READING, ENGLAND — The Mills Archive Trust, a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving artifacts and written material related to the history of flour milling, recently received archive accreditation by the National Archives in the United Kingdom and is ready to move ahead on its project establishing a compendium of historic materials related to roller flour milling technology.
“The badge of accreditation is national recognition for the quality of our work caring for the vulnerable records of milling history,” said Mildred Cookson, mills archive trustee.
Cookson has been involved in work to develop the world’s first roller flour mill archive and library as part of the Mills Archive Trust, which she said is the only archive extant that focuses on the history of flour milling, with more than three million documents and images of traditional mills powered by wind and water mills.
“We have the largest library of books on milling in the world,” she told World Grain. She said one key reason to highlight roller flour milling was “to ensure that people understand that roller flour mills are the culmination of 8,000 years of continuous development of milling technology.”
Roller flour mills were invented in the 1860s to produce flour using steel horizontal rollers instead of mill stones, she said. These mills experienced their most rapid growth in the period between 1890 and 1910, but they remain in operation today in parts of England, usually near major ports such as London, Manchester and Hull.
“The main advantage (to roller flour mills) is that the grain is delivered straight to the mills from the docks and a roller mill can produce many hundreds tonnes of flour per day, whereas a traditional wind or water mill can only produce around one or two tonnes a day,” she said. “The roller flour mill also produces a pure white flour by means of putting the flour through sieves many times to take out the bran and semolina.”
The job ahead is to save records of these mills “before they are lost and the buildings gone,” she said.
She envisions the roller-mill archives holding original architectural drawings, plans and other information about the machinery as well as photographs and personal statements and memories from workers who were involved with roller-milling technology.
“The Mills Archive has been going now for 15 years and the roller mill part started last year,” she said. “We already have been given substantial amounts of material in the form of journals, catalogs, books, drawings and personal material. Altogether we will need several thousand feet of shelf space.”
Estimates are the Mills Archive Trust may need to raise about £1 million to make the roller flour mill archives a reality.
The project depends on raising the necessary funds, which is expected to take several years. In the meantime, individuals interested in finding out information about roller flour milling can use the on-line resources of The Mills Archive Trust, with everything that has been cataloged available to computer users, she added.
She said businesses and individuals have shown support for the roller flour mill project, as well as “retired roller mill people from all over the world.”
Cookson calls herself a traditional miller.
“My mill is still working,” she said. “It is over 400 years old now, with an outside wooden undershot waterwheel driving two pairs of stones.”
She said daily flour production when operating is about ½ tonnes that gets sold to local bakers.
“It originally had two waterwheels, one on each side of the building, but the older one was taken out and a turbine put in to generate electricity,” which was eventually discarded and replaced with more modern technology, she said.