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Westbrook Mills (Pullman's Mill)

In 1810 the extensive premises of Westbrook Mills, then in the occupation of Mr. Charles Cheyne and Messrs. John Twycross and Son, were used as flannel and leather factories. One summer's afternoon a fire was discovered, which was rapidly put out without serious injury. It was said to have been caused by a quantity of greasy waste from the engine of the site's flannel factory which had, interestingly, ignited "from its own heating qualities, and assisted by the sun"[1].

By 1841[2] the mills had become the property of Dalton and Madeley, who described themselves as oil-leather dressers at Godalming Leather mills[3]. In 1861 Frederick Madeley, who was unmarried, was still living at the mill and employing 100 persons[4]. The previous year he had become a Vice-President of Godalming Institute[5]. However, in 1867 William Henry Lyon was the mills' manager[3] and was still there at the next census[4].

The 1875 sale of Westbrook Mills reveals just how extensive the concern was:

  • Lot 1. The Westbrook Mills, used for more than a century past as oil leather dressing mills and for many years occupied by Dalton and Madeley (Limited). It was capable of turning out 12,000 chamois skins per week. ...
  • Lot 2. Water Corn Mill, known as the Salgasson Mill. Latterly used as a fibre mill ... a never failing water power.
  • Lot 3. Freehold Water Meadow Land (subject to Lammas commonable rights) - a little over 15 acres.
  • Lot 4. Freehold meadow land, of about 1 rood in length, adjoining the railway embankment and pathway from the road leading into Godalming[6].

It was purchased by R. & J. Pullman and that company continued at Westbrook Mills until the early 1950s[7].

"Sussex Advertiser", 11 May 1878.

Messrs Robert and John Pullman, leather dressers and sellers 17, Greek street, Soho Square, London had works at Lostford Mills in Wonersh and at Westbrook Mills. They had sent "buck, doe, and fawn skins for breeches makers, pianoforte makers, boot makers, saddlers, and glovers; Chamois, in crust and finished; Norway does, for glovers, truss and surgical bandage makers; tan sheep for leggings and use in musical instruments; white sheep for organ and harmonium manufacturers; white lambs for plaisters and masonic aprons; white splits for chemist, druggists and performers; basils for saddlers, trunk and truss makers, &c.; leather aprons, for butlers, cellarmen and smiths; buff hides, bleached and unbleached, and white enamel accoutrement makers, &c., gloves, men's harvest tan, housemaids' tab and wash ; bleaching composition, for cleaning leather breeches, gloves, belts &c."

The 1880s were to show how progressive Westbrook Mills were. On the night of 15th December 1881 the town successfully tested the generation of electricity by water power. The driving power required was obtained by two poncelet waterwheels at Westbrook Mills[8]. Then in 1888 Messrs. R. and J. Pullman introduced one of Swinton's telephones and could then communicate with the new station[9].

River pollution was a problem at this time. The river near the Westbrook Skin Mills was described in 1881 as "the colour and apparently consistency of whitewash, produced probably by the introduction of lime, whiting or a combination of both"[10]. Although it was beyond their jurisdiction, Thames Conservancy wrote to the Borough Council about the pollution of the River Wey between Guildford and Godalming in 1892 as they were concerned it might pollute the Thames. Apart from those who had cesspools, the drainage passed straight into the river. There was also the fear that the river was being polluted by the tanneries, Westbrook Mills, the steam laundry (Catteshall Lane) and Catteshall Mills although the Council stated that the local factories had recently taken every care possible to prevent this. In addition, Godalming Main Drainage Board were about to commence work on their drainage so such complaints should cease[11].

We learn more about Pullman's from the prospectus when their business was floated on the Stock Exchange in 1895. The new company was to be formed to extend what was already a prosperous business (R. and J. Pullman, Leather Dressers, Merchants, Government and Railway Contractors). Their Godalming works included the Westbrook and Salgasson Mills and the Old Stocking Factory; the first two premises were freehold. Pullmans' existing business had been established in about the middle of the eighteenth century and the London Directory of 1802 showed the owner at that time to be John Every. In 1824 Every's nephew, Robert Pullman, succeeded his uncle; he was the grandfather of the managing directors who were in charge in 1895. The company name of R. and J. Pullman was created in 1841 by Robert Pullman's two sons. By the time John Pullman died in 1873 the business had already attained an important position in the leather trade, and his five sons continued and extended the concern[12].

Another success was highlighted in an Advertisement in 1906. Their well-known Non-Skid Bands (vulcanised) had recently been fitted to a Car of H.M. The King![13] This was, of course, King Edward VII.

John Janaway suggests that Westbrook Millls began opening possibly around 1745. so by the time they closed had been operating in Godalming for over 300 years![14].

Enlargement of the mill's buildings.

There were a number of fires at Westbrook between 1887 and 1936, mostly causing a great deal of damage.

  • January 1887[15].
    About 6.45 one Wednesday morning, the Gas Works "hooter" announced to the inhabitants that a fire had broken out in the neighbourhood, and the locale was found to be the Westbrook Skin Mills.
    The fire was in a two storeyed building some 50 yards in length that was known as the old mill, between Salgasson Mill and Mr. Pullman's home. Firemen from the Godalming Brigade arrived with two manual engines, then another came from Catteshall Mills and Godalming's curate went to Charterhouse to borrow their manual engine. Whilst the old mill could not be saved, the fire did not spread. Nevertheless there was water damage to furniture in the house and other buildings.
    Unfortunately new machinery, "bumpers" and "fallers" for dressing the skins, was destroyed and thousands of skins that were undergoing preparation were irretrievably lost.

  • December 1914[16].
    Damage between £15,000 and £20,000 was incurred yesterday at Pullmans. Since the outbreak of the war the firm has been working at high pressure. This fire was in the four storey building used for dyeing and drying leather. Not only was the building destroyed but a large quantity of leather, in an almost finished state, was lost.
    It seemed to have affected the workforce less than first anticipated, with the men remaining fully employed.

  • May 1933[17].
    This fire was the biggest Godalming had seen for years. It began ten minutes after the start of the workers' lunch break. A large four storey building was gutted although the ground floor was protected by a concrete fireproof ceiling. The three floors that were burnt were used for drying skins, which were mostly destroyed. The building's lift was also in flames. Whilst the fire brigade were quickly on the scene, the pump they were using gave out after 20 minutes and Guildford Brigade was called to assist. But a huge store of oil and the adjoining offices were undamaged, apart from one corner. The general manager, Mr. J. C. Hook, said that the men's employment would be unaffected.

  • March 1936[18].
    Godalming's worst fire for several years, which lit up the whole town, was discovered by a Mr. Wibberley who was a shift engineer at the nearby electricity generating station. It broke out in the early hours of Thursday 26th March. A large block of buildings was destroyed, the carpenters' shop was gutted, one end of the boiler house was damaged and the roofs of the lime yard and colouring department were damaged. Fifty employees were stood off, although the firm made immediate plans to resume production as soon as practicable.

"Godalming". [Town View with Westbrook Mills in the foreground]. Published by A. Jury, 71, High Street, Godalming - RA Series, The Seal of British Excellence. Printed in England. Not used.
Postcard in the collection of, provided by and © Ann Andrews.
Researched, written by and © Ann Andrews.
Intended for personal use only.


[1] "Kentish Gazette", 19 June 1810.

[2] The 1841 census of England and Wales. Frederick Madeley was living at Westbrook Mills with Ann Lyon and her son Charles.

[3] They advertised in Kelly's Directory, 1855 - Dalton and Madeley Leather dressers, oil-leather dressers, Godalming Leather mills - and Kelly's Directory, 1867 - Dalton and Madeley (limited) (William Henry Lyon, manager) oil-leather dressers, Leather mills.

[4] Mr. Madeley was shown as living at Westbrook Mill House in the 1861 census. He was born in Warwickshire and baptised in Birmingham on 6 Oct 1800; he passed away at Lavender Hill on 8 Oct 1885. By the 1871 census he had retired and moved to Milford Heath with his sisters and staff. Mr. Lyon and his family then resided at the Mill House.

[5] "West Surrey Times", 3 March 1860.

[6] "Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser", 12 June 1875. Sales by Auction.
"Freehold Oil Leather Dressing Mills, water Corn Mill, and about 16 acres of meadow land. With possession". The property was described as "situate on the river Wey, skirting the town of Godalming, close to the New Godalming Station, 32 miles from, and within one hour's ride of, London".

[7] Approximate date of closure from Janaway, John "The Story of Godalming" (1983) Local Heritage Books, Newbury ISBN 1 86368005 4.

[8] "Nottingham Evening Post", 16 December 1881. Electric Lighting by Water Power. This was reported in many newspapers of the day.

[9] "Surrey Advertiser", 28 January 1888. The telephone at Westbrook Mills.

[10] "Surrey Advertiser", 30 May 1881. Letters to the Editor. River pollution.

[11] "Surrey Advertiser", 9 May 1892. Town Council. Urban Sanitary Authority. The River Wey.

[12] "East Anglian Daily Times", 7 August 1895. } Prospectus. Company of R. & J. Pullman Limited.
"Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser", 7 August 1895. }
And other newspapers.

[13] "Morning Post", 17 November 1906 [Advertisement]. Westbrook Mills, Godalming, Surrey.

[14] Janaway, John "The Story of Godalming" (1983) Local Heritage Books, Newbury ISBN 1 86368005 4.

[15] "Surrey Advertiser", 24 January 1887. Serious Fire at the Westbrook Mills. Great Damage.

[16] "Dundee Courier", 10 December 1914. Disastrous Factory Fire.

[17] "West Sussex Gazette", 18 May 1933.

[18] "West Sussex Gazette", 2 April 1936. Big Mill Fire.

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