About the Snakecatcher

The New Forest is rich in myths, traditions and colourful characters but few tales are quite as enchanting as the legend of Harry “Brusher” Mills. Brusher, born in 1840 near Romsey, lived in a charcoal burners hut just north of Hollands wood, now the campsite on the edge of Brockenhurst. Home comforts were a bed of dry bracken, a homemade spoon and a tobacco tin.

 

An austere lifestyle it may have been, but this man of the Forest wouldn’t have chosen another way. “I was born a gardener,” he said, and far from being a recluse, he would invite visitors into his ramshackle home for a cup of tea, a drop of whisky and the chance to chat the day away. With his long, forked beard, his keen bright eyes, gaiters and hat, he was instantly recognisable in these parts and the Forest folk grew to love this curious character from deep in the woods.

His fame, however, was for catching snakes. It is estimated that in his lifetime, the New Forest Snakecatcher caught around 30,000 of the creatures, mainly grass snakes, but also adders. He caught them as a means of pest control, but also to sell to visitors, zoos and research centres and he even reckoned that using the fluids from a baked adder could cure rheumatism. When bitten himself – and it happened more than once – he would simply cut out the wound with his pocket knife and apply his own ointment.

He was a hugely popular man, especially in the Railway Inn in Brockenhurst, now The Snakecatcher, where he would often be seen enjoying “two or three pennyworths of rum”.

It was also the place where, on July 1, 1905, at the age of 65, he died; He walked out of the door after a tipple of rum and a few pickles, collapsed in a nearby outhouse and was pronounced dead by the local doctor. Harry “Brusher” Mills, Mourned by all who knew him, was buried at St Nicholas’ Church graveyard in Brockenhurst where his headstone can still be seen.

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