John was from a large brewing family of Compton in Surrey, his baptism is registered there on 4 April 1786. On 20 November 1811 he married Elizabeth Billington at St Peter’s Berkhamsted, by this time he was of the parish of Berkhamsted. Their marriage settlement included five cottages at the west end of Berkhamsted with malting and barn along with properties and malthouse at the corner of Water Lane and The Goat public house. In the same year Thomas Archer is recorded as starting large scale brewing at the brewery in Water Lane off the High Street when Miss Elizabeth Billington was the owner of the property, it is likely that after their marriage John took over the brewing.
He played an active part in St Peter’s Church and was the Church Warden in 1821, 1830 and 1833.
We know from the 1839 Tithe map that John was living at and running the brewery on the corner of Water Lane and Church Lane, the site had its own malting. He lived at the Tudor house behind the old Market Hall, on the location of Tesco’s today. In addition to this he was the owner of 18 cottages around the town which included the Lamb public house. The Goat, however, was now owned by William Tomlin who also owned the brewery complex on the west side of Water Lane (later to become Locke and Smith Brewery). John was also one of the trustees of the Balshaw charity which owned land farmed by John Lane.
John’s home was the house on the far left with the large chimney stack
In 1841 John and his son, William Billington Mills, are recorded as bankrupts in the London Gazette. The full details of the bankruptcy have not been found but they were again registered as bankrupts in 1843 and 1857. In each case they were listed as brewers, dealers and chapmen. A number of brewers of this era set up their own banks. It is, therefore, possible that John and his son could have expanded too fast or just that they were overtaken by the competition of the other breweries at the time. In 1851 John was living in Water Lane with his wife, son, sister and niece, he is listed as a brewer agent. By the 1861 census John, now a widow, is a brewer and a servant to John Lane at his brewery on the site on the Swan.
John died in 1866, aged 79, and was the second burial in the newly opened Rectory Lane cemetery on 26 January. The service was conducted by James Hutchinson the Rector. His son William Billington Mills is also buried in RLC.