beforehand.



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