NEWARK Mill was a handsome building that stood beside the River Wey Navigation between Ripley and Pyrford. That was until the early hours of 3 December 1966, when it was burned to the ground.

At five storeys high and a “maze of weather-boarded walls at ever-changing angles, tiled roofs with varied gables and jutting dormers,” was how J. Hillier described it in his book Old Surrey Water-Mills, published in 1951. He judged parts of the building to be more than 300 years old.

Newark Mill was exceptionally large and a well-known building throughout Surrey and beyond. It is still fondly remembered today, while in 1991 Send & Ripley History Society published a booklet charting its history.

With various owners over the years, in the first half of the 19th-century the miller was Edward Eager. A papermaker by the name of Henry Bailey was miller from 1862 to 1880, although it only ever ground flour.

It had three large water-wheels and two sets of four pairs of grind stones. Milling ceased in 1942 and it was then used to store animal feed. In the 1950s its then owners, the Ockham Estate, sold it to the Rubin family of nearby Homewood Farm.

Before the fateful fire, they had been seeking planning permission to renovate the mill and get it working again, but use it as show-piece building and restaurant.

However, the blaze that took hold 53 years ago this week ended their plans. Reports in the local press afterwards said the sky was lit up for miles around. Fire crews from Guildford and Woking attended, but their arrival was impeded by traffic blocking the B367 Newark Lane.

Such was the ferocity of the blaze, the mill was “rapidly reduced to a pile of smouldering ashes”. Afterwards… “there remained only the twisted pieces of machinery and some of the old grinding stones”.

Reader Mark Coxhead was eight years old at the time and attending Pyrford Primary School. Mentioning this story to him he replied: “In the News & Mail’s report it says Woking Police could not find any trace of arson. However conversely, the booklet by Send & Ripley History Society describes how remains of lamps that used to be put along the side of roadworks and lit at night to alert drivers, were found in the vicinity of the fire. 

“And youths were apparently seen running away at the start of the blaze. That was widely rumoured in the Pyrford community at the time. It is extremely sad that such a magnificent and historic building burned down, especially as it very narrowly survived enemy bombing during the Second World War.”

Ripley, Send and Pyrford’s ‘bomb map’, a copy of which is at the Surrey History Centre, marks a high-explosive bomb landing close to Newark Mill on 21 September 1940. The history society’s booklet mentions an incendiary bomb landing near the mill house in 1941, which ignited a pile of coke.

If  you have some memories or old pictures relating to the Woking area, call me, David Rose, on 01483 838960, or drop a line to the News & Mail.

David Rose is a local historian and writer who specialises in what he calls “the history within living memory” of people, places and events in the west Surrey area covering towns such as Woking and Guildford. He collects old photos and memorabilia relating to the area and the subject, and regularly gives illustrated local history talks to groups and societies. For enquiries and bookings please phone or email him at: [email protected]

For the full story get the 5 December edition of the News & Mail