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Women in milling

The destiny of the small local miller

As the Industrial Revolution got into full swing, small independent millers faced increasing challenges from steam powered mills (from around 1810) whilst by the mid-nineteenth century a significant shift to milling on a larger, urban, factory-based scale had begun.  The early nineteenth century had already seen smaller mills driven out of business by the invention of highly efficient roller mills, and larger coastal mills that could directly receive cheaply imported Canadian wheat.  The Whitmore & Binyon milling company made use of such rolling equipment, where cylindrical rollers could be used to grind all sorts of materials, significantly increasing efficiency.  

As a result, the small local miller began to struggle against greater and more insurmountable competition.  Many had no choice but to give up a business and a way of life that may have been in their family for centuries.  By 1935, over a third of total flour production came from just the three largest producers [1].  As the twentieth century progressed, many mills were falling into disrepair.  Efforts to keep smaller mills alive to help support local communities during the world wars had been a vital part of the war effort.  War-time milling was often taken on by women, as the male members of their family were away at war.  Despite this, by the 1950s a significant number of mills in Britain had fallen into poor condition and were no longer being used for their original purpose. 


[1] ‘Exeter memories: Exwick Mills; Mallett’s Roller Mill, Exwick’, (10th September 2009)