Flour Mills


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1929 Plan of the Mills.  Click on image to enlarge.
1929 Plan of the Mills. Click on image to enlarge.

When we nip into the corner store for a loaf of bread we tend to forget what is involved in its manufacture. This article concentrates on the flour milling industry in Ewell.

Wheat and corn together with other cereals have been an important source of food for both humans and farm animals since prehistoric times. At harvesting the cereal is threshed to separate the seed kernels from the stalks. Initially the hard grains would have been eaten whole but around 6,500 BC early civilisations discovered that flour made from the grain was very adaptable for all sorts of cooking. The flour was made by first separating the husk from the kernels using an inclined flat surface and rolling a long stone or piece of wood over the grains. Later the kernels would be pulverised, pestle and mortar style, by rubbing a curved stone back and forwards over them while they were in a shallow stone bowl to produce coarse flour. These stone bowls are called Saddle Stones by archaeologists.

The next development was around 1000BC when the quern was developed. A quern is a pair of flat circular stones that fit one on top of the other with the grain sandwiched in between. The upper stone is turned in circular fashion around the central axis so grinding the grain. Later developments included a hole to add new grain and a handstick hole near the outer edge to help turn the stones. A major improvement was the use of grooves ("furrows") on the grinding surfaces which radiate out from the centre to the outer edge partly to help spread the grain evenly over the grinding surfaces ("lands"), partly to initially hold the grains whilst they are crushed and partly to introduce cooling air into the grinding process. The furrows also help move the resulting meal to the outside edge. The Romans used donkeys and slaves to power their mills, while the Greeks are thought to be the first to use water power, and windmills started to appear in Europe during the late 10th century.

Windmills need to be in windy positions usually at the top of a hill. The sails of the windmill need to be turned into the wind and usually the upper part of the mill would be capable of being rotated so able to capture winds from all directions. A miller working in a windmill would have days when the wind was not strong enough to turn the sails. Whereas a miller in a water mill, that was on a river with a good reliable flow of water, was generally able to work throughout the year with power supply concerns only present at times of drought.

The wheel in a water mill turns by the power of the gravity that makes streams and rivers flow down hill. There are two basic types of water wheel the undershot and the overshot. In an undershot wheel the water flows in a straight line beneath the hub of the wheel and pushes on to paddles of the wheel, that just dips into the water, so uses the pull of gravity just once. The water in an overshot wheel flows in from above the hub of the wheel into buckets or troughs. Water in the buckets on one side of the wheel is heavier than the empty buckets on the other and gravity pulls the full buckets down so turning the wheel. The overshot wheel uses gravity twice, once from the simple flow of the river and once from the weight of water in the buckets. Its not surprising therefore that overshot wheels are more powerful than undershot ones and can be located in slower moving rivers. Overshot wheels needed a height difference; sometimes called a head of water; of over 2 meters between the in-flowing water at the top of the wheel and the used water at the bottom of the wheel. To create the head of water the stream or river was usually dammed so creating a reservoir or mill pond. The water flow from the mill pond was controlled by combinations of weirs and gates. Once an overshot wheel had started turning then the flow of water could be reduced so saving water.

Diagram of an overshot water wheel
Diagram of an overshot water wheel
Artwork by Daniel M. Short, image source : Wikipedia (opens in a new window)

Which ever type of power is used in a mill the energy is transferred along the axel shaft via cogs and belts to the mill machinery. Traditional flour mills used two circular mill stones, a static lower one with the upper stone turning under the power. The upper mill wheel could be lifted up and down so adjusting the gap between the mill stones. Different heights were needed for different grains and grades of flour.

Upper Mill, North Elevation with Stabling on the Right, 1929
Upper Mill, North Elevation with Stabling on the Right, 1929
Old (Upper) Mill House, showing Back Elevation with Upper Mill on Right, 1929
Old (Upper) Mill House, showing Back Elevation with Upper Mill on Right, 1929
The Uppermill Water Wheel c.1900
The Upper mill Water Wheel c.1900
Cleaning an Upper Mill roller c.1900
Cleaning an Upper Mill roller c.1900
Handling grain in the Upper Mill c.1900
Handling grain in the Upper Mill c.1900
Handling grain in the Upper Mill c.1900
Handling grain in the Upper Mill c.1900
Dressing a mill stone in the Upper Mill c.1900
Dressing a mill stone in the Upper Mill c.1900
Dressing a mill stone in the Upper Mill c.1900
Dressing a mill stone in the Upper Mill c.1900
General interior view of the Upper Mill c.1900
General interior view of the Upper Mill c.1900

There were two water-powered flour mills close to the source of the Hogsmill in Ewell village, the Upper mill, that is the mill that was closer to Bourne Hall, and the Lower Mill, the one closer to Beggars Hill. The Ewell Upper mill was a variation of an overshot mill called a breastshot mill, here the water enters the wheel just over the level of the hub and then runs under the wheel. To minimise water loss the incoming water was directed to the buckets of the wheel via a closely fitting apron, sometimes called a breast. This apron was usually made of wood, or stone, and keeps the water in the buckets while in the wheel race or channel. Breast shot wheels are not as powerful (say 55% efficient) as true overshot mills (say 65% efficient) but are considered better suited for high volumes of water. One advantage of a breastshot mill is that the wheel can be much bigger than just the difference between the in-flowing and out-flowing water (the head of water) so it has greater mechanical advantage than a smaller wheel. The Upper mill building is thought to be on the site of one of the two the mills mentioned in the Domesday book at five shillings (25p) each. In the middle ages the mill belonged to Fitznell's manor and is the one shown on Rocque's 1768 map.

Ewell Section of Rocque's Map
Ewell Section of Rocque's Map

The last working mill on the upper site was probably built in the 18th century. Having said this there is some evidence to suggest that it underwent some major changes around 1810. In his book The Water Mills of Surrey Derek Sidder suggests that the original mill wheel was external to the mill but at some stage the building was rebuilt or extended, in effect bringing the mill wheel inside the building.

Handling grain in the Upper Mill c.1900
Handling grain in the Upper Mill c.1900
The above image is courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum (Opens in a new window)

We know that the mill was run by the Hall family from the early 1800s. Charles Hall and Alexander Davidson traded under the name of Hall and Davidson. The mill was successful and could process 25 loads of wheat a week. It is claimed that the firm were the fourth oldest account holders with their bank, the Bank of England! On one occasion the Ewell coach was held up by highwaymen who robbed all the passengers except for a small male child sitting on a chest sobbing his eyes out. They took pity on this child and let him stay where he was little knowing that the child was Charles Hall and the chest he was sitting on contained the mills takings on route to the Bank of England. Some years later the firms takings were again being transported by Charles Hall when he was told to "Stand and deliver" on a lonely road in the then rural Stoneleigh. This robbery failed when Charles's horse reared up knocking over and injuring the robber giving Charles a chance to escape. Hall and Davison decided to take on a new younger partner and took on Robert Henderson who later married Halls daughter Anne. Eventually the Hendersons ran the business till closure. Dick Henderson, Ewell's last miller, says that when Charles Hall was running the mill he had a regular royal visitor - King William IV would drop by when he was visiting his mistress Mrs Jordan who lived in Church Street.

Dick Henderson, Ewell's Last Flour Miller
Dick Henderson, Ewell's Last Flour Miller.
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum (Opens in a new window)

In the early days the flow of the mill stream must have been strong because the last mill, which had an 18ft diameter water wheel, had four pairs of mill stones, any three of which could be run continuously with a fourth kept in reserve. One report talks of a 24ft diameter wheel running seven pairs of stones . The last wheel was made in 1862 of iron and was 20ft in diameter by 4ft6in wide. Laterly the water flow in the Hogsmill dwindled to the extent that the water power could only run one pair of mill stones for part of the day! So the owners installed a gas engine, probably around 1900, to supplement the declining water power.

From some 1929 sales particulars we know that the Mill had a floor space of approx 8650sq.ft, with corn bins on the top floor and offices on the ground floor. The mill could boast its own brick and tile stables of 55 x 16ft, and various outbuildings. The Mill house had six bedrooms, two large reception rooms, A study and heated conservatory. The mill remained in production till May 1953. The current Upper Mill building was built in the 1980's as an office block which outwardly resembles the old mill.

The lower mill is thought to be of later origin than the Upper mill. In 1732 it was being used as a corn and paper mill by William Jubb and was still in the Jubb family till 1795 or 1796 when it was leased to Thomas Sanders who eventually bought it outright. The new owner pulled down the old mill and built a large overshot corn mill in its place. In 1832 the firm of Hall and Davidison were in control. In June 1856 it was for sale and the iron water wheel, which was 9ft6in diameter by 8ft wide, powered three pairs of millstones. However greater and greater water extraction in the late 19th and 20th centuries caused the water flow in the Hogsmill to declined dramatically and in 1891 Hall and Davidson had a Crossley crude oil engine installed which was rated at 114hp. In 1896 modern roller milling equipment (see below) was installed into a much renovated and extended mill building. In 1929 the Mill which was for sale, had floor space of approx 13,150 sq.ft, and housed Corn Bins, offices and a testing room built over the engine house. It also had a corrugated iron extension which formed the main Loading Shaft and a pine lined apartment that was about 41ft6in by 20ft6in, on the first floor was a wire rope truck station. The truck station was one end of an overhead wire-rope truck conveyor that linked to another truck station on sidings on the Southern Railway. There was a Boiler house an stack at the rear of the mill and the engine house was built of concrete and corrugated asbestos roof and was 35ft9in by 25ft3in. There was a secondary boiler house made of corrugated iron that was 25ft by 12ft6in, various other out buildings including a large double garage. The brick and tile built granary was on the north of the main drive and had 1600sq.ft of floor space on two levels. The mill house had six bedrooms, two large reception rooms and out buildings including a modern stables for four horses and a Coach House. By 1938 the mill was being used as a timber factory making garden furniture but in that year the mill caught fire which ended milling/manufacturing operations. The adjoining owner's house was saved from the fire and is now offices as is the current building on the mill site.

Ewell produced flour had a very good reputation and it is claimed that Queen Victoria's bread was made from this flour. Some of the flour from the Ewell mills was marketed under the name of Stan-Myln Flour Company. Some of this flour would have been used by the bakers shop which was on company premises. The flour company produced a newspaper reprint as a sort of advertising leaflet which gives a good description of the mills in operation, the text of which can be read in this flyer (You may need Adobe Reader to view this leaflet, this software can be downloaded free from Adobe)

Lower Mill with the grandparents of Mr. Richard R. Henderson with some of their children outside the house c.1873
Lower Mill with the grandparents of Mr. Richard R. Henderson
with some of their children outside the house c.1873
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum (Opens in a new window)

Lower Mill c.1890
Lower Mill c.1890
Lower Mill and Mill House, Ewell, 1929
Lower Mill and Mill House, Ewell, 1929
Lower Mill, Back Elevation showing Boiler House on Right, 1929
Lower Mill, Back Elevation showing Boiler House on Right, 1929
Lower mill Garden showing a Corner Of Granary, 1929
Lower mill Garden showing a Corner Of Granary, 1929
Lower Mill Timber Factory c1929
Lower Mill Timber Factory Fire 1938
Lower Mill Timber Factory Fire 1938
Lower Mill Timber Factory Fire 1938 Lower Mill Timber Factory Fire 1938 Lower Mill Timber Factory Fire 1938
Lower Mill Timber Factory Fire 1938

Down stream of the flour mills were the Ewell gunpowder mills which were located within the modern day Hogsmill open space. There is some documentary evidence that a third flour mill existed in the area at the start of the 1400's, it probably was further down stream close to the bridge on Ruxley Lane but the site has not been located and production is thought to have ceased before 1474.

From the 15th century the various English Corn Laws were officially introduced to help maintain adequate domestic supplies of grain and to stabilize the price at a profitable level. This was achieved by placing taxes on both import and exports and fixing quotas. The effect was to raise bread prices and give some home grain producers substantial financial advantages over foreign producers. The laws were unpopular and led to some very repressive legislation including restricting the right of assembly and the press. From 1815 UK producers had a virtual monopoly of supply till the Corn Laws were repealed by Robert Peel in 1846. Peel's free trade policies lead to an a rise in the quantity of imported wheat and the lowering of bread prices and so increase in the demand for good quality flour.

When it arrives at a mill from the farm the wheat will inevitably contain course impurities such a stones, mud, glass and animal hair. The grain is cleaned usually by screening and air/gravity separation.

The pure kernels of wheat are then 'conditioned'. The conditioning, adding water to the grain, helps with the separation of the hard outer bran casing from the starchy (floury) endosperm, the result is then stored for about 24 hours to ensure that there is uniform moisture content. Batches of conditioned wheat are then blended together (gristed) so that they will make the flour of the type required.

Wheat grains are made up of an outer casing known as the husk, the wheat germ that is the embryo seed and the floury starch part that is called the endosperm. Traditional mills crushed the oily germ part of the grain together with the starch of the endosperm and bits of husk (also known as bran) creating a yellow-brown flour which quickly went rancid. The milled grain would then be sieved several times to separate out the flour into different grades used for different purposes. White flour (the endosperm part) was widely regarded as better for bread making.

In the mid 1870s in Hungary, a Bavarian engineer called András Mechwart introduced a new process of milling flour. He used a series of corrugated iron rollers driven by a steam engine. Roller mills could be smaller, more effective and produce smoother more consistent flour with better keeping properties at a lower price than either the water or wind powered mill. Around the same time new sorts of sieves and sieving techniques were introduced which also helped to improve the quality and consistency of the flour. The new roller mills squeezed the endosperm out of its husk coating leaving the germ intact. When passed through various sieves the flour was separated from the germ and bran (husk) producing a whiter product that could be kept for months without noticeable deterioration. The new roller systems had a major disadvantage - the machinery got hot and this damaged the nutrients in the flour, this was solved by water cooling the rollers. The scouring action of the rollers also damaged the starch but this was found to help speed up the way the flour reacted with the yeast and water during the bread making process.

The wheat is then milled to separate the bran, the germ and the endosperm and to produce uniform flour particles. The first set of mill rollers (the breaking rollers) separate the bulk of the bran and the germ from the endosperm. Result is then passed through various sieves to separate the various constituents Bran, Wheat Germ, Endosperm chunks and animal feed by-products. The endosperm chunks, together with small residual amounts of bran and germ, are passed through another series of rollers (the reducing rollers) to produce flour of the grade required. The result is again passed through various sieves to separate out the pure white flour from any residual bran etc.

Wholemeal flour is made by blending the white flour with the separated bran and wheat germ and has a characteristic brown colour. Wholemeal flour tends to make heavier breads that many people find less digestible, but it does contain much more roughage, than white flour. Doctors say that most people in Western Europe don't have enough roughage in their diets with the consequence of a higher risk of bowel cancer.

Local Windmills

We know of two local windmills is the Epsom and Ewell area. One was near the site of Epsom Wells known as the Epsom windmill, and the other was close to the border between the parishes of Epsom and of Ewell, off East Street in Windmill Lane, which is known as the Ewell windmill.


Epsom Windmill Sales Particulars - Click image to enlarge
1809 Sales Particulars for the Epsom Windmill
Click image to enlarge

It is thought that there was a mill on the Epsom Mill site for over 500 years. Around 1795 a new 14 foot wide post mill was built which had two pair of stones and was in operation until it caught fire in 1880.

Chillenden Mill By W.R. Billings Base Of Rolvenden Post Mill By P. Home
We have not been able to source images of the local windmills,
but here is a photo of a typical post mill, and a close up of the base of a post mill.

Post mills are built upon a large single vertical wooden post on which the whole mill rests and turns. In the distant past this central post, which might be 2ft wide by 2ft deep, would have had one end buried in the ground to keep it upright. Unfortunately the bottom of the post would have rotted fairly quickly so someone came up with the idea of resting the bottom of the post on a cross of two timbers (perhaps one foot square) that rested on brick or stone pillars. The post would need to be braced near the base to keep the mill upright and this bracing might be walled in to provide storage space so giving the mill base a cone or triangular shaped outline. The whole upper building had to be turned into the wind and naturally enough this required a great deal of effort. A tail pole was attached to the bottom of the mill and sloped towards the ground at rear of building.

A later development in mill design was the Smock Mill. Smock mills looked a bit like the English smock worn by farm labourers of the period. These mills had a static wooden base with the sails attached to a moveable cap that could turn into the wind. Obviously only turning the very top of the mill needed less effort. In 1750 Scottish Millwright Andrew Meikle developed a small set of sails at the back of the mill that were at right angles to the main sails. The small sails were called a fantail and were connected to some gears that keep the main sails pointing into the wind discovered that adding a small second set of sails helped keep the main sails facing the wind. Meikle's automatic fantail design was quickly adopted. A Tower Mill is basically a more substantial Smock mill where the static main part of the building was made of brick or stone instead of wood.

Leigh Stocks Green Smock Mill By W Coles Finch Reigate Wary Common Tower Mill By H.Lloyd
We have not been able to source images of the local windmills,
but here is a photo of a typical smock mill, and a tower mill.

The wooden framework of the Epsom windmill sails spanned 72 feet and needed to be covered with some 11 yards of canvas. It was claimed to be the largest post windmill in England. The canvas would have needed to be constantly adjusted to maintain a steady rotational speed. This adjustment could just be simply pulling back the canvas from a small corner of the wooden sail up to rolling and tying up large sections of the canvas. The millers must have been fit, climbing up and down the wooden sails to adjust the canvas. To save the effort of manhandling canvas The same Andrew Meikle devised a method of replacing the canvas with spring operated wooden shutters that could be 'feathered' as required, a bit like a modern Venetian blind. Meikle's spring shutters still needed the mill to be stopped 4 times so that the miller could adjust each sail. In 1809 Sir William Cubitt devised a method of adjusting all the sails at once, from inside the mill, without having to stop the sails from turning. Cubitt patented his method of adjustment so this type of sails are known as patent sails. Wooden shutters were not as efficient as the older canvas ones so it was fairly common for two sails to be equipped with spring wooden shutters and the other two to be the more traditional canvas variety.


The Ewell Mill was probably erected about 1745 and operated till 1883; by 1895 it was abandoned and derelict and finally demolished around 1900. One report says the Ewell mill was of the Stock type but some 1853 sales particulars describe it as a Tower mill with 'spring and canvas' sails driving three pairs of 4ft French Burr and one pair of Peak Stones, with a machine for flour sieving and a machine that removes smut (grains contaminated with a fungal growth). At the time of this sale the mill had been operated by Johnson Hands for thirteen years. French Burr millstones produced finer flour than Peak millstones which probably been used for animal feed.

A cross-section of a tower mill is available on the really interesting ukmills.com website. Other mill drawings are available on the US Library of Congress website.(External links open in new windows).


The Mills Archive (Opens in a new window) contains a wealth of information on all sorts of mills.

This topic was researched by Peter Reed

Main Sources:
The River Hogsmill (EEHAS)
Ewell: A Surrey village that became a town (EEHAS published by Surrey Archaelogical Society 2004 ISBN 0954146042)
Ewell Past (by Charles Abdy published by Phillimore 2000 ISBN 1860771351 )
The Hogsmill Local Nature Reserve (EandEBC)
Wikipedia online encyclopedia
Ewell Windmill Sales Particulars 1853
Ewell Flour Mills Sales Particulars 1929
English Windmills, Vol 1 by M I Batten.

Images: Unless otherwise indicated all images are courtesy of Surrey Libraries and are held in the Epsom & Ewell Local And Family History Centre Collection ((External Links open in a new window))


Useful Links:
www.exploringsurreyspast.org.uk
www.surreycc.gov.uk/surreyhistorycentre


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