Around about this time one year ago there was a great deal of wailing and gnashing of teeth in our little village. The Gomshall Mill, the historic pub on the main A25 road that links Guildford with Dorking, closed its doors for what many of us thought might be the last time. Just before Christmas, too. The Mill was a victim of Covid, of course, but an additional factor was its location over the River Tillingbourne which flows beneath it and, from time to time, backs up at the point where it enters the tunnel underneath and floods the ground floor.

        The building which houses the Mill dates back to the 11th Century, and it was still grinding flour until 1953. Inside, encased behind thick glass, you can see the old waterwheel that was once turned by the river, though in reality the Tillingbourne is nowadays a gentle stream less than six feet wide. Only in torrential rain does it back up, but that’s occurred three times since we moved to the village, with disastrous results for the Mill. Fortunately, we live above it. 

        Long before we moved here, the Mill was the village post office, then a tea shop run by a couple of elderly ladies. Later it became a pub and restaurant. When we arrived it was run by the Bluebeckers chain, then it was taken over by a London based company called Brunning & Price, which operates over 80 pubs around the UK. When they opted to throw in the towel last December, the doors were padlocked, a security firm installed cameras all around and up went a For Sale sign. Because we live close by, I opened up email communications with the company’s Operations Manager, name of Tamsyn, seeking to establish when and if a new owner had been found.

        About eight months elapsed. Two or three times, Tamsyn told me they were showing around prospective buyers. Two or three times, Tamsyn told me there were no takers yet. I spoke to one who was mooching around and bigged it up. I complained to Tamsyn that the Mill, once the pride of our village – there are brown signs on the roads approaching Gomshall drawing attention to it as a ‘historic building’ – was looking a bit derelict and that the back garden was badly overgrown. To her credit, gardeners were sent to tidy it up, but the weeds beneath the paving stones on the front patio gave the Mill an unloved, run-down look unbefitting a Grade II listed building. 

        I was told the Mill would be auctioned off last April but it never happened. Opposite it, on the same level, is a huge car park with room for perhaps 70 or 80 cars, and there were fears this might be sold separately. The phrase change of use was heard. It had an ominous ring. Then in July, Tamsyn emailed me again: “We are preparing it for sale. I believe it will be with a new owner imminently.” 

        The room in which I do my writing looks down on the Mill’s extensive back garden and not long after receiving that email I spotted two gents down there, sat at a table. I decided to join them. They eyed me suspiciously as I approached. “Are you going to buy it?” I asked. One of them, name of Julian, said maybe. I bigged it up again. 

The view from my office window, with the Tillingbourne running beneath The Mill

        In the event it never went to public auction. Julian Clarke’s company, New Dawn Pubs, bought the Mill at a price rumoured to be in the region on £720,000, which is a snip as three-bedroomed houses in this village can sell for more than that and the Mill is hardly small. The catch, of course, was that according to a local builder pal of mine it needed over £1m spending on it. The roof tiles were crumbling. One of the walls had cracks in it, and the interior was in dire need of some TLC. The kitchen equipment was probably old and playing up. 

        So, for the past four months I’ve looked down on all-hands-to-the-pump restoration work going on at our old Mill, and – praise be, as they say in Handmaids – it re-opened with a villagers-only party last week. Although work continues on the exterior, The Gomshall Mill is now up and running again.

        And while it’s lovely to have our pub back, what’s even nicer is reacquainting ourselves with the community spirit that the Mill’s closure somehow took away. Covid and no Mill had distanced us from friends and neighbours in our village but at the party in the newly opened pub, and when we called in for a drink last Friday, the atmosphere was warm and welcoming. It was also packed. We said hello to dozens of friends we know from the village but hadn’t spoken to for a while. Everyone was smiling. Everyone agreed that it was wonderful to have our pub back and that it looked fabulous. 

        Pubs are closing down left, right and centre these days which is a tragedy, not just for the licensed trade but for the communities they serve and which supports them. The Mill’s reopening exemplifies that old adage that Joni used for the lyrics in ‘Big Yellow Taxi’: You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone. Thanks Julian and your partners for reopening our pub. Just in time for Christmas, too. 


Unknown said...

Some good news for a change just before Christmas. I've enjoyed some great meals at the Mill in the past in the company of good friends and hope to do so again. Thanks for the update,Chris,and your part in preserving an ancient historic relic in a beautiful part of Surrey.
Best seasonal wishes from Nigel Hunter

Chris Charlesworth said...

Thanks Nigel. CC

Colin Harper said...

Wonderful news - heartened to hear it!

m said...

good news is hard to find this december.....every little bit helps