Copper Milling on the Wandle

by E N Montague

Whereas the establishment of copper mills at various locations throughout the Wandle Valley during the late 17th and early 18th centuries occasionally finds a brief mention in the respective parish histories, the phenomenon overall has so far attracted only passing comment and, rather surprisingly, appears not to have stimulated any detailed study by industrial historians.

This booklet brings together the more readily available information concerning those mills lying within Merton and Mitcham, to consider the factors behind this sudden emergence of the industry in the area and, perhaps, to encourage further work by others whose knowledge lies beyond the borders of these two parishes.

Extract from the Introduction


Published by Merton Historical Society – February 1999

Further information on Merton Historical Society can be obtained from
the Society’s website at , or from
Merton Library & Heritage Service, Merton Civic Centre, London Road,
Morden, Surrey. SM4 5DX




24. Surrey Record Office. Court rolls of the Manor of Reigate.
25. Surrey Record Office.
26. Surrey Record Office. 303/21/4/4
27. Burke J. B., Extinct and Dormant Baronetcies (1844) 332
28. Information from Michael Wilkes
29. Ditto (pers. comm. 13.10.79)
30. Guildhall Library. Hand-in-Hand insurance 82. f. 28, and Carshalton
rate book. Information from Michael Wilks (pers. comm. 13.10.’79)
31. Jones A.E. An Illustrated Directory of Old Carshalton 192
32. Jones ibid., 144
33. Milward R., Historic Wimbledon (1989) 93

The writer wishes to acknowledge the invaluable assistance so readily given
by the late Professor Michael Wilks during the early stages of assembling the
data for this booklet, and his helpful comments on reading an early draft.
Sincere thanks are also due to Peter McGow of Croydon for providing
information on Shears’ mills, and to fellow members of Merton Historical
Society Judith Goodman, Peter Hopkins and Dr Tony Scott for correcting
errors which otherwise would have passed into print.

Special thanks are also due to Peter Jackson for permitting the use of his
watercolour drawing, Christopher Wren supervising the erection of the Golden
Cross over St Paul’s, as our cover illustration. Mr Jackson’s reconstructions
of old London have graced many Fleet Street publications over the past 50
years, and have contributed to his well-earned reputation in the field of
London’s history.

February 1999

© E.N.Montague


Notes and References

Notes and References
Rowse A.L,, The England of Elizabeth (1953) 153
2. Day J. and Tylecote R., The Industrial Revolution in Metals (1991) 148
3. Victoria County History of Surrey II (1905) 413
4. Giuseppi M.S., “The River Wandle in 1610” Surrey Archaeological
Collections 21 (1898) 170-191
5. 250 Years of Map Making in the County of Surrey 1575-1823 pub. by
Harry Margary (1974). Sellars’ map was dedicated to John, Duke of
Lauderdale and Earl of Guildford, and first appeared c. 1679. It was
engraved “with many additions” c. 1693.
6. V.C.H. 367

7. Jowett E.M. A History of Merton and Morden (1951) 76
8. London Guildhall. Records of the Sun Office – information from John
Wallace of the John Innes Society, in a personal communication.
9. Surrey Record Office. Land tax records, Merton.
The spelling of the name varies considerably.
10. Surrey Record Office. James Cranmer’s Estate and Account Book 17401752
470. 2400
11. Lysons D., Environs of London (1792) 345
12. London Borough of Lambeth Archives, Minet Library. MSS. 1802: “A
Survey and Valuation of an estate call’d Merton Abbey in the parish of
Merton als. Marton in the County of Surrey” 63/719 S.505. S.R.
13. Surrey Record Office. Book of Reference. (Deposited 29.11.1834)
QS 6/8/164
14. Braithwaite F., “On the Rise and Fall of the River Wandle” Proceedings
of the Institution of Civil Engineers (1853)
15. Chamberlain W. Reminiscences of Old Merton (1925) 13
16. Information from his great-grandson, the late James Bass of Valley
Gardens, Colliers Wood, in a personal communication.
17. Crocker A.G, “The Paper Mills of Surrey Part III” Surrey History Vol. V
No. 1 (1994) 14-15
18. Michael Wilks (pers. comm., 20.1.’95, in part quoting correspondence
with Mrs. Joan Day a few years previously.)
19. Surrey Record Office. Survey of the Manor of Reigate 1623 46
20. Lang J., Rebuilding of St. Pauls (1958) 240-1
21. Mitcham Library. Tom Francis Scrapbook. Undated cutting from Mitcham
Advertiser: Letter from G. A. Hannaford, 11 Raleigh Gardens, Mitcham.
22. Michael Wilks (pers. comm. 20.1.’95)
23. Surrey Record Office. 303/21/4/1


Whereas the establishment of copper mills at various locations throughout
the Wandle Valley during the late 17th and early 18th centuries
occasionally finds a brief mention in the respective parish histories, the
phenomenon overall has attracted only passing comment and, rather
surprisingly, appears not to have stimulated any detailed study by
industrial historians. The following is an attempt to bring together the
more readily available information concerning those mills lying within
Merton and Mitcham, to consider the factors behind this sudden
emergence of the industry in the area and, perhaps, to encourage further
work by others whose knowledge lies beyond the borders of these two

A few words are needed first on the origins of copper, bronze and brass
working in this country. The existence of native ores, and the techniques
of smelting and casting to produce articles both in copper and, when
alloyed with tin, bronze have been known since the 3rd millennium BC.
Brass and latten were used extensively for relatively small objects in the
Middle Ages, but the dependence of the Elizabethan navy on imported
cannon, and the alarming lack of expertise in the manufacture of brass
in England, led to legislation in 1568 creating monopolies with the
intention of promoting the growth of indigenous non-ferrous industries.
Skilled German workers were encouraged to settle in this country, the
Mines Royal were granted the sole right to mine copper, and the Mineral
and Battery Works exclusive permission to extract calamine, a zinc
mineral, and to manufacture brass.1

State controls over the industry were gradually relaxed in the latter part
of the 17th century, but the two monopolies were not formally abolished
until repeal of the legislation in 1689. A general antipathy towards
Dutch manufactures, together with the continuance of protectionist
policies by Parliament, had fostered the growth of infant industries at
home, but it was the Revolution of 1688 and the ensuing wars with
France that can be seen as marking the commencement of an era of new
enterprise, and by the time of William III’s death in 1702 the country
was experiencing a vigorous expansion of industrial and commercial


The renaissance of the copper industry was marked by the revival of
smelting in the vicinity of Bristol, and the formation of the English Copper
Company of Lower Redbrook in 1691.
The renaissance of the copper industry was marked by the revival of
smelting in the vicinity of Bristol, and the formation of the English Copper
Company of Lower Redbrook in 1691. Here in the west were local
sources of both good quality ores and fuel – natural advantages not shared
by the London area, where at Woolwich and Nine Elms, near Vauxhall,
smelting works were also operating at the very beginning of the 18th
century. The capital, a major centre of commerce and finance, had access
to cheap, albeit poorer quality, overseas ores, as well as scrap. The
resulting metal, although not of the highest quality, fetched good prices
from the government and craftsmen of the metropolis. Works in the Home
Counties were to remain small, however, and with overall costs higher
than in more favoured parts of the country.

The Beginning of the Wandle Industry

It was thus that copper mills began to make their appearance in our area
even before the close of the 17th century, attracted to the Wandle as a
source of power, and by the locality’s proximity to the capital and markets
for the finished goods. An additional factor may well have been the
presence in the Wandle valley of gentlemen of substance, with an eye for
investment in potentially profitable enterprises, but, excepting one instance,
their direct involvement in the establishment of the local copper mills has
yet to be demonstrated. By the early 17th century London was already
largely dependent on coal, the cost of which was reflected in its having to
be transported by sea from Northumberland. Except, perhaps, in those
parts of Surrey accessible by water, fuel costs would therefore always
have been high, and there is no evidence whatsoever that smelting took
place in the Wandle valley. The assumption must be that the local mills
were using ingots or reworking scrap, most likely brought to the mouth of
the river at Wandsworth and then transported upstream by road.

Since the late 16th century there had been a steady migration into England
of Huguenot and other Protestant refugees from religious intolerance on
the Continent, particularly in the Low Countries, and this movement was
to increase markedly following the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in
1685 by Louis XIV. Many of the émigré families were highly skilled
craftsmen and successful business people, bringing with them expertise
which was to benefit greatly the emerging industries of their adoptive


writer’s area of study, but seem also to have lasted for a relatively short
time.31 At Wimbledon, as we have already remarked, there was a copper
mill in the early 1690s.5 A little further downstream, iron mills had also
been functioning since the 17th century, and it was these, according to
Milward,33 which were taken over by ‘The Governor and Company of
the Copper Miners’ in 1762 to become a large and successful copper
mill, and which were still in operation as a leather works until 1960.

From the foregoing notes, incomplete as they are, a pattern emerges.
All these mills seem to have appeared within a relatively short time and,
with the exception of the copper mills at Merton and Wimbledon, none
lasted much beyond the middle of the 18th century. A common factor
must have lain behind their foundation, and the expectation of profit
was obviously high, for in several instances we can detect evidence of
considerable capital being expended in diverting the river, creating mill
ponds, erecting and equipping buildings etc. In only one case is the
identity of the entrepreneur reasonably certain, and at this distance in
time we can only make guesses at the market being served and the cause
of the collapse of all but the two larger mills.

Unreliability of the springs serving the upper reaches of the Wandle shortage
of water was a recurrent complaint of mill owners in the l9th
century – seems the most likely reason for the closures, for lack of an
assured source of power would not only have rendered many of these
mills inherently risky ventures, but would also have restrained expansion.
A feature of the river today in its course through the London Borough of
Merton is the number and size of what are obviously artificial channels,
created to impound water. They are conspicuous on Rocque’s maps,
and must therefore have been constructed earlier than the mid-18th
century. Some can be shown to have served mills which were not copper
mills, and the need to have control over a sufficient volume of water to
ensure continuous working was of course common to all mill operators.
A substantial mill head was not always a sufficient safeguard, however,
and rights to water needed to be jealously guarded, disputes leading to
litigation on more than one occasion. The subject remains an intriguing
one, and further research may well lead to a better appreciation of the
problems encountered.


Thoyt paid £2 for the same privilege.Thoyt paid £2 for the same privilege.

William Thoyte was described as a “coppersmith of Whitechapel”.
Reputedly of Dutch origin, he is said to have Anglicised his name to
Thwaites, in which form it first appears in the Carshalton rate books.28
From 1744 until 1769 he is shown as the “occupier” of copper mills in
that village, and fire insurances and other records confirm him to have
had possession of houses and other premises in the vicinity of the High
Street.29 Towards the end of the 18th century what must have been
another William Thoyte (presumably a son or relative with the same
Christian name) became the owner of the copper mills in Merton High

We know nothing of what was actually produced by Thoyte at Willow
Lane (other than copper in some form), or when the mill ceased
production, but this could have been at the expiration of his lease towards
the end of 1749. Poor rate and land tax records for Carshalton show the
mill, which was converted to the production of flour in about 1753,
passing through the hands of various members of the Foster family over
the next 50 years – Edward 1753-66, Charles 1766-96, and Mary
(Charle’s widow) 1797-1807.25 Information from local sources is neatly
corroborated by the records of the Hand-in-Hand Insurance Company,
which disclose that a policy was issued on 7th December 1753 giving
cover of £300 to Edward, described as a millwright of Mitcham, and
that this was renewed by Charles in 1781. Cover was on a timber two-
storey tenement in his possession (£75), some three-storey warehouses
belonging to the mill (£150), a single-storey warehouse (£60), and a
stable (£15), “situated about a quarter of a mile from the west side of
Mitcham Common, in the parish of Carshalton”.30 Under different
proprietors the premises continued to be used as a flour mill until the
late 19th century.

Copper Mills in the rest of the Wandle Valley

Copper mills were operating in Carshalton during the first half of the
18th century, and include the three Shepley mills, the former Jarvis’s
Gunpowder Mills, acquired by the Company of Copper Mines in England
in 1766 and closed within a few years,31 and the Lower Mill which, until
shortly before 1776, was run by William Thoyte.32 They lie outside the


country. The employment of foreign metalworkers in England was, as
we have seen, nothing new, and the great Shropshire industrialist
Abraham Darby was following a well-worn path when he visited Holland
to recruit Dutch brass founders to work in Britain. That remarkable
industrialist Sir Ambrose Crowley, whose memorial can be seen in
Mitcham parish church (for reasons which still have to be fully
explained), also relied heavily on the skills of foreign workers.

Coppersmiths from the Low Countries and Normandy are recorded
working at Southwark in the late 16th century,3 but the industry had not
at this time spread as far west as Wandsworth. The Wandle, however,
was already heavily industrialised, no fewer than 24 corn mills alone
being recorded in 1610.4 It is likely there were other mills at this time,
engaged in a variety of processes, but of these the record is sketchy. A
number of battery and rolling mills, for which water power was the only
practicable source of energy, are said to have been established in England
in the late 17th century to exploit what hitherto had been a Dutch trade
secret for the manufacture of copper sheeting, and the version of John
Sellars’ map published in about 16935 shows a copper mill on the river
at Wimbledon roughly half a mile downstream from Merton. Aubrey
commented on a thriving manufactory at Wandsworth producing brass
plates for kettles, skillets, frying pans etc. Drawing on information
gleaned, he observed that here the industry was in the hands of
‘Dutchmen’, who kept the process a mystery. The map published with
his Natural History and Antiquities of Surrey in 1719 also shows a
copper mill in the north-east corner of the former priory precincts at

The Merton Mill

It is therefore to the copper mill at Merton that we shall first direct
attention, although it may not have been the earliest to appear in our
area. In her A History of Merton and Morden Evelyn Jowett suggested
that copper working, in addition to flour milling, may already have been
taking place at Merton Abbey in the 17th century.7 This was probably
speculation on her part, and the first documentary confirmation that a
mill on the site of the former Amery mills was being used for this purpose
dates from 1720, when a David Blanker insured his house and business


The site of the
Copper Mill
The site of the
Copper Mill

6 15

The Copper Mill at the end of Willow Lane

The Copper Mill at the end of Willow Lane
According to Michael Wilks a Sir Humphrey Mac(k)worth was smelting
lead and copper at Melincryddan near Neath in South Wales in 1707.
These works had closed down by 1732, but the family interest in metals
seems to have continued with Sir Thomas at Carshalton in the 1740s.18

“Mitcham Mill”, known at different times in its long history as Searle’s
Mill and Deed’s Mill, thus began life in the mid-18th century as a copper
mill, with financial backing presumably provided by Sir Thomas, whose
family seat was at Normanton in Rutland. In actual fact there were two
Sir Thomas Mackworths in the 18th century of which the younger seems
the more likely to have been tempted by the prospect of high profits to
invest in copper working. Like his father, Sir Thomas Mackworth II
was elected member of Parliament for the County of Rutland, but died
in 1745.27 As he had no heir, the estate passed to distant relations, which
provides an acceptable explanation for the somewhat abrupt termination
of the copper milling venture at the end of Willow Lane.

Access to the mill was via the ford at the end of Willow Lane, and the
mill itself stood on an island created by a diversion of the river. The
premises were actually in Carshalton, the Mitcham parish boundary being
defined by the Wandle which at this point still followed the original
course of river as it had done since the early Middle Ages.

From 1743 until around 1750 the copper mill was worked by William
Thoyt(e) or Thoyt(e)s, a tenant or lessee of Sir Thomas, to whom, in
March 1743, James Cranmer, the squire of Mitcham, granted a lease for
the use of water

“… with the liberty of raising a head of water in my Mill-head or

Canal & Great Pond in Mitcham from 12 o’clock at night to 12 o’clock

at noon every day for seven years & three Quarters of a Year from

Christmas last at £25 per ann.”

Sir Thomas agreed to pay Cranmer £1, being a year’s rent

“… for passing in Common wth … other Tenants along the Road between

Mitcham Common and the River to his Copper Mill, past Selby’s

whiting ground.”


premises at Merton, where he was in occupation of a copper mill.8
Blanker, whose name certainly suggests he was of Dutch origin, was no
mean industrialist, and in addition to processing copper also had a brazil
mill (producing dyestuffs) and a flour mill at Merton. His widow moved
to Croydon after his death, and his immediate successor at the Merton
mills is not known.

By 1780 the Merton copper mill was recorded as being in the occupation
of one “Thoyts”,9 most likely a relative (since otherwise he would have
been a somewhat elderly man) of the William Thoyte, a coppersmith
from Whitechapel who, from 1744 until 1749, was the tenant of a copper
mill at the end of Willow Lane, Mitcham.10 Valued at £140 for land tax
purposes, the Merton copper mill, like other premises on the ‘Merton
Abbey’ estate, was probably held on a lease from the Phipards, who
were the freeholders. Occupying as they did a prominent position near
Merton bridge, the mill and its associated buildings caught the eye of
Lysons, the historical topographer, who commented in 1792 that ” ….
on the northeast corner of the premises” (i.e. Halfhide’s calico print
works) “is a copper mill, in the occupation of Mr. Thoytts [sic], which
has been long established here.”11 Thoyte and Company’s tenure seems
to have ended in 1801 (this was the last year the firm paid land tax), and
in 1802 the copper rolling mill and hammer mill, “formerly a Brazil
mill”, was said to be let to Messrs Robinson and others.12 The
contemporary land tax records give the occupier as Francis Morgan.9

The mill premises at this time included two weatherboarded houses, one
occupied by the foreman and the other by labourers. Another
weatherboarded building, within which was the copper rolling mill,
contained one pair of rollers worked by an undershot wheel. A hammer
mill, part of which had formerly been a brazil mill, was also in a
weatherboarded structure. It employed two hammers, 6-7cwt each, their
mechanism powered by two large undershot wheels. Two smaller wheels
worked the bellows to two hearths for heating the copper. Various other
weatherboarded structures made up a complex assemblage of buildings.
There was a blacksmith’s forge, a copper house and millwright’s shop
in which were two large furnaces for melting copper, a charcoal house,
timber house and nailmaker’s shop, a coal shed, a loam shed, carriage
and cart houses, and stabling for five horses. In all, the copper works


covered an acre of land lying between what is now Merton High Street
and the old priory precinct wall – in other words, the site of the Amery
mills. In addition, to the south of the wall, Robinsons had a garden and
a paddock for the horses totalling two acres in extent.
covered an acre of land lying between what is now Merton High Street
and the old priory precinct wall – in other words, the site of the Amery
mills. In addition, to the south of the wall, Robinsons had a garden and
a paddock for the horses totalling two acres in extent.

John Hassell, compiling his Picturesque Rides and Walks published in
1817, found the copper mills in the occupation of “Shears”, a name
which was to remain associated with the industry at Merton for much of
the 19th century. In January 1832 an advertisement appeared in the
County Chronicle announcing the forthcoming sale by auction of “The
Capital Copper Mills on the River Wandle at Merton Bridge … by
direction of the Executors of Henry Taylor, Esq. deceased”. The precise
nature of Taylor’s interest has not been ascertained, and the outcome of
the auction later that month is unknown, but the auctioneer’s description
of the “very Extensive Copper Mills on that well-known and powerful
stream the river Wandle” is interesting for the additional detail it provides.
Readers were told that there were “three large water wheels, driving
several pairs of rollers, large hammers, shears, &c; five heating furnaces,
three refinery furnaces, two pairs of blast furnaces, a steam engine of
36-horse power, and every other requisite for conducting a concern of
the very first consequence, with superintendent’s dwelling, counting
house, stabling, smith’s and millwright’s shops, yards, garden and two
workmen’s cottages, held for nearly eleven years, at a low rent.”

Two years later, when a survey was conducted of the river, the occupiers
of the Merton copper mills were recorded as Daniel Towers Shears and
James Henry Shears, holding the premises on lease from the landowners,
Mansfield and Smith.13 In 1853 Braithwaite found Shears and Sons’
mill operating day and night. The three wheels working together produced
50 hp, but not infrequently they were short of water, and it was necessary
for power to be augmented by a steam engine of 40 hp.14

The unreliability of the Wandle as a source of power undoubtedly lay
behind Shears’ association with the promotion of the Tooting, Merton
and Wimbledon Railway, authorised on 29 July 1864 (27 & 28 Vict.
cap. 325). The Act names the four leading promoters, John Smith
Mansfield, Charles Robert Smith, John Leach Bennett, and William
Shears, who were appointed to be amongst the first directors of the
company. Section 31 of the Act specifically authorised the building of


from the 1760s as the former occupier of three small messuages in the
neighbourhood of the bridge, when it is made clear that by this time the
mills were being used for grinding corn.23 Ownership of ‘Perry’s Mill’,
and presumably the two mills nearby, had passed to William Myers in
1725 under the terms of his kinswoman Susannah Smythe’s will, and
remained in the hands of his family throughout the second quarter of the
18th century.24 Poor rate books for the parish of Mitcham25 show an
Edward Nash to have been the occupier of one mill near Mitcham bridge
as far back as 1756, and he was still there in March 1764 when the
“messuage, garden and yard belonging, two closes of pasture, the
millhouse, three water corn mills at Mitcham, three small messuages
formerly occupied by Charles Perry, the Long Meadow in Morden, the
Island, a new copper mill, a piece of meadow and watercourse in
Carshalton” were leased by Archibald Stewart and William Myers,
respectively leaseholder and owner of Mitcham Grove, to Robert
Cochran, a Mitcham surgeon.23 Cochran subsequently acquired the
freeholds, and in August 1765, acting with John Marlar, a London
merchant living in Lower Mitcham, granted Nash two leases of land
and mills for a period of 99 years. The freehold was conveyed by Cochran
to Rowland Frye of Wallington in October 1768 by the usual procedure
of the grant of a year’s lease, followed shortly afterwards by the sale of
the reversionary interest.26

Whereas two of the three “water corn mills” can be seen as the
predecessors of what subsequently became the Grove and Crown mills
at Mitcham, the third has not been identified with any of the mills known
from maps and records of the mid-19th century, but as a corn mill it is
irrelevant to the present study, and can be ignored. The mill house still
survives, as does the “Long Meadow in Morden”, which is now part of
the National Trust Watermeads property. Finally, the “Island” (on which
the “new copper mill” stood), the piece of meadow and “the watercourse
in Carshalton” can all be found without difficulty on the 25-inch O.S.
map of 1867, where they are shown at the end of Willow Lane, occupied
by buildings marked as “Mitcham Mill”.


Niblett’s occupancy of the mill may have terminated soon after the cross
was finished, for the second name we have is that of Charles Perry (or
Parry) of Mitcham who is said to have applied for, and obtained, a
licence to manufacture copper coins (more likely blanks) at the “Tower
Mill” in 1712. A Francis Parry was a partner at a copper smelting
works established by the English Copper Company on the river Wye at
Redbrook in about 1691, and it seems likely the two were related.
Niblett’s occupancy of the mill may have terminated soon after the cross
was finished, for the second name we have is that of Charles Perry (or
Parry) of Mitcham who is said to have applied for, and obtained, a
licence to manufacture copper coins (more likely blanks) at the “Tower
Mill” in 1712. A Francis Parry was a partner at a copper smelting
works established by the English Copper Company on the river Wye at
Redbrook in about 1691, and it seems likely the two were related.
Next, there is mention of a “Mr. Brightred” with a copper mill at Mitcham
around 1723,22 but nothing more can be said of him, although we might
speculate that he was either in partnership with Perry, or else held the
mill on a sub-lease.

In 1724 another Swede, Henrich Karlmeter, listed six copper mills on
the Wandle, two of them, in Michael Wilks’ opinion, being “at Carshalton
.. (which) .. we can identify .. as at the Butter Hill and Shepley sites.
Two more were said to be a mile and half from Mitcham and to be
making hammered goods; they used some Swedish ore and also Barbary
ore from Africa, although the latter was of poor quality and had to be
refined in a blast furnace using Sussex charcoal.” One of these mills
could very well have been that of David Blanker at Merton, whilst the
other was presumably that which we have seen was located at Wimbledon.
“The other two”, Wilks concluded, “were at Wandsworth, hammer mills
belonging in one case to the English Copper Company (I would identify
them as Benhams Mill and Upper Mill), which used English copper for
making hollow-ware vessels – mainly for trade with the Guinea coast,

i.e. the slave trade.”22
By the mid-1720s copper working had evidently declined at Mitcham,
for Karlmeter did not see fit to include the Tower Mill amongst the six
he listed, merely referring to a “works of former importance at Mitcham.”2
That the mill building itself was to remain for another 20 years or more
can be seen from Rocque’s map of London dated 1741-5, which shows
‘Perry’s Mill’ in the vicinity of Mitcham Bridge. There is no further
mention of copper working here, and it can be assumed that it had ceased
by the late 1740s. Charles Perry appears to have died in December
1748, for a Charles “Parry” was buried that month in the central aisle of
Mitcham parish church, where there is an inscribed floor slab to his
memory. He finds mention in the first of a series of deeds surviving


“a proper siding from the said Railway No. 1 (i.e. the Merton Abbey
loop) to the Copper Mills in the Parish of Merton in the occupation of
Messieurs Shears and Sons.” The railway was opened on 1 January,
1869, but apparently the siding was not constructed until some years
later, for it is not shown on the early Ordnance Survey maps, and first
appears on that of 1894-96, where it is marked as ‘Mill Siding’.

Chamberlain remembered the mills as occupying “large buildings of
tarred wood, with red tiled roofs and a number of furnaces and chimneys,
which formed quite a favourite subject for many artists.”15 Within the
mill, he said, there was a “large hammer worked by a waterwheel, which
could be heard a considerable distance, more especially in the stillness
of the night.” The copper works had an impact on the locality in other
ways, for they provided employment for a number of local men. Some
had migrated from further afield, including James Barton Bass, a copper
roller from Fareham who had been attracted to Merton by the prospect
of skilled work, and bought one of the two Millers Mead cottages off
what is now Colliers Wood High Street in 1831.16

Copper working seems to have ceased at Merton around 1870. In 1895
the first entry occurs in the Paper Mills Directory for the Merton Abbey
mills of the Metropolitan Paper Co., who had taken over the site.17

The Old Copper Mills at Merton, by Hubert Williams – late 19th century


The Mitcham Copper Mills

The Mitcham Copper Mills
This had a small re-melting furnace, a rolling mill and a forge, and was
producing blanks from which farthings and halfpennies were struck after
being transported to the Royal Mint. The operation was performed
under licence from the Crown, and only the higher grade copper from
domestic ores was allowed to be used.18 Two years later, in 1700, what
must have been the same mill was recorded in a survey conducted for
the manor of Reigate. This found that there was “one Messuage or
Tenement with a Water Mill now used for the working of copper and a
parcel of marsh ground thereunto belonging situate and being at Mitcham
and containing 30 acres” held of the manor by “Smith of Mitcham,
Widow” at a quit rent of 20s.19

The name of the actual proprietor of the mill is not given, but its site is
beyond doubt, for since the 16th century the Smith, or Smythe, family
had owned three mills, or the land on which they stood, immediately
above Mitcham bridge. As prominent country gentry, they were not
directly involved in running the mills themselves, merely deriving a useful
income from the leases granted to the proprietors. Until the mid-18th
century the names of the occupiers of the copper mill are difficult to find
from the official records – the Mitcham poor rate books, for instance, do
not survive from before 1755/6. The first name to have come down to
us is that of Andrew Niblett, who described himself as a “citizen and
armourer of London”. The records of St. Paul’s show that Niblett was
awarded the contract for making the original ball and cross for the
cathedral in 1708, using the “finest British copper”.20 The details have
not been confirmed in the original accounts, but it is understood
manufacture actually took place at “Andrew Niblett’s copper mill at
Mitcham”. Unfortunately the precise location of this mill has not been
identified, and there is no mention of Niblett in local records. Niblett,
who died in August 1736, is said to have been paid £1,538. ls. 6d. “for
ye Balle and crosse for ye lanterne” which withstood the atmosphere of
London for a little over 100 years, before being taken down in 1821 and
replaced with the present ball and cross.21


Enlarged extract from John Rocque’s Map of 10 Miles around London 1741-45
showing Perry’s Mill upstream from Mitcham Bridge