Harry "Brusher" Mills, Hermit Snake Catcher
Many places have their local identities who become part of the local folk lore. One such character from last century was harry "Brusher" Mills, a snake catcher living in the New Forest of England.
- Who was Harry Mills?
- The Snake Catcher
- Why was he called Brusher Mills?
- The end of the snake catchers life
Who was Harry Mills?
Harry Mills, born as Henry, but eventually known to many by his nickname of Brusher, was born on 19 March 1840 near Lyndhurst in southern England. Around 1880 he moved into the New Forest area near Brockenhurst, where he chose to live the life of a hermit. He lived in a little charcoal burner's cottage, furnished with the bare minimum necessities, for many years. When he eventually moved into a bigger cottage it was destroyed by vandals, possibly because the local authorities were afraid he'd claim squatters rights to the land.
Some say the initial move was motivated by his being an asthmatic, leading him to consequently prefer a more outdoor life. Whatever the reason, Harry Brusher Mills became a well known figure in the area, attracting a lot of attention.
The Snake Catcher
In order to support himself in his new lifestyle, Harry took up snake catching. Carrying only a sack and a forked stick, he would be called upon to rid the rich neighbouring properties from snakes.
Some of the small snakes were sold to the London Zoo, as food for their birds of prey. Other snakes were boiled and from their remains he made snake ointments and potions, which he sold as popular remedies for many ailments such as rheumatism. He also boiled the snake remains, selling the snake skeletons to tourists coming to the New Forest.
Because of his unusual occupation and lifestyle he became a popular tourist attraction in the area . He enjoyed visitors and those calling on him were often offered a cup of tea.
Why was he called Brusher Mills?
There is some variation in the stories about why and how he acquired the name, Brusher. The most popular story has nothing at all to do with snake catching. He enjoyed cricket and liked to attend nearby games. As a supplement to his snake catching earnings he was paid to sweep the cricket pitch between matches. This became the name he was most commonly known by.
The end of the snake catchers life
After his cottage had been vandalised, Brusher moved into out buildings next to the local hotel. He liked a few drinks and living nearby suited him. After many years of ill health, he left the pub one day and when he hadn't returned after some tme the locals went to look for him. He was found dead, having died a natural death, on 1 July 1905 at the age of 65.
The people had become fond of their curious local identity and had a special marble headstone erected for him after he was buried in St Nicholas Graveyard in Brockenhurst.. Part of the headstone includes an etching of the snakecatcher at work.
After his death, the local pub at which he drank, The Railway Inn, was renamed The Snakecatcher Pub in memory of him. The pub still operates in Brockenhurst.
In 1983 the environmental sand artist, Brian Pike immortalised Brusher Mills with the painting of the snake catcher in his hat and holding snakes shown above. The image of Brusher Mills and that of the clearing in the New Forest above, are both paintings by Brian Pike, the images coming from Wikimedia Commons.
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