The Duke of Northumberland’s River is not a natural river, but was constructed in the early 1500s to transfer water for industrial purposes to power mills.
Syon Abbey was suppressed in 1539 during the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII. John Gates, was the trusted enforcer for this process at Sion and acted as steward of the estate on the King’s behalf. He held an important position in Katherine Parr’s household, and then held high office under Edward VI. He came to an unfortunate end when he lost his head as a supporter of Lady Jane Grey in Northumberland’s plot to put her on the throne instead of Mary Tudor. John Gates was instrumental in developing the Duke of Northumberland’s River.
The River was dug following the Reformation when the mills along the River Crane were deteriorating due to a failing water supply. In 1543, John Gates, keeper at Syon and Bailiff of the manor, was granted money to draw water from the River Crane to power two new watermills at Isleworth. In order to maintain the flow of the Crane, water was brought six miles from the River Colne, channelled across Hounslow Heath to join the Crane just north of Baber’s Bridge. It followed the Crane to Twickenham. From Kneller Gardens a new 2 1/2 mile stretch of river was cut. The River joins the Thames at Isleworth. Work began in 1544/5 with eighty of the country’s best ‘ditchers’ and conscripted local tenants under the direction of John Pylkyngton. It was a complex engineering operation and relied on gravity to allow the water to flow, carefully following the contours of the terrain. The river came into the possession of the Earl of Northumberland in 1604 and remained in his possession until the 1930s. Little is known about construction techniques. The river is shown on many historic maps often named the New River or the Duke’s River.
There was a flour mill on the Duke of Northumberland’s River since Tudor times since the river was first constructed. The Isleworth Flour Mill was destroyed by fire in 1795 when Samuel Kidd took over the rebuilt mill in the early 1800s, enlarged it, and in 1846 added two steam engines to supplement water power. It closed in 1934.
On the site of an old mill named Brazil Mill there was a brewery in Isleworth from the 18th Century on the Duke of Northumberland’s River. It was not until 1800 that the Farnells, a prominent local family, purchased it at a cost of £1,145. William Farnell developed and enlarged the business and in 1820 left it to two of his sons, John and Charles. They developed the business further by buying or leasing a large number of licensed houses and enlarging the Brewery. They also erected cottages for their workmen, and helped in the building of St. John's Church, Isleworth. In 1865, the business became known as "Farnell and Watson's" and then in 1866 the Isleworth Brewery Company limited. In 1923 the brewery was taken over by Watney Combe Reid & Co. and in 1952 stopped brewing and became a bottling store.
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