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Bowled over by our latest finds!

With the Premier League having just started, England’s women progressing to the semi-finals of the Rugby World Cup and the cricketers embarking on the unknown of the day-night test, there is no shortage of sport around at the moment. However, what has surprised me is just how many references to sport I am coming across in my work on roller mills and this week I thought I would share some of them with you.

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As you may have picked up on from my blog a couple of weeks ago, Joseph Rank, the founder of Joseph Rank Ltd., which would become part of Ranks Hovis McDougall, was an avid cricket fan. Indeed, it is impossible to read the biography of him written by R. G. Burnett and not pick this up. Cricket was a part of Mr. Rank’s routine and he approached his playing with great ‘zest’ while seeking to be as successful on the field as off it. It appears to have been his one indulgence. A pious and hard-working man with no ear for music nor time for reading, yet he would travel for miles to watch his hero, W. G. Grace, and others play.  Indeed, his love for the sport and habits were so well known that a neighbour was recorded to have said that he ‘used to enjoy seeing him off for a ride on horseback on Saturday afternoons into Holderness with Alfred Gelder and T.R Ferens, who also lived within a hundred yards. Occasionally Mr. Rank was an absentee – then we knew he had gone to cricket’. So for the man who spent his week concerned with his milling industry and his Sunday’s at Kingston Chapel, cricket on a Saturday afternoon, or a horse ride with friends, was his one break.   

Joseph Rank is not the only cricketer I have come across in the world of roller milling. The Australian Roger Kimpton, grandson of William Stephen Kimpton who founded the flour-milling ‘empire’ W.S. Kimpton & Sons in Victoria, was also a keen cricketer. In 1934 he left Australia and came to England where he studied at Oxford University. Whilst in England he played 62 first-class games for Oxford University and Worcestershire scoring 3,562 runs with eight hundreds. He also did some bowling and kept wicket for one year at Oxford. However, cricket would be given up during the war when he joined the Australian Air Force and led 140 sorties. After the war he became a partner in W. S. Kimpton & Sons and helped modernise it. So from cricket to the family business, yet for Roger Kimpton, he was said to have thought his father inviting him to become a partner after the war ‘his proudest moment’, not his 160 from his second first-class match.

Apart from cricketing individuals, it appears that the workforce within mills would also get together and make up a team. In a photograph recently catalogued from Cranfield Bros., Ipswich, there is a picture of a cricket team formed from employees of Cranfield Brothers. Cricket was clearly not the only sport they played either with photographs of a football team and individuals playing golf also catalogued. Cranfield Brothers was clearly a very sporty place and encouraged the ‘bonding’ of employees through the playing of sport!

Meanwhile, in America, sport was used as a tool to form better relationships between millers. In May 1916, The Millers’ National Golf Association was formed with the explicit object of ‘encouraging a better acquaintance among millers of the United States who are directly connected with the operation of flour mills’. Membership was open to any man aged 21 or over who held ‘a salaried position with a flour mill operating in the United States or any millowner’. Women, as usual, were not allowed membership but it appears that technically anyone from the office boy upwards could attain membership, although in reality it was probably the millowners and managers who joined. In the ‘Notes’ and ‘Mostly Personal’ sections of later editions, there are frequent reports of these individuals at golf tournaments or about to attend one. The worlds of milling and golf clearly went hand in hand in America during this period then.

So the world of roller milling and the world of sport often crossed over from professional players, to merely being an enjoyable pastime to a business meeting in disguise. Sport covered a full range of purposes, just like it does today, and despite not being something I expected to come across, I look forward to stumbling across more anecdotes!   

Selected Sources:

  • Burnett, R. G., Through the Mill: The Life of Joseph Rank (Oxford, 2004).
  • Haigh, Gideon, Revolutions: Writings on Cricket History (Melbourne, 2006).
  • Jones, W. Lewis, Where Have All the Flour Mills Gone?: a History of W.S. Kimpton and Sons – Flour Millers 1875-1980  (Victoria, 1984).
  • The Northwestern Miller, May 17, 1916.