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Priority Collections

Getting our priorities in order

With 286 collections in our archive, ranging from 1 to over 200 boxes in size, it is important for us at the Mills Archive to determine which collections are the most significant. This helps us to know what material to focus on when applying for funding and working with our volunteers to list, digitise and provide access to the many items in our storerooms.

We regularly review our list of top priority collections, and this newsletter gives an introduction to some of these:

The Alan Stoyel Collection

Alan Stoyel was great friend to the Mills Archive and served as one of our founding trustees. A leading watermill expert, he amassed a trove of research and photographs in his home in Herefordshire, a former school with plenty of room for building a milling collection! As well as papers and photos he collected milling artefacts which were on display in his home, most notably his Spanish threshing sledge which he brought back from Spain, strapped to the roof of his car, in the 1970s, as well as many wooden millwrighting patterns.

Alan’s car on his Spanish trip.

A lifetime’s research meant that Alan had compiled extensive notes on practically every watermill in the UK, along with an enormous run of photographs and 35mm slides. Windmills have tended to be more popular with researchers and photographers – this makes Alan’s collection a valuable supplement to the many windmill items we have already made available on our online catalogue.

Alan’s collection of wooden mill patterns

With over 200 boxes, Alan’s collection is one of the largest in our stores, and just getting here and accessioning it was already a mammoth task. The work of ordering, sorting, listing, cataloguing and digitsing will continue for some years to come, but it will be worth it to make this rich resource of information available. For all these reasons Alan’s collection is certainly one of our top priorities.

The Millers’ Mutual Association Collection

Two key institutions which shaped the modern milling industry in the UK were the National Association of British and Irish Millers, now UK Flour Millers, and the Millers’ Mutual Association. We were excited when in 2023 these important bodies chose us to be the repository for their historic archives. A whole century’s worth of milling history is contained in the minute books, financial records, deeds, patents, books and periodicals, photographs and other documents in the collection.

The collection on its way to the Archive

The physical care of the collection has already given us some challenges, with the collection containing wide variety of media, from large framed paintings and photographs, to big rusty metal chests, to crumbling leatherbound minute books

Painting of J V Rank by artist John Lavery MMAC-IMG-001

The large minute books posed a particular challenge due to the decaying leather. Because of changes to the tanning process, leather bindings from the late 19th century onwards can become subject to ‘red rot’. The leather crumbles to a red powder which can make it hard to handle the volumes without getting red dust everywhere. With some training from our friends at the Royal Berkshire Archives we were able to apply a consolidant gel to the covers of the volumes; this stops the leather from crumbling, although it can only slow down and not reverse the decay.

At work on the minute books

We continue to work our way through the collection. With so much material and so much potential for historical research we will be giving this collection a high priority for some time to come.

Peter Musgrove Collection

Experimental wind turbine designed by Peter Musgrove – FWGC-1114437

Renewable energy is increasingly important today, and this means that the story of how this technology has developed is worth recording. The Mills Archive is at the cutting edge of recording this history – our traditional wind and watermill collections show the technology’s ancient roots, and we are now beginning to collect material relating to the history of electricity generation by wind and water. The first major accession in this area last year was the papers of Peter Musgrove, who has had a long career of research, development and advocacy in this area. His papers along with a significant set of library material are an important addition to our Archive, and our director Liz has been working through them as part of her Archives Management degree.

Other high priority collections

Notebook from Royal Gunpowder Factory, Faversham, 1798 – CROC-01-02

Alan and Glenys Crocker have devoted themselves to studying the history of gunpowder mills, and the 28 boxes of material they have donated to the Archive also contains valuable material on paper mills and turbines. The unique 18th century notebook from Faversham gunpowder mill shown above has already been digitised and made available on our catalogue, but more work to make the rest of the collection accessible remains to be done.

Vincent Pargeter’s millwrighting drawings.

As part of our commitment to supporting the craft of traditional millwrighting, we have already digitised and made available the bulk of millwright Vincent Pargeter’s drawings, and they can be viewed here. Around half the collection remains to be catalogued.

Some of Martin Bodman’s mill gazetteers and photographs

Martin Bodman produced detailed gazetteers of watermills in the south west of England, along with extensive photographs. These will prove a goldmine for anyone looking into mills in that part of the world, and a valuable addition to our online databases

Peter Dolman was an inspirational figure: a millwright, miller and leading recorder, particularly of Suffolk windmills. His large collection (82 boxes) was one of the first to be deposited with the Mills Archive, and has been partially catalogued. However, there are still 32 boxes to list and a large number of negatives to scan.

What do you think?

We would love to have your opinions on what you most value about our collections. All feedback is gratefully received and will help us to further develop our priorities for the future.

Reader’s comments

Cane Bay windmill tower

Many mill enthusiasts in Europe and North America focus on grinding grain. Winter is a good time to reflect on the application of milling technology to sugar cane, since this would have been the time of year you would have found windmills in the Caribbean in full operation to take advantage of the seasonally reliable winds. Caribbean sugar plantations were among the first in human history to combine agricultural production and product manufacturing in the same management unit, resulting in many plantations both growing sugar cane and processing it into sugar, molasses, and rum. Combining this development with the colonization of these islands and you have a significant engine driving the nascent globalization of trade. To enable a better understanding of the growth and extent of the sugar industry in a relatively late arrival into Caribbean sugar production, the website profiles the sugar industry and each estate that had a windmill or animal mill to process sugar cane. The site covers the Danish period, starting in 1733 until the present, including analysis of dozens of historic maps for each estate. Each milling location is pinned on a map on the home page with precise coordinates and each estate has its own feature page. The site is designed to attract the attention of mill enthusiasts, scholars, and those interested in learning about local history of St. Croix. While the site provides precise locations of mills, the research behind the site dates back over 35 years and has far more data about over 100 windmill tower ruins and other aspects of estate history than can easily be provided. Future plans for the site include adding photos from 35 years ago along with more detailed sugar production and estate ownership records. With the recent addition of blogs, sign up for the newsletter to be alerted to updates to the site.

Thank you to Bill Cleveland for sharing this information with us!