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Wednesday, 24 July, 2002 14:00 BST
Snakes alive!
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brusher Millls
The model of Brusher Mills in the New Forest Museum
tiny Many interesting characters have inhabited the New Forest over the years - none more so than 'Brusher Mills'.

BBC Southampton's Simon Marks investigated the forest's legendary snakecatcher.
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tiny Harry Mills, better known as 'Brusher Mills', became famous for his strange occupation - snakecatcher.

Harry was born in 1840 and lived near Lyndhurst. When he was in his 40s he took up a strange lifestyle. Harry found an old hut in the forest and made it his home.

Brusher Mills
Brusher Mills with his snakes
Armed with a sack and a forked stick, he set about catching snakes.

Some he sent to London Zoo as food for their birds of prey. Others he boiled so that he might sell their skeletons to curious tourists.

Some reports say that he knew how to make valuable and requested ointments from parts of the snakes.

It is estimated that he caught tens of thousands in his lifetime, though nobody knows how many times he was bitten, if at all. He would carry the snakes dangling from a stick over his shoulder.

It was another of Harry's pursuits which earned him his nickname. When there were cricket matches at Balmer Lawn he would attend to brush the wickets.

Harry was a regular at the Railway Inn, Brockenhurst.

The Snakecatcher
The Snakecatcher, Brokenhurst.
A popular story is that he once emptied a bag of snakes onto the floor in order to clear his way to the bar.

Today the pub is called The Snakecatcher.

One day Harry returned home to find that his hut had been destroyed by vandals. Nobody was ever caught but it has been suggested that the damage may have been done to prevent Harry from using forest law to claim ownership of the land on which he had lived for so many years.

Harry was heartbroken and died soon after, in an outbuilding of the Railway Inn.

Brusher's headstone
Brusher's Headstone
A marble headstone, paid for by locals, marks his grave in the churchyard of St Nicholas, Brockenhurst.

The task of snakecatching apparantly passed to Brusher's friend, George Wateridge, who also inherited the sack and stick which Brusher had used.

If Brusher were alive today he would have to seek other work as all forest wildlife is protected by both the Wildlife Act and local byelaws.



 
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