A Brief History.

Mercer's Mill shortly before demolition Circa 1935 - kind thanks to Mike Shorthouse for this image.

Mercer Wood now occupies the area next to the River Trent that was part of the old Union Oil mill that was owned by the Mercer family. It is almost two centuries since the Mercer family, who were prominent business people in Gainsborough, built a window powered oil processing mill by the side of the River.

Production continued on the site until the closure of the mill in the mid-20th century. The mill was demolished in 1935, then allotments were introduced, no doubt to boost local food production during the Second World War. After they fell into disuse, the area had been unmanaged and subject to fly-tipping. Trees, largely Sycamore, have grown on and around the site to give us the woodland that we see today.

This section of our site contains information that we have been able to find on the area and the Mercer family.

The following is a copy of a document regarding Mercer’s Mill known otherwise as the Union Mill located on the bank of the River Trent in Gainsborough Lincolnshire.

The document is not signed or dated but is on the letterhead of J. B. Edlington & Company Limited, Agricultural Machinery Manufacturers of Carr Lane, Gainsborough Lincolnshire. I am grateful to Mrs Sue Edlington and the Gainsborough Heritage Association for giving permission to use the document on our web site

To see more images please visit our Gallery

Union Mill

This was the second mill owned by the Mercer company. It was a five sailed Tower mill with eight floors. It was first mentioned in the enclosure award of January, 1904. The mill was originally owned by Messrs Torr & Co.

The Mercer family played a prominent role in Gainsborough in the seed crushing business. William Mercer joined the firm of John Tidd, Sooby, Stuart Mercer & Co. as a bookkeeper. He was known in the town as “Bandbox Billy” because of his immaculate appearance and he built Cedar Cottage which was once in North Marsh Road. He died in 1845.

His son Fletcher was born on October 4th 1802. In 1821, Mr Sooby retired from the business and it was then called Tidd Mercer & Co. Fletcher married Millicent Ann Moxon, who was only 17 at the time of their marriage. It was this Fletcher Mercer who as an oil cake merchant was well and widely known. He died on July 18th 1876.

A late colour photograph of the Union Mill by the side of the River Trent

His son, also Fletcher, was born on December 5th 1833. He married Sarah Elizabeth Gurnhill, (sister of Canon Gurnhill late of East Stockwith). Fletcher had a brother Henry, who married Juliette Emerson, niece of Ralph Waldo Emerson, the poet. Fletcher and Mary continued the business until the partnership was dissolved. Fletcher continued as sole proprietor until his retirement in 1916. He died in January 1924 in his 91st year.

By 1849, Messrs Tidd Mercer & Co. were the owners of the Union Mill. The firm continued their trade in lindseed, cottonseed and rapeseed. We are surprised by the mention of cottonseed as this was not supposed to have been introduced into England until 1860. Tidd Mercer & Co. dissolved their partnership and Mr Fletcher Mercer became the sole proprietor of the Union and Bridge Mills.

The two firms of Mercer and Pearson Bros. were once nearly amalgamated. Apparently some hitch occurred and Pearson Bros. Joined the firm of the British Oil and Cake Mills Ltd.

We know of one fire that occurred in 1877. The men had ceased work and left the premises when an alarm was given between three and four o’clock by the captain of the steam tug “Bee” which was passing at the time. The fire had originated in the boiler house. The occupants of the cottages, male and female, used ladders and threw water onto the roof of the building and when the Imperial fire engine arrived the fire was out.

Lincoln Gazette, Saturday, April 28th 1877

The [damage to the] boiler house which was covered by insurance amounted to £50. Concern was expressed whether the town possessed a fire engine of sufficient power to cope with a larger fire.

A view of the Mill and Steam Paddle Ship Celia Circa 1910


1891 Census

Piece: RG12/2634
Place: Gainsborough, Lincolnshire
Address: The North Warren

Surname    First name(s)   Rel          Status   Sex  Age        Occupation                    Where Born
MERCER    Fletcher             Head         M         M     57             Russia Merchant        Hull
                                                                                                        & Seed Crusher 
MERCER    Mary E                Wife          M          F      47                                                 Gainsborough
MERCER    Fletcher J            Son           S           M     29        MA Merton College      Gainsborough
MERCER     Charles A           Son           S           M     21        Under Graduate             Gainsborough
                                                                                                      Lincoln College
NEWBARN Elizabeth          Servant      S            F    22           Cook                               Wildsworth
SLINGSBY  Gertrude E       Servant      S            F    20         Housemaid                    Gainsborough

In November 1902 F. Baines were instructed from F. Mercer to sell the whole of the Seed Crushing machinery, Engine, Boilers, 3 Hydraulic presses, Pumps, Seed Rollers and oil tanks owing to the expiration of the lease.

In July 1935, the chimney of Mercer’s Mill was taken down. Apparently workmen had been weakening the bases of several houses before wood supports were put in where bricks had been removed. The wood supports were fired and as they burnt it let the chimney down. The chimney crashed into the mill ripping the side off. By August 1935, the mill and cottages were felled. The task was undertaken by Messrs Parkinson, Steeplejacks of Grimsby.

Grantham Journal, Saturday August 3rd 1935

The bricks were made in the days before mechanical excavators, navvies and high speed process moulding and were of excellent quality. Mr J. Pullar bought the bricks. He had a contract for 40,000 bricks and the beams had already been spoken for. The site took many months to clear.

A worker supports the base of the chimney with wood as he removes bricks ready for the demolition Circa 1935 - kind thanks to Mike Shorthouse for this image.

One of the millstones is preserved in the Whittons Gardens alongside the River Trent.

Millstone from Mercer’s Mill at Whitton Gardens

Part of the site was used as allotments for many years, but they were abandoned, regrettably leaving behind remnants of the sheds and fences gardeners had once used This area is now overgrown with brambles and now in Spring migrants such as Chiffchaffs return to the nest.

The whole area became neglected and flytipping began to appear so that residents came to regard it as untidy and unattractive. Reports of anti-social behaviour further tainted its reputation.

In 2004, WLDC published a planning document which proposed a large scale housing development, which would have been built on the area between Wilson Street and the River Trent. At this point, the value of the woodland was recognised and designated as the required public open space for the site.

However local champions came forward to defend the area as valuable public recreational space which if properly managed would enhance the existing community’s health and wellbeing. As the prospect of a residential development receded, these views were encouraged by the Police, ACIS, WLDC and Gainsborough Town Council. The major landowner was also sympathetic, and so the way lay open to seeking a community management solution to the problems presented by the neglected open space, which included Mercer’s Wood.

The Community Group came together in 2011 after local District Councillor, Gillian Bardsley, had won the backing of the District Council to help negotiate a lease, on the community’s behalf. Work parties were led by BTCV (now the Trust for Conservation Volunteers) Flytipping was dragged out – baths, old TV sets, discarded car tyres, household rubbish, broken bottles, rusty cans and the like. The Environmental Studies Group of adults with learning difficulties worked hard too. Finally, WLDC’s Streetforce removed all the rubbish dragged out by the volunteers.

Old Map Of The Site

The following map shows the location of the original Union Mill and the surrounding area. The map is post 1856 and at this time Mercer Road had not been built. Access to the area was through what is now Japan Road.

Post 1856 map shows the location of the original Union Mill and the surrounding area

Remnants of Mercer’s Mill survive and can be seen in the wood today.