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Milling Families

Those of you who follow The Mills Archive on social media will know that we have recently started highlighting different families on Family History Friday. Therefore, this week’s blog will be focusing on some of the families that were involved in roller milling history.

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An example of a family run manufacturing firm was Thomas Robinson & Son. This firm was one of the oldest companies that became associated with roller milling machinery, as its origins could be dated back to the time of the Napoleonic Wars. The firm started as a timber business with a sawmill, foundry and fitting shop. The diversification into roller milling did not take place until the 1880s, after both Thomas Robinson and the Son from the business name were dead. Instead it was the third generation, James Salkeld Robinson, Philip Henry Robinson, Thomas Nield Robinson, Charles John Robinson and Arthur Maurice Robinson, who were responsible for this diversification of the firm. This was not the last generation to be involved with the business as the fourth generation, particularly Charles John Robinson’s sons, John Cuthbert Robinson and Charles Salkeld Robinson (pictured below), held positions within the firm. They saw the business – and themselves – safely through two world wars. More about this family and their business is available to read here.

Milling businesses could also be family-run affairs. Indeed, over the past six months, the Mills Archive team has visited two examples of family-run milling businesses: Heygates and Jordans Mill. Mr. Arthur Robert Heygate acquired a mill at Bugbrooke during the 19th century. This mill is still running with his grandsons, Mr Paul Heygate and Mr Bob Heygate, acting as joint managing directors of the firm. The Jordan family, meanwhile, have been present at Holme Mills, Biggleswade, since 1893, and can count six generations of William Jordans in their history. The family is still closely involved with the Jordans Trust, preserving Holme Mill, whilst the Jordans brand of cereal is still available in shops.

It was not just big manufacturers and milling businesses that were run by families. Indeed, smaller establishments and mills that may only have been part of a family for one or two generations also existed. At the Mills Archive records of such families exist within the literature held in the library. One such example of this is the recently published Mills Archive Research Publication on the Brown Family, tracing ten flour mills worked by the Browns in a hundred years. The Brown family were milling over numerous generations in a variety of locations, including Royal Flour Mills, Albert Embankment, Vauxhall; Powhay Mills, Exeter, Devon; and St John’s Mills, Cork, Ireland. A long-lasting and widespread legacy created by this one family.

Furthermore, collections relating to families and their businesses are also held by the Archive. Both the Cornwell Collection and Over Family Collection contain details about the respective families and their roles in milling. William Cornwell worked for the Sun Flour Company for many years, but after his retirement in 1926 he purchased a watermill in Uxbridge, Middlesex, which he ran with the help of his sons Archie and Arthur. The Over family, meanwhile, worked three different mills in Berkshire. Their business was known as Over Bros. as brothers Richard and Frank Over went into partnership together around 1910. However, a new generation was introduced into the firm when Richard’s sons, Raymond and Denis, joined the firm in the 1940s, and it was they who passed the collection to the Archive in 2016. Some of the Over Family are pictured at the top of this blog, along with their beloved Scottie dog!

Family businesses within the milling industry were therefore very common. Robinsons, Heygates, Jordans, Browns, Cornwells and Overs only make up a fraction of the milling families connected with this period of the industry, with many more examples available to find on the ‘Modern Milling’ pages with further materials held at the Archive.