The mill with a confused identity

August 11th 2017 by Hannah Pomeroy

Taking a leaf out of Lydia’s book, I too have been looking through the John Munnings Collection again this week! This collection is of interest to me and my project given the number of small, country mills that he drew which are described as having installed roller machinery. Most of these mills only installed small plants but this still allowed them to survive for longer against the competition of big companies. The fates of the mills that Munnings drew are very different and I thought I would pick out a few of the mills with interesting histories (warning: there will be no highwaymen or warships here!)
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Mill with a Confused Identity: This description is one I have given to Pinsley Mill, Leominster. When John Munnings drew this mill it was owned by Joseph Cooke & Sons, who had taken over tenancy in 1893, and had been fitted with a 1½ sack per hour roller plant in 1896. This should not cause any confusion then, a mill that was originally built as a mill to produce flour was still doing exactly that, albeit with slightly different machinery. However, in the 1740s this mill had changed trade when Daniel Bourne turned it into a cotton mill. His reasons for doing this and the success of the mill under him is unknown. However, what is known is that the mill burnt down in 1754 and Mr. Bourne lost more than sixteen hundred pounds. Therefore the mill that Joseph Cooke would have leased would have been a completely different building from the one Bourne worked in, so maybe the mill was not too confused! Unfortunately, despite being a different building, fire continued to plague the mill. It was still working up to the Second World War but after that was left to decay. After it had suffered vandalism and multiple fires, it was finally demolished in 2014.

Change of Name, Change of Purpose: In the North Yorkshire village of Thornton-le-Dale, on the Thornton Beck, a tributary of the River Derwent, you will find a watermill. However, although you will find numerous people working there, the mill itself will not be. Instead you will find the headquarters of the Burgess Group, the pet food producers. What is this group doing working in a mill, you may ask. Well, the answer is fairly simple and can be found in Munnings’ sketch of the mill. He had labelled this mill, T. Burgess & Sons’ Mill. When he drew this mill, it was producing flour and was the property of the Burgess family. Harry Burgess had developed a flour milling industry there in 1922 and it continued until 1963. It was at this point that they established an animal feed business and then in 1987 progressed into pet feed production. It was also at this time that the mill became the headquarters for the Burgess Group whilst manufacture was focussed at Cherry Tree Mill. So the name of the Burgess Group came from the family who founded it and their location at the mill is unsurprising as they have owned it for almost one hundred years! However, despite Munnings labelling the mill T. Burgess & Sons’ Mill, it was not actually known as that as it had been referred to as Victory Mill ever since the conclusion of the Second World War, and the story itself suggests a victory for the mill and the Burgess family.

The Survivor: In 1874, Rowsley Mill on the River Wye was leased from the Duke of Rutland by John Caudwell. One hundred years later the mill had survived two world wars, economic hardships, and competition from big companies, and was still being run by the Caudwell family after having initially installed a 4 sacks per hour plant when the roller revolution swept through Britain and the world in the late 19th century. Unfortunately, only a few years after celebrating their centenary, the Caudwell family had to close the mill. However, this was not the end for Caudwell’s Mill. On hearing of the mill’s intended closure in 1977, the Department of the Environment ‘listed’ the machinery as of special architectural or historical interest. An idea then began to preserve the mill with the Peak Park Joint Planning Board at the forefront until Caudwell’s Mill Trust Limited was formed in 1980. Although they faced many financial and practical difficulties along the way, the mill is still running today under the care of the Trust, a true survivor.

So those are just three different examples of country mill that Munnings drew and their stories up to today. There are many other mills and many other stories to be told I’m sure, from this and other collections here at the Archive. The fact that these stories have been preserved and that I can help share and promote them is one of my favourite aspects of working here. I look forward to sharing more of these stories with you.