Morden Hall Park: an industrial estate

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The River Wandle was once a hive of industrial production. The river winds through Morden Hall Park, and two buildings in particular hold testament to the industrial heritage of the estate. These are the two snuff mills (still standing) which used to grind tobacco leaves into snuff.

What is snuff?

Snuff is the powder produced when dried tobacco leaves are ground, usually between two stones. The grind stones were turned by a waterwheel which was powered by the current of the river. Snuff was often perfumed with spices or floral flavours and small amounts were sniffed through the nose. During the 18th century it was extremely fashionable especially among the gentry.

Early snuff production at Morden

The first snuff mill was built on the estate in 1750 on the east side of the River Wandle. It was first leased by Peter Davenport and Nathaniel Polhill. Nathaniel was also member of parliament for Southwark in the late 1770s. During this time snuff was growing in popularity and to meet demand the west snuff mill was built in 1830. This new mill benefited from modern technology including a mechanical pestle and mortar to grind the tobacco leaves.

Taddy and Co.

In 1834 the Hatfeilds, after marrying into the Taddy family, took over the lease of the snuff mills. The Taddy family owned ‘Taddy and Co.’ which was a successful tobacco grower and snuff manufacturer. The snuff-milling production at Morden remained in the Hatfeilds care until 1922 when Gilliat Edward decided to close the business because of staff strikes in east London. However, a true gentleman, he ensured his staff at Morden remained employed on his estate.

The Groves: Three generations of snuff foremen

Three generations of the Groves family worked in the snuff mills at Morden, starting with James Groves who is recorded as a ‘snuff grinder’ in Morden in 1861. Records show that his son William and grandson John continued his line of work. John continued to work at the estate after the mills closed in 1922 and remained in Morden until his death in 1967. The Groves family lived in Mill cottage, and the women of the family also found work on the estate.