Water mills, buttons and a tragic story

Rouser 2012
Rouser 2012

MEMBERS of the Sussex Archaeological Industrial Society are engaged in a history study of the area around Barcombe Mills, including the river, railway station, toll road, water mills and button factory.

Member Mike Green told Rouser: ‘A number of photographs of personnel who worked at the button factory have been brought to our notice, but identifying them is proving difficult.

‘This photograph, depicting a group of redundant factory workers posing against Barcombe fire engine was taken on March 10, 1939, the morning following a mysterious fire that destroyed their workplace.

‘The centre four have been identified as Vera Barden, Barbara Baker, Basil Fuller and Raymond Nye. The volunteer fire fighter facing away from them was local farm worker Stan Brooks.

‘It is known that Vera later became Mrs Klassen and Barbara married Basil Fuller.

‘Can any readers help with the two ladies standing either end of the group. And any information on the former button factory, including ephemera, would be most welcome.’

David can be contacted on mikegreen106633@hotmail.co.uk

n The last working mill at Barcombe Mills was built in 1870. It stood empty for many years after ceasing to grind corn until 1934 when it became the aforesaid button factory, owned by a German and run by Italians as one of the major employers in the village.

But the war clouds were looming and the factory was completely destroyed by a mysterious fire in the early hours of March 10 March 1939.

Sadly, several of the Italians who worked there later died when the ship carrying them back to their native country was torpedoed by a German U-Boat after the outbreak of the Second World War. Their ghosts are supposed to haunt the site of the old mill.

Percy Blackford was a button polisher at the factory at the time it was destroyed. Many years later he recalled how the buttons were placed in a giant drum full of reject matchsticks supplied by Bryant and May which was then revolved by water power (sometimes a turbine was used) and the friction produced a gleaming finished product.