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Roller Mill

Other Isle of Wight Roller Mills

There are four known roller mill installations on the Island, including Calbourne. The others were Pan and Home mills at Newport, and Wootton Mill. All their installations were prior to Calbourne. They were port mills supplementing their Island trade with shipments to the mainland. It was doubtless the mainland trade which brought them into early competition with a growing number of Hampshire roller mills. What evidence there is suggests those Island mills that converted did so to initially protect their existing markets rather than capture new ones.

Pan Mill
Pan was the first mill on the Island to install a roller mill, in late 1889. It was a Henry Simon system but much larger than subsequently went into Calbourne. It produced 5 sacks per hour compared with Calbourne's specified 1.5 sacks. The system had 4 break rolls and 6 reductions rolls of 20" x 7", complemented by a sophisticated range of dressing equipment. The machinery occupied four floors, driven by a 32hp steam engine and turbine water wheel.

Pan was probably the biggest producer on the Island. The owners, Ash and Thomas, also had branch facilities in Hampshire and frequently shipped flour from Newport into their own warehousing in Portsmouth and Southampton. Later owner, Leigh Thomas, sold the business in the early 1920s. Leigh Thomas & Co. Ltd. again acquired Pan in 1934 and continued roller production. It is unclear when Pan's full scale milling ceased although the roller plant was still in place in the 1960s

Home Mill
Messrs Arnell Brothers started roller mill production at Home Mill in April 1890. The system was supplied and installed by Thomas Robinson of Rochdale. Thomas Robinson had originally entered the trade supplying 'badged' American plant but, by this time, they were designing and manufacturing their own machinery. The roller mill was installed in a new extension while the old mill housed a new 30hp steam engine. Full specification is unknown but the system had 4 break rolls and produced 4 sacks per hour.

There is no trace of Home Mill today: it was located on Lukely Brook opposite the present Sainsbury's store. In 1918 It was re-established as Arnell's Ltd, although seemingly controlled by Pan's Leigh Thomas. In the early 1920s Pan and Home Mill were sold to Thomas, Gater, Bradfield, & Co. who continued to operate both roller mills. Home Mill appears to have closed around the time Pan came back into the ownership of Leigh Thomas & Co. Ltd.

Wootton Mill
Little technical detail is known of Wootton's roller mill but its story is so intriguing it deserves examination. It started production in March 1892 with plant that must be classed as unique. The engineering complexity of roller mills dictated that most mills purchased their roller equipment as a complete system from a sole manufacturer. A more ambitious option might be to buy the various units from a range of suppliers and then design and engineer the drive and interconnecting stock transport. William Souter, Wootton's owner, went one further and decided to have all the units designed and made locally, with the exception of a purchased 'Childs' purifier. There is no record of this approach being adopted elsewhere.

Souter made much of his support for local business and claimed his motive was to keep work on the Island. Whilst this may have been a genuine inclination, there were almost certainly economic advantages as well. He was keen to have a roller mill which would fit within an existing space without building alterations, so a purpose built system may have been one solution.

The plant was engineered and installed by millwrights Way and Minns of Newport. Souter and Way and Minns could not have approached the project without gaining some experience of an operating roller system. The indications are this was achieved via access to Home Mill, courtesy of William Arnell. Specifications of the Wootton plant are unknown but it had a claimed output of 2.5 sacks per hour. Some insight into the task might be gleaned from the claim that a senior partner at Way and Minns designed an improved fluting for the break rolls. It might seem improbable that a local millwright could come up with an improvement to designs developed by specialist engineers on two continents. An alternative explanation may be that some redesign was necessary to avoid infringing existing patents.

Wootton roller mill ran until 1945 when the mill ceased flour production. There can therefore be little doubt the plant was equal to trade systems. It would appear that William Souter's faith in local design and engineering was justified.

Main sources
Isle of Wight County Press (Home Mill): 26/4/1890
Isle of Wight County Press (Wootton Mill): 19/3/1892
Isle of Wight County Press (Wootton Mill): 5/1/63
The Miller - trade journal (Pan Mill): 2/10/1893
Industrial Great Britain - Newport (Arnell Bros):1894
Hilary Godson: A History of Wootton Bridge - Part 1

November 2004