John Everett Millais and his painter friend William Holman Hunt, travelled 11 miles on a London and South Western Railway train from the recently completed Waterloo Train Station to get to Ewell. They stayed at first in a cottage on Surbiton Hill in Kingston, near the home of his friends the Lemprires.
In September they were joined temporarily by their friends, Charlie Collins and Millais’s brother, William, and moved to Worcester Park Farm, a 17th century hunting lodge near Cheam, where they remained until December. Millais’s brother did not stay for long. In September Millais writes to a friend about how happy he is living with Hunt and Collins:
we all three live together as happily as ancient monastic brethren.
(The Life and Letters of Sir John Everett Millais by his son John Guille Millais, vol. 1, 1899, London, p.123).
On Hunt and Millais’s first day in Ewell, Hunt decided on the location for his painting The Hireling Shepherd (shown above), almost immediately, but Millais took most of the day before he decided on a spot beside the river. They worked for 11 hours a day from Monday to Saturday for 5 months from June 1851 to mid October 1851, and had to deal with all kinds of problems painting outside.
Whilst staying in Ewell, Millais wrote to a friend called Mrs Combe and described what it was like to paint outside:
My martyrdom is more trying than any I have hitherto experienced. The flies of Surrey are more muscular, and have a still greater propensity for probing human flesh. Our first difficulty was.to acquire rooms. Those we now have are nearly four miles from Hunt’s spot and two from mine, so we arrive jaded and slightly above that temperature necessary to make a cool commencement. I sit tailor-fashion under an umbrella throwing a shadow scarcely larger than a halfpenny for eleven hours, with a child’s mug within reach to satisfy my thirst from the running stream beside me. I am threatened with a notice to appear before a magistrate for trespassing in a field and destroying the hay; likewise by the admission of a bull in the same field after the said hay be cut; am also in danger of being blown by the wind into the water, and becoming intimate with the feelings of Ophelia when that lady sank to muddy death, together with the (less likely) total disappearance, through the voracity of the flies. There are two swans who not a little add to my misery by persisting in watching me from the exact spot I wish to paint, occasionally destroying every water-weed within their reach.Certainly the painting of a picture under such circumstances would be a greater punishment to a murderer than hanging.
(The Life and Letters of Sir John Everett Millais, John Guille Millais, vol. 1, 1899, p.119-120).