One of the categories that will be in the new roller milling webpages will be ‘Stories from the Archive’. Within this section, as may be expected, stories from the Archive will told. This will revolve around the collections that have a connection to the world of roller milling. This will include specific mills, individuals, milling families and the odd rescue story about how a collection has ended up in our care. In this week’s blog I thought I would share one such ‘story’, that of William Cornwell and his life working for the Sun Flour Company.
William Cornwell was born in Littlebury, Essex in 1851. His career as a miller coincided with the ‘roller milling revolution’ and the story of his life reflects many of the changes that took place. His milling career started when he learnt and worked with Joseph Wisely at a mill in Ickenham, Essex. Under his teaching, William learnt the traditional stone-milling process. He also found himself a wife, the step-daughter of Joseph Wisley’s sister, Mary Ann Lofts.
By 1879 he was a married man, managing a small Stone Mill of 5 pairs of stones for Mr. Wright in Waltham Abbey, Essex. When Mr Wright’s lease for property expired, the owner, Mr. Charles Brown, decided to use the mill himself, although he kept William Cornwell on as manager. Along with mills in Chelsea and Waddon, the company, Charles Brown & Co. Ltd., was formed. However, soon this all changed and a new company was formed consisting of the Waltham Abbey and Chelsea Mills whilst Charles Brown kept Waddon Mill. This new company took the name Sun Flour Mill Co Ltd. from the name of the street where Waltham Abbey mill was located, Sun Street. This company had early success but then on Christmas Eve, 1888, the Waltham Abbey Mill was completely destroyed by a fire. This was a blow but ‘was ultimately realized to be a Blessing in disguise, as the Mills situated as they were some 1½ miles from the nearest railway station, and 1 mile from the canal, were not in a good position commercially to cope with the competition then becoming apparent.’ (CORN-08). So, after ‘due consideration’, Waltham Abbey Mill was not rebuilt and instead a new location was sought for in London. Eventually, they settled on a former rice mill at Bromley by Bow, a location that was possibly suggested by William Cornwell himself.
This mill had machinery installed by Messrs. Simon and a steam power plant installed by Messrs. Pollit & Wigzell. With this equipment, the Sun Flour Mill at Bromley-by-Bow started in September 1889. William Cornwell was a manager at this mill and under his – and Mr Baker’s – direction it went from strength to strength. In 1907 the mill was upgraded to 30 sacks per hour and ten years later, in 1917, it was upgraded again to 40 sacks per hour. Further improvements were made and the company continued to grow. As did William Cornwell’s family as whilst living in Bromley by Bow, he and Mary had four children, twins Archibald and Arthur, Ernest and a daughter. Whilst his home life was changing, William Cornwell’s position at the mill was also changing as he was promoted from Manager to Director and finally Managing Director.
William Cornwell’s time with Sun Flour Mills Company Ltd. spanned its inception, move, consolidation, and growth. When he retired from them in 1926 he left a successful mill and legacy. However, this was not the end of William Cornwell’s association with mills and roller milling. With the intention of ‘providing the family with a profitable occupation’, he bought a 5½ sack flour mill at Uxbridge, Middlesex, that was known as William King Ltd (CORN-01). He worked at this mill with his sons until his death in 1933. The Uxbridge mill continued to be worked by his sons until it was incorporated by Associated British Foods. However, its fame still lives on as the mill probably gave its name to ‘Kingsmill’ bread. This was a greater success and legacy than the Sun Flour Company managed to keep after William Cornwell’s retirement and death. In 1941 it was purchased by J W French and was destroyed by an explosion that took place on 7 August, 1965, killing 4 people and injuring another 38.
So William Cornwell, one man in the vast world of milling. The mills he worked at may not have survived, nor the company, but his words have. On his retirement he wrote a history of the Sun Flour Company. This blog has been predominantly based on it and even quoted at times. His words, the record of his life, the newspaper cuttings he collected associated with milling, and many other photographs have been kept. His family cared for them and then his grandson, Guy Cornwell, donated them to the Archive. William Cornwell and his life will continue to live on thanks to his collection and its home, here at the Mills Archive.