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‘One dark night in France whilst on sentry duty’…

Hello again! It’s been a productive and enjoyable second week at the Archive, as I’ve spent time getting acquainted with different collections related to roller milling. As a part of my internship, not only do I wish to highlight the history of roller milling through key individuals and mills but I also wish to highlight the collections and the stories that have been preserved through them. So this week I thought I would share some of the history and a few of my favourite items from a specific collection: the Over Family Collection.

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The Over family ran a family business based in Berkshire, milling at the Sandhurst, Sindlesham, Sonning and Sandford Mills. The Sandhurst Mill was built by W. B. Pigg c.1875 but it was through his grandsons, T. R. and F. H. Over, that the name Over became associated with the mill. The business of Over Bros. expanded throughout the years with the change to roller milling, acquisition of more mills and merging with C. H. Witherington and Son in 1954. However, like many smaller companies it was eventually taken over by the Weston Group in 1961/2 and the different mills were all shut down around 7-8 years later. The collection contains numerous different items related to the family and their mills.

One of my favourite items from the collection is a calendar from 1955. I like it for several reasons. Firstly, the fact that it had been left on the month of December providing evidence of use as it reached the end of the year. Secondly it promotes the Over Bros. company and as such is a quirky way of advertising a brand, everytime you check the date you are reminded of the Over Bros.’ Digestive Wheatmeal! As an advertising tool it is the first of its kind I’ve come across in the Archive. Lastly, the fact it does advertise the Over Bros. is interesting in itself. As previously said, the Over Bros. had merged with Witherington and Son the previous year so was now known as Witherington & Over Bros, so how did this calendar just promoting the Over Bros. come into being? In truth I do not know. I can guess that it was made before the merger so survived with just the Over Bros. name or that despite the merger, Sindlesham mill still operated under the name Over Bros. whilst Sonning mill may have remained Witherington & Son. I can only speculate but this adds to the fascination of the item.

Another reason I like looking through a collection is getting a sense of the people behind the items, the person who wrote in that notebook, or drew that sketch, or thought that newspaper clipping was worth keeping. Fortunately for me, within the Over Family Collection there is a short 3-page memoir written by T. R. Over about his ‘Fifty Years of Milling’ allowing the reader to get to know him. It is evident throughout the memoir that this was someone who had milling in his veins and he himself confessed, ‘Milling was my Job’. I found this most starkly bought to life when he describes the time he was first considering purchasing Sindlesham Mill and trying to work out how much it would cost. The process itself of working out ‘an approximate figure of the capital required and the possible cost of the mill’ would seem a natural and proper thing to do and not at all surprising. However, he was doing these calculations ‘One dark night in France whilst on sentry duty’. T. R. Over had only taken over the business from his grandfather in 1912, two years later the country would find itself at war and after a year or so he joined up.

I have spent a considerable amount of time studying the First World War over the past year as the topic was one of my third year modules. One of the things we studied was how the men coped at the front, be it through religion, humour, or alcohol. However, I can honestly say that at no point in my studies did I come across a soldier who used considering how much to pay for a neighbouring mill as a coping mechanism, yet I discovered it in my second week here! That is the wonderful thing about this Archive, you never know what you’re going to find! To finish the story, you’ll be pleased to know that T. R. Over survived the war and did buy that neighbouring mill of Sindlesham in 1919 for the price he had originally thought of that dark night in France.

However, that is not the end of the connection between this collection and war. In April 1944, well into the Second World War, they were sent a flow sheet from E. R. & F. Turner Ltd. with a design for a 4 to 4½ Sack Plant. Attached to the flow sheet is a note Over wrote thanking them for sending it. In the last sentence of the note Over wrote that while he will study the plan with interest and may even profit from it, he was ‘afraid that before we can move in the matter we must first win the war’. For a man who could not get his mind off his mill and its future, in the midst of the First World War and its horrors, how hard it must have been for him just under 30 years later to yet again have been balancing the future of his mill with the future of his country.

Those are just a couple of my favourite items from the Over Family Collection and I hope I’ve given you a glimpse into what the collection holds and T. R. Over himself. I will continue to look through collections and find the voices of those related to each collection and how they fit into the overall roller milling history.