Filter posts by tag:  

Posted on

Up to snuff

A Pandora’s box that contained toxic tobacco.

This Gem is a miller’s snuff-box, inlaid with a beautiful and intricate windmill design, as well as some mother of pearl. Snuff boxes such as this could be highly detailed and would require the skilled work of silversmiths, jewellers and enamelers. According to the engraving, this one comes from the Jura region of France: an area known for its fine small-scale woodwork. Workshops in the area produced many snuff boxes like this one with a huge variety of inlaid designs such as flowers, clovers and rural scenes including mills.  

Snuff is ground tobacco that you inhale rather than smoke. It was popular from its introduction in the 18th Century through to the 19th both with the upper classes and those whose jobs would make lighting a cigarette or pipe an extremely bad idea. This included deckhands on the wooden sailing ships of the time, miners and millers working in their highly flammable mills.

Snuff boxes were popular from the 17th to the 19th century, and they remain a popular collector’s item today. They come in various shapes and sizes; most were small for personal use, and some were even integrated into jewellery. There are also larger designs for communal use – one example being the snuff box at the door of the House of Commons which continues to provide free snuff to MP’s, a practice dating to the 17th Century where smoking was banned from the Commons.

Snuff itself was produced in both windmills and water mills. To make snuff, tobacco leaves are bound together, dried and matured, then ground into a fine powder by the mills, either using traditional millstones or by driving a large pestle and mortar like the one in the drawing to the right. 

Gem from the Mildred Cookson Foundation Collection

Posted on

Feeding the nation

This flour was Hitler’s secret weapon.

This Gem is a photograph of two flour bags, which were produced under Government regulations during the Second World War.

At the start of the war Britain was importing around 70% of its grain, but with the demands of war and the risk posed by U-Boats to imported supplies, the government sought ways to make limited grain supplies go further.

Thus, National Flour was introduced in 1942. Its extraction rate was around 85%, which was much higher that the white bread that was almost universally eaten before the war: a similar rate to today’s brown bread. Extraction rate refers to the amount of flour produced compared to grain – for example, at an extraction rate of 85% per 100kg of grain, 85kg of National Flour would be produced. White bread in comparison is more heavily milled and processed, with a rate of around 70%. In 1941, calcium fortification was also introduced as Rickets was found to be common amongst those joining the Women’s Land Army. Fortification of bread continues today in all bread aside from wholemeal. Fortification of bread continues today in all bread aside from wholemeal.

Bread was never rationed during the war, but it would come under rationing from 1946 till 1948. Commercial white bread, however, was banned altogether on the 6th April 1942, and sliced white bread wouldn’t be reintroduced until 1950, with the National Loaf abolished six years later. The National Loaf was unpopular and was dubbed ‘Hitler’s Secret Weapon’. It apparently had an unappealing colour and texture, but was much less wasteful than the more popular white bread and saved on limited supplies, as well as being healthier. Furthermore – at least according to the Minister of Food at the time – it acted as an aphrodisiac!

In today’s health-conscious world, with a backlash against white bread, it is interesting to see the unpopularity of the introduction of what effectively was brown bread. Indeed, the National Loaf didn’t appear to have any lasting effect, and as soon as it was reintroduced people started buying white bread again.

Gem from the Martin Watts Collection

Related links

  • Further Reading: Without a reliable supply of food Britain would have lost the Second World War, however getting your daily bread was far more difficult during wartime. Learn all about the demands of war on the milling industry here. 
  • Gingham Girl: Flour bags, whilst at first unassuming have a rich and varied history. For instance, an enterprising company would turn them into dresses. 
  • 20th-Century Milling: Interested in the twists and turns of the modern milling industry? You can find out all about milling in the 20th century here.

Posted on

Homeland health

Purity, Quality and Merit.

This Gem is a Certificate of Excellence, issued by the Royal Instituation of Public Health and Hygiene to certify that the Homeland Flour produced by Witherington and Over fulfilled their required quality standards.

Witherington & Over was a milling company in Reading, not far from where the Archive is now at Watlington House. The company formed from the amalgamation of two millers, Witherington & Son Ltd. of Sonning Mill and Over Bros of Sindlesham Mill, who originally produced Homeland Flour as their ‘High-Grade Self Raising Flour’. Witherington & Over was founded in 1954, and they ran the two mills together until closing in 1969.

The intricately-designed certificate includes the Institution’s three main objectives written around the floral borders: Purity, Quality and Merit. The coat of arms bears a motto which translates as ‘Salvation of the Human Race’. This grandiose appearance suggests that the Institution may have had a somewhat inflated view of their own importance!

Originally the British Institute of Public Health, it became the Royal Institute of Public Health in 1897, appointing Queen Victoria herself as their patron. The Institute campaigned on issues of public health (for example campaigning for a Minister of Public Health) as well as running a programme of lectures to help improve health policies. They also produced programmes of certification in public health for companies – for example instructing the Salvation Army Officers in matters of hygiene. In 1937 the Institute merged with the Sanitary Institute to create the Royal Institute of Health and Hygiene.

Gem from the Brian Eighteen Collection

Related links

  • Further Reading: Flour and bread is a staple food in our daily diets. As such it has a huge influence on the health of the nation. Find out more about the impact of our daily bread.
Posted on

Nice rice

Mill don’t just grind flour.

This is a donkey-powered rice mill in China. It makes use of an Edge Runner Stone rather than using a pair of flat millstones. To work it, the rice would be placed on the stationary lower stone. The donkey then drags the top vertical stone around the edge of this lower stone, thus grinding the rice. The produced flour would then be brushed into a bowl. You can see in this photograph the lady on the right holding a brush for this purpose.

Rice is the staple food for a substantial portion of the world’s population. Rice flour can be produced by grinding rice, which is used to thicken stews and soups, as well as making pancakes such as South Indian appams. Its popularity has also increased in recent years as rice flour doesn’t contain gluten.

The ladies in this image are working at a Franciscan Monastery in Chan-Tong, China. The Franciscans arrived as Missionaries to China in the 13th Century, with the first being Father John of Montecorvino. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries there were waves of persecutions as Christianity was seen as a tool of foreign influence. However, relative peace was established in 1800 by the Treaty of Tianjin, and the religious orders returned en mass to China until they were once again expelled following the Communist Revolution.

Gem from the Mildred Cookson Foundation Collection

Related links

  • Further Reading: Before steam-driven mills, wind-powered tower mills or horizontal waterwheels the strength of people and animals were used to produce our daily bread. Learn more about the earliest form of milling here.
  • History of Rice Milling: Learn all about the milling of rice in this series of articles written by Mildred for Milling and Grain. 

Posted on

Unfolding a new era

You never know what may lie inside an advertisement.

This Gem is a trade card for Washburn Crosby Company Flour Mills, produced in around 1890 to advertise their Gold Standard Flour. What makes this trade card a Gem is the fascinating folding design: the picture of a traditional windmill on the front of the card folds out like a folding children’s book to show a modern roller milling complex inside. This shows the progression from traditional flour milling to modern, industrialised flour milling. However, conversely to the wistful, sentimental portrayal of traditional windmills and their contrast to a more negative view of the industrialisation of milling that we often see, this trade card views modern milling in a very positive light, stating that

“There’s as much difference in the Flour of some mills, as there is between an old wind-mill and the most modern milling plant in the world.”

Washburn Crosby Company Flour Mills was an American company based in Minneapolis, set up by Cadwaller C. Washburn in 1856. The original mill was called Washburn’s Folly as it was criticised for being far too large for the demand of flour. Nonetheless the company was successful, leading to the building of a larger mill called ‘A’ Mill in 1874. In 1874, soon after the expansion, an explosion destroyed ‘A’ Mill, killing eighteen people. In response, the company invested in more modern and safe technology, making it the first mill to use automated roller technology, increasing their capacity to 5,500 barrels a day.

In 1928 the company merged with twenty-six others to create General Mills, a global food company which continues to operate today and produces well-known products including Cheerio’s and Nature Valley. They have expanded from just milling and food production, and were responsible for the invention of Black Boxes for planes and the submarine that explored the wreck of the Titanic when it was first found. 

Interestingly, the reverse of the card describes the flour in a way that may not be quite so popular today:

‘This flour contains a large percentage of the gluten of wheat, and a very small proportion of starch, and for this reason bread made from it, does not become dry and tasteless, but retains the sweet flavour of the flour, and will keep moist for several days.’

Practical as this sounds, modern tastes have changed. In 2015, over 850 products sold by General Mills were gluten-free, whilst in 2005 it was the first major food company to make all of its cereals with whole grain. Indeed, modern advertisements make much of this for the health-conscious consumer – bringing it all back to the beginning, but with a contemporary twist.

Companies have constantly sought new and novel ways to appeal to consumers through advertising. This trade card does just that, whilst also demonstrating the development of milling technology.

Gem from the Mildred Cookson Foundation Collection

Related links

  • Further Reading: Learn more about the technique that brought art to the masses and made making this trade card possible here. 
  • Further Reading: Click here to find our how Trade Cards developed into a popular method of advertisement. 
  • Calendar Trade Card: This isn’t the only way companies tried to set their cards apart. This one, for William Perrin, a corn, flour and seed merchant, is a calendar.