Nestled in the picturesque woodland of the Tillingbourne Valley in southern England, the Chilworth Gunpowder Mills stand as a testament to a bygone era. Erected nearly four centuries ago by the East India Company, these mills once thrived as a vital gunpowder manufacturing hub. The Tillingbourne River gracefully traces its path along the northern boundary, while the original mills canal meanders along the southern edge.
A Historical Odyssey
The Genesis (1626-17th Century)
The Chilworth Gunpowder Mills were born in 1626, conceived by the East India Company to supply its forces abroad. This marked the inception of one of the earliest gunpowder mills, an industry that reigned over the region for almost three centuries. As the 17th century dawned, the management of the gunpowder works at Chilworth transitioned from the East India Company to private enterprises.
George Evelyn’s Legacy
In the first half of the 17th century, George Evelyn played a pivotal role, establishing additional mills for gunpowder production in Long Ditton, Godstone, and Wotton, all within Surrey. The Evelyn family held the exclusive rights to produce gunpowder in England for the King until 1641, when the royal monopoly system was dismantled. Subsequently, the mills evolved into a crucial supplier of gunpowder to the government.
The Wartime Takeover and Closure
During World War One, the Admiralty took control of the Chilworth works. However, as the war concluded, most Admiralty structures were razed, and in 1920, the mills shuttered their operations.
Chilworth Gunpowder Mills Today
Despite the demolition of numerous structures in the 20th century, over 100 key buildings still grace the Surrey Hills site. The visible remnants predominantly belong to the 1880s-1890s era. The site also features a water management system, a packhorse bridge, and traces of a tramway.
Owned by Guildford Borough Council, the site enjoys protected status as a designated monument and was honored with a Green Flag in 2017 for its profound natural and historic significance.
Navigating to Chilworth Gunpowder Mills
For those eager to explore this historical gem, the nearest station is Chilworth, and the closest road is Dorking Road (A248). Access to the mills is available through Blacksmith Lane and Vera’s Path, situated next to Chilworth Infant School. Alternatively, the Downs Link Path on Lockner Farm Lane offers another scenic route.
In the heart of the Tillingbourne Valley, the Chilworth Gunpowder Mills stand as silent witnesses to centuries of history. From their establishment by the East India Company to the Evelyn family’s legacy and their eventual closure post-World War One, these mills encapsulate a rich tapestry of the past. Today, as protected remnants, they continue to beckon history enthusiasts, earning the prestigious Green Flag for their natural and historic allure.