Last week Liz and I had the privilege of visiting Ponders End Mills, the home of family milling business G R Wright and Sons.
Above: the mill and mill house as they once looked.
The mill has a rich heritage, which is evident when you take a tour round the site. Huge modern grain silos and warehouses sit alongside the elegant Georgian house where the Wright family still live, and the 17th century watermill, now a listed building. We were welcomed in the office by David Wright, current managing director and great-great grandson of G R Wright, who founded the firm in 1867.
Above: Fifth-generation miller David Wright inspects one of the roller mills.
Back then Ponders End Mill was still a water-powered stone mill with the mill stream from the River Lee running under the building and turning two breastshot waterwheels, to power seven pairs of millstones. The late 19th century was a time of great change in the milling industry, as the introduction of roller mills and steam power led to a dramatic reduction in the number of mills in the country. Small water and wind powered stone mills could easily be driven out of business, but those that kept up to date with technological change could survive to produce flour in quantities their forebears could never have dreamt of. Wright’s were among the few that succeeded in making the transition, and their continual innovation in the decades since has resulted in their survival to become London’s only remaining flour mill.
Above: The mill complex today, with original watermill building and mill house visible on right.
With such a long history, the firm has accumulated a wealth of old records, some of which David had selected to show us. After a coffee and a look at the archives, it was time for a site tour. Food safety manager John Scatchard was our guide – a true mine of information, with an infectious enthusiasm for his workplace. Finally we were treated to lunch, and an interesting discussion about the milling industry, past and present.
Above: Pizza flour being packaged in the warehouse.
We’re very grateful to Wright’s for a warm welcome and a fascinating insight into such an historic, and yet modern and innovative milling business.
We’re also grateful to the Heritage Lottery Fund, who funded our visit to Wright’s as part of our current project, Succession Breeds Success. This funding has been made possible by National Lottery players.
Images in this article were provided by G R Wright and Sons, who own the copyright.