Harry "Brusher" Mills, Hermit Snake Catcher

Val MillsStarred Page By Val Mills, 6th May 2012 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL http://nut.bz/2po3ux5o/
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>History

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?

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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Brockenhurst, Brusher Mills, Famous Grave, Folk Hero, Harry Mills, Hermit, Local Identity, New Forest, Snake Catcher, Snakecatcher Pub, Tourist Attraction

Meet the author

author avatar Val Mills
Self-published writer, coffee drinker, enjoying life. Also found at
writingyourstories.wordpress.com and http://downatthebaths.blogspot.co.nz/

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author avatar Val Mills
6th May 2012 (#)

Incidentally, no relative, but I became fascinated as my husband had an uncle called Harry.

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author avatar Md Rezaul Karim
6th May 2012 (#)

Good to read your nicely written article. Thank you for sharing.

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author avatar The Pencil Minstrel
6th May 2012 (#)

Fascinating... I loved it.

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author avatar Buzz
6th May 2012 (#)

Fascinating, Val. Were it not for your disclaimer, I was curious to ask if your husband and he are somehow related. :-)

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author avatar Val Mills
6th May 2012 (#)

I'd be delighted if they were, he sounds as if he was quite a character!

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author avatar Sivaramakrishnan A
6th May 2012 (#)

Were there so many snakes in England? What about now? Thanks for the share, Val - siva

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author avatar Denise Larkin
6th May 2012 (#)

Interesting page.

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author avatar Delicia Powers
6th May 2012 (#)

I always enjoy the folklore of true life more than any fiction... fascinating man and legacy...thanks for this great share- I love reading your wonderful pages Val, thank you:0)

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author avatar Pradeep Kumar B
6th May 2012 (#)

Very interesting article. Thank you for sharing.

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author avatar Don Rothra
6th May 2012 (#)

Nice work

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author avatar Christine Crowley
7th May 2012 (#)

Nice article!

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author avatar Ivyevelyn, R.S.A.
21st May 2012 (#)

Thank you, Val: This a wonderful page, with fascinating pictures.

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author avatar Katie Higgins
21st Oct 2012 (#)

Lovely story. I'm a bit fascinated by him as I'm looking into my family tree on my step fathers side, name Martin Mills. Do you know anymore about his family? Thanks in anticipation.

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author avatar Susan Brown
13th Jun 2016 (#)

I find very fascinating, as brusher Mills was a very distant relative on my late mothers side

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