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The Advent of Modern Milling

From Field to Mill: Transport (part I)

Within the milling process transport was needed at two separate but distinct points. Firstly in transporting the raw product to the mill and secondly, taking the completed sacks of flour away from the mill to be sold (as can be seen in this sketch of Silvertown Flour Mill). This section will focus on the first part, the transportation of the raw product.

The traditional way for grain to arrive to arrive at the mill was on the back of a cart pulled by horses.

Once it arrived was necessary to bring the grain into the mill. This was normally done either by using ‘a hoist of some pattern, or he may employ elevators’ (Voller, p.71). Either way, the cart must be unloaded using physical labour to allow the product to come into the mill.

However, the horse and cart was not the future. From 1912, Philip Hancock worked for his father’s cousin, Mr. Frank Hooker, at Westgate Mill, Canterbury. He recalled the modes of transport their wheat used to reach the mill:

‘The English wheat would sometimes be delivered by traction engine. Early in the morning a huge traction engine with three trucks of wheat would appear at the mill, the engine belonging to the Wingham Engineering Company’ (Hancock, p.8).

This was not using the old horse and cart method, but utilising the novelty of steam power for use in traction engines and steam waggons:

These machines could carry greater loads and continued to supply the country miller with English grain for many years, until motor vehicles and lorries replaced them.

However, not all mills were located in the country. As can be read about in the Location section, with the incoming of roller milling, foreign wheat became more desirable so mills were frequently constructed on ports to allow for easy delivery. When ships arrived, the grain could be transferred straight to the mill from the water. This was done using a ‘band or elevator’ which ‘forms the connection between mill and vessel’ and takes the grain into the mill where it is distributed ‘in any direction’ (Voller, p.75).

Clarence Flour Mills:

So, in general, country mills had their local wheat transported on the road whilst port mills had their foreign wheat bought to them by ship. However, there is a third situation, the country miller and their order of foreign wheat. Philip Hancock at Westgate Mill in Canterbury was in this situation and described the journey their grain took once it had arrived in Britain:

‘Our foreign wheat came to Whitstable by barge and was railed to Canterbury where trucks were unloaded by horse and van to the mill, as the station was quite close to the mill.’ (Hancock, p.8).

Their foreign wheat required over four modes of transport just to reach their mill. Whitstable is only 5 miles north of Canterbury, yet once the wheat had arrived there on barges, it was transferred to the railway and only after that could it be loaded onto carts from the mill to be bought back. Such was the process that had to be gone through every time there was a shipment of imported foreign wheat:  

From Barge:

To Train:

To Horse and Cart:

The use of a horse and cart to bring the grain from the station probably updated when new modes of transport became available, but that final journey was still necessary given the location of the mill.

Therefore, given the numerous different places grain could come from and the variety of locations mills could be built, there were multiple ways of grain travelling for that first journey to the mill.

Read about the development of transport used to take flour from the mill in Transport: Part 2.


Hancock, Philip, ‘Extracts from “Rambling Recollections of a Rural Miller”’ (1980): FULL-22162.

Voller, William, Modern Flour Milling 3rd edition (1897).