Oh, to be a Dusty Miller.
- 1 Introduction
- 2 Foreword
- 3 From Childhood to National Service.
- 4 Learning to be a miller
- 5 Mill remodelling
- 6 Pastures New.
- 7 Flour sales business.
- 8 Adverts & Royal Norfolk Show.
- 9 R. J. READ: COMPANY HISTORY.
It might seem rather strange to have on the Sprowston Heritage website and article about milling based on R J Read’s which stood in King Street, Norwich. The simple explanation is the article is based around the memories of Keith K Fowler, born in Sprowston in 1936 Keith has remained a Sprowston resident throughout his life. Originally published in book form by Sprowston Heritage by Peter Sneddon, with the coming of the digital age we are now making it accessible on the Sprowston Heritage website.
From office boy to Miller, Keith’s journey as a worker in a 20th century Flour Mill, R. J. Reads, in King Street, gives us an insight, as to how the flour that made our bread, cakes and biscuits etc. was made. It also shows how the milling process got more sophisticated through industrialisation and better machinery. The old Watermills, Tide mills, Tower mills and Windmills that were once scattered all over Norfolk are all but gone, even Reads Mill has disappeared, and the building has now been turned into residential flats.
Other well-known companies have disappeared over the years from the heart of the City of Norwich, Engineers, Shoemakers and Timber Merchants, but life goes on and change must come. With Keith’s recollections, we have a record of that time and that is important. I am sure you the reader will be able to associate to some of Keith’s memories. He became the Manager of the Mustard Mill for another well-known company, Colmans in 1985 and he retired in 1998. Peter Sneddon. 2007.
From Childhood to National Service.
Windmills, mills and growing up.
As a young infant in a pushchair my parents made me a small handheld windmill, details of which they found in a book or magazine. They said this fascinated me, turning it one way and another watching the sails spin at different angles and trying to blow the sails if they would not turn by any other way, I expect this was my first initiation into the mystics of milling. During my early school days visiting parts of Norfolk by bus or train my attention was always drawn to the countryside with buildings dominating the skyline with sails, the windmills, used for drainage or grain milling, these could be seen along the Acle to Great Yarmouth road. Once in my teens, the Sprowston Secondary School, Recreation Ground Road, taught us about flour milling, mainly because of the “Harrison Post Mill” which was situated on Sprowston Road. Built in the early part of the 18th century the post mill was destroyed by fire in 1933. However the mill is displayed on the school badge to the present day. The Art class always highlighted “Old Crome`s Mill” which was painted by the artist Crome on Mousehold Heath, and the village sign has the mill as the outstanding feature on display as well. Village Sign. One of my early hobbies was fishing and swimming with the lads during the school holidays, we would cycle to Horstead Mill on our old spare part bikes and position them at the hedgerow in hiding as none of us had licences or permission to fish in the area, we could see no damage and were irresponsible of any dangers. The best area to fish was the mill itself with the many “flushes” and rapid waters rushing through the mill, plenty of bait surrounding the millpond, Bream, ells, Roach etc, was plentiful. We would creep and try to fish off the mill arches but chased off by vigilant mill workers.
Once I was caught by a mill worker but tried to wriggle out of my position and said I would like to look at a watermill in operation, I explained the workings of a windmill and the operator said a watermill is the reverse of a Windmill, the sail being a water wheel turning the machinery. He took me near the doorway and windows pointing out the workings of the mill, I can remember all the belts and pulleys moving round, bags being packed, but a very dusty environment. When I met up with my pals, they thought I had been caught and police had been called for illegal fishing and trespassing on mill property, when they heard my story, laughed well! You lied your way out of that one, who would want to work in a “dusty old hole like that”. I was still enthusiastic about the technology, which was learnt on that day.
My schooling days were rapidly coming to an end, one had to leave school at 15 years old, being an all-round average student, my best subjects were Art and Technical Drawing, there were very few education opportunities for school leavers in the early 1950`s, the country was still recovering from the aftermath of the 2nd World War. During the war years I unfortunately had a bad fall and had to receive eye surgery, this held me back for education, missing lessons and later sporting activities, especially football, and had to wear spectacles permanently. My interests at this time was turning to motorcycle sports Speedway Racing, there was no chance of owning a motor bike in the future, however I built a track bike from bits and pieces, collected from dumps and old cycle shops who felt sorry for me. I started riding for various village teams in friendlies but was promoted to the Norwich and District League riding for Sprowston Aces who were one of the best teams in the area. Table Tennis was another sport which I was advised to play, helping my eye concentration and movement following the small white ball, this helped enormously.
Where should I get a job?
My father was employed at the G.P.O. (Royal Mail) as a Postal and Telegraph Officer, which he was very conscientious and had ambitions of me to join him in a “job for life” organisation. However, all good plans don`t always work out, my ambition was encouraged as I wanted to be a Telegram Boy and have training to ride their 250cc BSA motorcycle and learn to drive a van, in those days only the rich had cars and motorcycles. This career move came to abrupt end when the GPO policy was people wearing spectacles would not be employed to ride motorcycles, I was now disillusioned and did not want anything to do with the Post Office. My Father was sad as he wanted me to follow in his footsteps and he knew they had regular income, which would help the household income. My parents were then putting pressure on me to get a job before leaving school, as there was only one breadwinner in the family. I was helping out with a morning/evening and Sunday morning paper round and saving enough money to purchase a cycle for work. The art teacher at school said I had exceptional talent in the field of art and arranged an interview at an art studio with links in the advertising world, but unfortunately training would cost money and my parents were unable to agree to that.
In desperation my father said, “What do you want to do”! My pals and I would cycle past Reads City Flour Mills in the summer days on our way to Lakenham Swimming Pool, there always seemed to be plenty of females around the two shops near the Mill, thinking that must be fun working there with all the girls. (I later discovered the girls were from Colman`s on their break).
To my amazement when walking past Read`s with my father to the football matches at Carrow Road on Saturday afternoons, the Mill was running, and the white coated millers were standing watching the crowd passing them.
My father said “That’s the sort of job you want” sarcastically! “They have a vacancy in the newspaper for a junior clerk and you can write do sums, well why don`t you apply, I’ll come with you and see what prospects there is with the boss man at the mill”. I agreed and went for an interview… later a letter arrived and said they would employ me on a monthly trial as office boy. My parents were pleased, but I was not, as I was getting more earnings on my paper round than earnings at work and paying board money, I kept the Sunday paper round to make ends and did not have enough for my new cycle.
Starting work as the ‘Boy’
On my first day at work I was made very welcome and was taken around to meet everyone in the office, my predecessor was waiting for his call up papers for the Royal Air Force National Service, that’s why they needed the vacancy job to be filled. My tutor Lawrence was what one might call a streetwise person, clever and a little devious; he always had an answer for everything, he was soon giving me the pedigree of all the personnel from the top executive to the lowly humblest person on the bottom rung of the organisation ladder. He was full of confidence and having a new understudy gave him even more! My first week was nearly over before it had began when a man dressed in overalls walked straight into the office carrying a Hessian sack, the women in the office suddenly started getting up from their chairs and moving swiftly away out of his presence, then he turned to me, hand on my shoulder and said “I know you, you’re one of the young fishing poachers at Horstead Mill, caught yar”, he then untied the sack and pulled out the largest live eel I have ever seen. “I bet you have not caught one like this” these for the governor’s dinner. (Jack Read). The women were huddled up out of his way; he `winked` at me and said “them girls like having a stroke of my live eels in my sack when I leave them on the desk tied up”, I think I knew what he meant, must admit being terrified at the time, on his return from the governor’s office he handed me a brown envelope, “open it” he said, with a smile, inside was a fishing river pass to fish at Horstead Mill legally, thus I discovered that R. J. Read and Horstead Mill had the same owners.
From there on I started my training, learning the basic admin duties within the office, being on a month’s trial I had to be on my best behaviour and impress `don`t want the sack`. A checklist arrived with of all my daily duties, basically a `dog’s body` for the office staff.
As the weeks passed by and my month’s trial was over, I had a meeting with the Company Secretary Mr. Lunn, he was satisfied with my progress, but with Lawrence leaving to go into the Royal Air Force for two years National Service, more responsibility will be placed on me to keep things running smoothly. Duties highlighted, Reception communicating with Farmer’s deliveries, Customer Enquiries, checking feed stuff permits, (even with World War II over) Government Rationing was still in operation in the early 1950`s, visiting all mill areas with messages, visiting the Post Office with `franked` envelopes to be posted. Deliveries into Norwich City centre with documents became more frequent. My nickname soon became the `boy` for the site, have you seen the `boy`, where’s that `boy`, tell that `boy` to come and see me when he gets back etc. I was very conscientious in whatever task I was given, but there was no way of promotion as there was a settled team and no vacancies in the foreseeable future. I was gradually learning the business and helping out with the wages clerk, I discovered the rates of pay of those employed at the mill, when I told my father he said, “it’s a lot more than he could earn and why don`t you have a chat with the mill manager, he might give you some guidance”? On approaching the mill manager in his office, which was positioned in the Laboratory where they also baked the bread daily and quality tested it before the flour was delivered to the customer, his assistant also explained all the other tests that were done on the imported and local Wheat consignments, which arrived by river or road. My interest and enthusiasm was growing, even the mill teams welcomed one when I crept out of the mill office to view the next stage of the process or progress wherever I went. The mill manager said there were no vacancies, and nobody could be employed in the mill, until they reached the age of twenty years and then would have to start at the bottom of the ladder and its heavy work and not everybody’s cup of tea. One has to work their way up, to get into the mill. As I was so keen he felt sorry for me and gave me some advice to get to the top of the tree in the Milling Industry. You need to have a four-year apprenticeship to learn the trade, he gave me the Milling Technology Text book so I could study, but it seemed liked double Dutch and a bit frightening. If I had to learn this and take the Norwich City College exam, would I be up to it I thought? Is he trying to fog me off! He then said, “you would do well to take my experience to heart if this is the career you wish to follow, but always remember there is no substitute for experience, listen to the miller’s out there, they have been with the company man and boy, and maybe! Your generation will have a better education than they did”. This gave me some thought returning to the office.
A section of the business which fascinated me, was visiting the Corn Hall in the City of Norwich on a Saturday morning, collecting wheat samples for the Guv`nor or messages to the wheat buyers on occasions. This seemed an exclusive world or men’s club where communication with Farmers and Dealers took place, gathered round their Corn Merchants on their advertising and numbered stands, positioned all around the hall (there must have been at least one hundred stands in total). It was a very noisy but happy atmosphere with farmers bargaining over their grain prices. The dress at that time was raincoats and hats, expect the coats had large pockets, to hold the samples they had brought to the Market.
This was another part of the jigsaw I was beginning to understand, but no input only observations on my part, into the business of buying and selling grain. Read`s held the monopoly on imported cereals, Coasters discharging their cargo daily at the Silo on the riverside, this grain was then distributed around Anglian region, Rationing and Permits ceased in the 1950`s.
One sector I was always reluctant to venture in my early days working from the office was the women’s Self Raising Packing Dept. Where about ten “girls” packed flour into small 1lb-3lb, mainly for the household market. The forewoman warned me that all new office boys would have an “initiation” when they visited their working environment. What's an “initiation” what do they do! Take one`s trousers off and hoist them up the flagpole, pour Self-Raising flour down your underpants, remember you have been warned she smiled and walked away. However over a period of time I did find they would accidentally “knock into you with their flour powdery covered white coats transferring the powder onto your nice blue pinstripe suit, then wanted to hand brush your suit, to remove the dusty particles, swiftly I would return to the office with all the evidence on my clothes for all to see, the male staff in the office said “we know where you have been! We would not dare or have the courage to go up into that sector, you must be a brave “boy” they are all man-eaters, especially the young ones”.
On the serious side, the girls had to work very hard keeping their production line going; in those days there was very little automation, in nearly all the jobs you had to use your hands, moving 10 stone Flour Sacks with the aid of a hand held sack wheelbarrow, shooting the full sacks into Hoppers, where the Mixer Dressing Machine blended the flour with additives Sodium Bicarbonate and ACP, which had been carefully metered in to save the housewife from adding Baking Powder, this type of flour mix is called Self Raising flour. The Plain flour variety did not have any of these additives as the flour came straight from the main milling process. After mixing, the fine powdered flour travelled to the packing off point, where one of the girls placed an empty labelled bag under the small discharge spout, which volume metrically filled the small paper bag, the top of the filled bag was then folded and sealed neatly with glue. Allowed to stand before placing a dozen small 1lb or 3lb bags carefully into a large outer wrapping, sealed and stacked up to 5ft in height from the floor as temporary storage. Random sampling by the mill team and also a laboratory Quality Control Team took place at regular intervals.
The Self Raising plant (as it was called) the girls working there had to be physically fit, have dexterity and technical knowledge of the product, they all seemed happy in their environment talking and singing. This was another area, which I was becoming familiar with, another part of the milling process. I visited the Loading gang office in the mill many times a day delivering orders and invoices so that the foreman could organise the daily deliveries to the customers, everything was in bags or sacks, all “the donkey work” one might say but very organised, these men all looked like “grafters” and very fit, but very dusty. You could see that they worked in a mill as very few wore hats and their hair was full of dust and strangely their eyebrows. I learnt how, but was never caught, because I had witnessed the trick they would play on one another! If someone was talking below the foreman’s office and not working at that time, a large open flour sack was thrown like a umbrella over the unsuspecting employee’s head, it could with a good shot cover the top half of the body to the waist, viewing out of our office window the word soon got round look! Who’s going to get the “sack”, then laughter within, at someone else’s expense, it was all good fun. Being the office `boy` junior clerk one could be very gullible, being bottom of the company structure, thus everybody would be senior to me. The day in question one of the mill workers said Mr Jack (Read) is calling for you from the staff toilet, “where’s the `boy` tell him I wish to speak to him urgently, both of us ventured outside the door, he was still ranting with some choice words. I asked, “what's the problem”, thinking it might be a medical problem and he needed help. To my amazement all he wanted was a new toilet roll, someone had taken the staff one and left a newspaper cut into squares, each with a hole and a piece of string holding all the squares together, it had been tied to the water pipe. I ran back the office, collected the new toilet roll, the office staff thought it was hilarious and a few had some comical remarks. Returning to the `bog` (toilet), I threw the toilet roll over the top of the door, to a satisfied customer, I then swiftly disappeared into the mill. Everyone must have known what had happened or they were trying to make a point to the men at the top, their grievance for the same quality toilet paper. To my surprise, one sunny afternoon, for whatever reason, birthday anniversary, I did not find out, Mr Jack invited all the office staff to Hapton Hall, his residence, we all piled into the travellers cars and off we went. On arrival we were all made very welcome, drinks, sandwiches, visits to the Hall rooms and grounds, then the guests had a game of short lawn bowls.
I stood back as I thought that bowls was an old mans game but was soon placed into a team. It was a most enjoyable day and one to be remembered by all. In the distance one could see the Harvest in full swing, the light blue lorry (R. J. Read) was also in the field, this lorry belonged to Horstead Mill, expect some of the mill workforce were redeployed during the harvest period. Another unusual duty as office boy was turning the pages of the chequebook, using blotting paper to dry up the ink without smudging the signatures, Mr Hecter would sign first and leave Mr Jack the cheque book to sign at his leisure; each cheque had to be duel signed. Mr Jack would like a tipple of drink, which had a strong aroma, when concentrating on their finances; I was standing while Mr Jack was seated, each cheque signed, turning the pages, he would look over his spectacles and say “don`t you like drink” `boy`, “no sir” I replied! “Oh you think you will go out of here pissed then”, Mr. Hector being very diplomatic just smiled.
Sport of Kings.
Being the now established office `boy` on site, I would be given a small brown envelope sealed, to give to Freddie or Charlie only, and then asked on my return “did you find him”! OK! This was getting a regular thing, trekking along a dusty track, being a little naive, I asked no questions. The main rendezvous was the Recero Dept.
Where mysterious meetings at the back of a large wooden panelled partition stretching the whole length of the building, with enough space to house several people, it was dark as there were no lighting, however natural light was available through the dusty windows on the riverside, which could be raised slightly from the bottom and slide upwards, anyone from the riverside could not see in, because these windows were never cleaned, as camouflage to the going ons! A secret betting syndicate was in progress; newspapers were spread across the window cills and the people in question were studying, form, distance, meeting, jockey’s and prices, all putting their theories to the test. In those days the Betting Business was illegal, Police would turn a blind eye, unless some do-gooder would complain, then it was a “nod and a wink”. The bookie would employ runners, who worked in large factories or the work places, runners would carry a small Hessian sample bag, containing coins and betting slips with bogus names. It was obvious there was a lot of money in the racing game, but only one winner in a race, some would say a “mugs game”. The runner would wait for his dinner break, then leap on his bicycle and pedal like mad to the betting office before the off! Or using the early shift operator, who would leave off at 2pm to place the bets. A radio was available but hidden in a secluded space away from prying eyes, but word soon got round when a big race meeting was being broadcast.
I was to young and innocent to be bothered with losing hard earned wages, but I must make a confession, the office staff with some of the mill gamblers decided to run a sweepstake at a shilling a ticket. I drew “Never Say Die” ridden by a young 18-year-old jockey, his name Lester Piggott, and it was his first Derby. One of the senior staff in the office said “that’s an omen you should bet a shilling each way, if it comes in a place you will still make money, I was gradually being slowly drawn into this reckless speculation wrote out my ticket and handed it to the bookies runner. Thinking that’s the end of my couple of bob (Two shillings). To my amazement the horse came in at 33-1, I was in the money with the sweepstake and my independent bets, I felt like a millionaire. Word spread like wildfire, the `boy` had won, and I received various comments, some not very complimentary, from bad losers. Mr Jack Read, one of the owners, said, “I hear you’re in the money! I’ll give you some advice no one makes money gambling, then he told me he owned a horse Pegasus II”, ridden by Gordon Richards, Champion Jockey, it came last! On his desk he had a memento of a horses hoof (which held his collection of pins), he said, “If you carry it no dog will attack you”, I did not know if he was pulling my leg. Was it poor old Pegasus`s last race?
The mill and office outings special, something to look forward to throughout the year, places of interest for the potential trip in the future would be discussed, between a small committee, a list of places of interest placed on the notice board. The employees could then put their name against their preferred choice. Each Friday payday, the collectors would come round and visit each person and collect their subscription. Private coach trips were the in thing during the 1950`s and 60`s, there were not many private automobiles on the roads; it was very rare that an employee owned their own car. Bosses and the Outing’s committee would agree on a Saturday to run the day trip. On the day of the outing, everyone would arrive at the mill to catch the coaches; employees were dressed in their Sunday best, the females in their brightly coloured dresses, hairdo’s and hats. The males in their best suits, collar and tie, “Brylcream” down hair, what a transformation from their drab overalls, coats and hats, during their working day at the mill. Even the office staff looked more fashionable than normal. The excursions would mainly be to the seaside within the East Anglian region or a trip down to the “Smoke” (London), breakfast, dinner and a show at the Palladium. The atmospheres on the coach journeys were always fun, singing, laughing and occasionally someone would try their hand at being a musician on the harmonica or comb! I remember on one trip one of the mill worker`s dressed up as a vicar, he looked the part with his dog collar and hat, he kept it on all day raising his trilby to the passing public, he even received a free cup of tea in a café we went into. On the way home the coach would stop for a quick drink or discharge some liquid, nobody would get tanked up, just “merry”. The coaches would drop everyone one off at their nearest point, so one did not have to walk very far, getting a taxi home would have cost an arm and leg, the trips were always well organised and there was always a tale to tell after the event, not guilty! It seemed the fortunes of Norwich City Football Club have always been at a lower ebb, the humiliation of having to seek re-election to the Football League, the club had a financial crisis, collection boxes were all around the City, the money collected, helped to keep the Canaries club going. Eric Dunn, ex. RAF Intelligence Officer who worked in the office became the Supporters Club secretary for the football team and encouraged nearly everybody to become a member, “every little helps”! He would say, “like the lady at the seaside having a pee in the sea”! Norwich had recruited a canny Scot from Dundee, to run the team as Manager, his name Archie Macaulay; he laid the foundations to the famous FA Cup run of 1959. At the mill, coaches were arranged to attend the away matches, don`t think the bosses had much say in these trips, our Supporters Club representative must have pulled a few strings for the girls tickets as all the men had to queue with the other supporters, these queue’s during the cup run were enormous, from the ground, over Carrow Bridge, past the Carrow Works round the corner to the Pineapple Public House, the people of Norwich were hooked. On February 14th 1959 the 5th round away tie at Tottenham (Spurs), North London, when we arrived the streets were filled with noisy and colourful City fans in their yellow and green with a number of mascots, we could not believe our eyes when we arrived early at the White Hart Lane ground in Tottenham. The ground was rapidly filling up with Spurs and City supporters about 67,000 tickets were sold, we were all getting separated from our work colleagues, the crushing that took place was awesome and frightening to us country yokels, none of us had experienced anything like this before, the girls had disappeared from view, we did not meet them until the end of the match, they could not cope in the crowd and stood outside the stand. Some of the stands had seating but the majority of the fans stood, packed like sardines in a can, people were being lifted up over the heads of the spectators, their bodies moving horizontally, conveyed downwards to the edge of the football ground, (Some adults needed treatment by the first aid people, but most of those moving bodies were children, who being unable to see because of the size of the crowd, were moved to the front. Editor). The home crowd knew exactly what to do when the crowds at the back pushed forward like waves at seaside, back and forward all the time, to avoid being crushed against the safety rails you had duck under them, this was all before the match had kicked off. Once the match started you were stuck in that upright position, if you had your hands in your pockets there was no way you could get them out. The match was exciting and with Canaries Terry Allcock giving us the lead, only for the victory to be denied by Spurs last minute equaliser (justice was sweet, when we won the replay). However once we arrived to board the coach, one colleague said I’ve “lost my watch” another mate looked down and said “so have I” then another, they had all managed to keep close together at the match, but were amongst pickpockets and thieves, one colleague said “my wife told me not to take my best watch to the football match, I’ll be in the dog house when I get back home. Everyone else was in fine spirits on the coach, some being dropped near their home, others collected their cycles stored at work, and some were a little bit wobbly on take off as they left the mill, after a few “bevies” during their day up the “Smoke”. A good team performance, on and off the field, a day to remember.
My eighteenth birthday was getting close, when a brown envelope dropped through the letterbox, it was marked O.H.M.S. (On Her Majesty Service). The letter asked me to report to the Norwich Recruitment office in Colegate for National Service selection. The agenda would be interviews, medical examination and aptitude test for Military Service. I must admit I was not keen! Especially Army life did not appeal to me, the Royal Air Force would be my first choice, being very interested in Aviation history; I also liked their smart blue uniform, blue being my favourite colour. The Royal Navy would be interesting visiting foreign countries like my Seafaring Father (Kingston Fowler). My pals who were either in or waiting to go into the Services, said you have no chance to join the RAF or Royal Navy unless you sign on as a regular. I did not want to be committed long term; it was not like being employed, you could change a job, but once in the forces you had to do your time whether you liked it or not. I don`t think I would like the regimental way of life. My next object was to investigate ways of getting out and beating the system, pals would say tick all the illnesses on the list, plead ignorance, unable to see the letters when having your eyes tested, eat lots of hot sauces before the medical, this will raise your blood pressure, none of these ideas helped them to succeed in outwitting their Medical Examiners. My opinion was to choose the RAF for National Service and see if I came through their selection category. The date and time finally arrived and there must have been nearly one hundred other potential recruits, with white coats, personnel from the three Services, Navy, Army and RAF milling around the large hall. Documents had to be filled in, date of the birth, address, employment, then the medical, weight, height, reflexes, sight tested, colour blindness, heart, ears, basically the whole works. At the end of this ordeal you were given a medical card, I had passed grade A1, I queried this with the doctor writing out the report, saying if my spectacles were removed in some way I could not see very well, so why was I given A1 total fitness, he said “you are in whether you like it or not, you will enjoy two years believe me `boy`”. Next stage was the aptitude test, Maths, English, solving shapes and patterns similarities I must admit I did not finish all the questions in the time allocated, that worried me a lot thinking I had failed. The exam papers were collected and we all had to sit around waiting for the results, then my name was called out and luckily went into the Royal Air Force recruitment office, the officer then began to ask me questions why I wanted to join the “Boys in blue” for two years. He then said we have only selected two recruits and you are one of them to serve your National Service with us; however you will receive a better chance of a specialised trade training opportunity if you sign for at least another year, extra wages, better career prospects etc. I wondered how many other people he had told this too. I said I was flattered, but would see how things turned out after my two years and then decide if this was the life for me, we shook hands and I thanked him for selecting me. Leaving the recruitment centre I felt ten feet tall, this gave me a boost of confidence and self-esteem being selected to serve in the RAF. On returning to the office I told them I had been selected to join the RAF and had to give them my notice to cease my employment, as I would be getting a rail warrant to summon me to report to RAF. Cardington, Bedfordshire, in about four weeks time, however the Government rule was they would have to redeploy you, I asked the governor’s if I could be employed in the mill on my return not the office, the answer was to wait and see. Two years had passed very quickly; my service life in the RAF was a very exciting experience, a new way of life, seeing how the other half lived in other parts of the country, which I would never have visited if it had not been for my call up, especially my permanent posting to RAF. Aldergrove, Northern Ireland. This was a totally different culture to what I knew with my sheltered life in good old Norfolk. However I found I got on well with everybody whatever their religion and beliefs that they may have had. My two years’ service indicated I had potential, reaching the dizzying heights of L A C. (Leading Air Craftsman). The top brass from the Air Ministry wanted to keep a number of servicemen still in uniform to sign on for extra years and make a career in the RAF, they had seminars, film shows, one to one with senior officers, promotion once you have signed on the dotted line, all good propaganda, making you feel good and a bit disloyal living in the same billet with old sweat regulars and National Servicemen they have seen and heard all this before and they were not convinced, and nor was I. Signing on, also meant you would be posted almost immediately, there were good postings and bad postings, the bad being Christmas Island experimental research site. I decided no! I have done my time; RAF will now be history, part of my progression in life and now a new challenge in Civvy Street. At this time in the 1950`s only the rich had a television, lived in their own house and owned a motor car, if one wanted to achieve success you have to work for it. On demob reported back to R. J. Read`s and met many of my old colleagues in the office and the mill, my indication was that they were glad to see me.
Learning to be a miller
Back to The Mill and Donkey Work.
My next trip was an interview with the bosses, they understood, by how I was protected for employment for better or for worse, to my delight Mr B. C. Read owner and manager agreed to take me into the mill, there would be no favours, you will have to start at the bottom, Labouring (Donkey work) but the rate of pay will be full T.G.W.U. rate. Some helpful guidance was given, the team you will be working with will give training, and we want to keep all our customers happy so that they come back time after time, this keeps you in a job, quality is the key to good business practice. My first week nearly “killed me”, my parents thought I had made a bad mistake; I was going to bed knackered after teatime. At work the team were carrying me, I felt sorry for them, but I needed to survive in one piece, my muscular strength and physical fitness needed to be a priority, the other men made it look easy “no sweat” but that’s experience, they have been doing this repetitive job for years and old men compared with my young age of 20 years old. Even operating a sack barrow had its complications; my wrists were weak and painful, manoeuvring round corners, up ramps etc. all day long (8 Hours). The sacks weighed from 1cwt to 2cwt. After a month I began to obtain the knack with the help of others, they could see I was willing to learn and appreciated what they were telling me. Time moved on and Harvest time was arriving and as temporary storage, (2cwt) sacks had to be stacked in a large warehouse, nobody was to enthusiastic about these activities, this would be my first attempt at these large 16 stone sacks. This was dangerous work, but necessary, a lorry arrived with these comb sacks neatly positioned, tail board unlocked, large conveyor moved and adjusted to the required height sacks travelled along to the end where the loader controlled the sack along his back, over the top of his head, balance, carry and position into a large stack, eventually building up to roof level 20/30 ft. My instructions were if you feel the sack slipping off your back drop it! Don`t try to hold on to it, it could break your back. I must admit I dropped many at first, and then heard a large cheer; I had managed my first 2cwt (16stone) sack and had stacked it perfectly, another knack I had conquered and it increased my confidence, but I was glad when the final lorry had left, the foreman then inspected the day’s work to see if the sacks were safe and cosmetically looked neat and tidy, in other words professionally stacked. Other activities one had to undertake on the “Loading Gang” was the flour sack cleaning duties. Returned flour sacks from Bakeries were delivered to the Sack House, counted and documented against the customers business address, all the Bakeries in the Anglian Region used the 10 stone flour sack, there was nothing else available at the time, everything in sacks. The lorry drivers would deliver to the destinations and return the empty sacks to the mill. Sack cleaning plant was very small, but effective, it consisted of a heavy-duty vacuum fan, conical cylinder shaped unit with an opening which the outlet of the flour sacks is surrounded, the air flow then sucks in the centre of the sack, removing residue, one must have a firm grip of the sack plus the conical cylinder rim or else the whole sack will completely disappear up towards the fan. Like many other untrained operators “panic” the noise increases, sack out of sight, potential disaster, thankfully the trained operator to his amusement explained after the event, that there is a safety grid to stop any sack getting into the fan. Once the fan is switched off the disappearing sack suddenly appears and falls to the ground, after many attempts I suddenly obtain the dexterity to complete the job successfully. Any damaged sacks were repaired with the aid of an old reliable Singer Sewing Machine, visually inspected to make sure the sack would be substantially sound enough, for the rigorous handling the flour sack has to encounter.
Wheat from Canada and America.
Cargo vessels on the River Wensum visited the No.1 Silo on a regular basis from ports in Holland, Germany or via the London Docks; each ship carried about 350 tons of Maize, Sorghum, Barley, Oats and imported
There was always a demurrage charge if you had not finished the unloading on time; the pressure was always on the Silo man to keep the team fully occupied. The large Silo elevator carried the cargo of Wheat etc. to the top of the Silo into separate storage 1000-ton capacity bins. This job was not bad, you took the “rough with the smooth” if you were lucky enough to start unloading with the ship’s hull full, you could sit on the side of the vessel operating the hand controls, pressing buttons, lowering or raising the elevator arm, but once the arm reached the bottom of the hull every one in the team would climb to the bottom with their shovels to move the grain into the elevator leg, this was a very dusty and hard work, but you always looked forward to the next move of the vessel and into the bulk of the cargo.
Another break, then it was down into the hull again shovelling and sweeping the floor and surrounds, completely emptied clean for her next voyage. Sometimes the captain or crew would leave a bottle of drink to show their appreciation to the workers. The day workers had to be very flexible on the so-called “Loading Gang”, if a member of the mill or shift working sections were absence for any reason or other, then one of these men would need to replace them, many of the day work team did not like this change, but being the new boy I would volunteer and it was mainly packing duties, either cattle feed or offal. I did not mind this once you obtained the art of the Miller’s Knot as they called it, securing and folding the neck of the bag and tie string as tight as possible with the slipknot, attach a product label and secure. All on the same ball of string, no wastage, every piece of string was accounted for. I always got on well with all the teams and was gradually being drawn into their fold, instead of calling me `boy` it was `Foxy` or Keith. Sweeping up and keeping the place clean was a priority, spillages must be swept up before one could leave off, insects, moths and rodents were the main problem, if you caught a rat, the tail was removed and the body was cremated in the coal fired boiler, the tail placed in an old brown envelope and a reward of sixpence (two and half new pence) was given to the catcher. Screensman or Boiler operator was the trustee to see them destroyed; I wonder how many of the tails found their way back to the office for payment! One day, one of the Bran packers decided to retire and said he would put in a good word for me with the Mill Manager, he said I did a good job when he was off sick, I was approached and accepted the new position, this meant I had to do shift work 6 – 2, 2 – 10 and 10- 6 (nights), this was my first step on the ladder of progression. My physique, bodily structure and development were improving as I had been in the gymnasium every day, working on weightlifting. After completing my term as offal and bran packing operator, my next challenge, flour packing, unlike offal and bran packing which was mainly for cattle feed, this was the finished variety of flour, filled into 10 stone sacks, their final destination was internal, to make the Self Raising and Plain Flour.
This flour process was aimed at the Household Market and the Bakery trade, the latter being a hive of activity in nearly every village in the country, during the 1950`s. Some villages had more than one Bakery. The production line was vital to keep the mill working properly, all the flour from these outlets were packed into sacks and stored three high, one sack onto another.
The flour was transported direct from the mill to the solo packer, if he could not keep up with the pace of the flour flowing into the sack, thus causing the plant to “choke” (block up), with catastrophic implications flowing back to the milling process. The rhythm to success for sack filling, filling the sack, scale weighing, securing the neck of the sack with string and a label, stacking in repetition, 25 sacks each weighing 10 stone every hour, which became 30 sacks if it was wheat meal (which contains the gristed flour and offal mixed). I can remember my instructions from the old Miller walking into the large packing warehouse, where the flour packer was working, see these rows of sacks beautifully stacked and the working area clean and tidy, that’s what I call a professional. How do you get the third sack onto the other two “carry it”, then I could see that one of the many pillars was hidden by three sacks of flour placed vertically against it and two other sacks in front, this made for a very stable platform and with the aid of a manual hand operated hoist.
The procedure, hoist one sack firmly onto the sack already positioned on the sack barrow and wheel them to the stacking area and place in straight rows, the third sack is then pulled or physically carried too the stacking area and using the hoist placed neatly and firmly onto the top of the previously transported two sacks, each row of sacks three high.
My final advice is that you see the sacks as rows of soldiers on parade and all standing tall to attention, we don`t want to see the row stacked like “pissy arsed” soldiers falling all over the place, one complaint is one too many. My test came three weeks later when I had to stack three sacks, one on top of the other in the middle of the floor, not leaning against anything! I passed, but with floor vibrating slightly from the nearby mill, everyone around witnessing my efforts was hoping they would fall, but they didn't, solid as a rock. Flour packers had its advantages especially during the night shift. Biscuit Flour was normally programmed for the mill to run this grist, the flour being diverted into large bulk storage bins, each one holding approximately 20 tons, once one of the bins was full the flour, would be discharged into the Bulk Flour lorry waiting below, with the inspection hatches open, the product would flow into the container, peaks would appear during the filling operation and these had to be levelled by hand, operating a metal stainless rake, pushing the flowing flour into all the corners of the container, to obtain an acceptable weight for transportation once the hatches were closed and secured, the delivery was now ready for transportation to the biscuit factories. Flour would continue to fill the now empty storage bin ready for the next potential customer, with no sack packing needed, one would help out in the mill or screens room, if everything was running smoothly and “no troubles in mill”, time was now available for my personnel development. Understanding how the milling complex from wheat deliveries to finished product. My first observations were would I ever remember where all the multitude of spouting and machines destinations go to and come from, it looked like one big jigsaw and I did not know where to look for the pieces. When I first saw the miller’s in their white overalls in my early days, walking about talking to each other with not a care in the world, I thought!
How wrong ones first impressions can be, during my early induction into the mill, the Rollerman was giving me some first hand guidance, one second he was with me, the next his was away like a “scared rabbit” with me panting behind him, running up two flights of stairs, he knew where he was going, unfortunately I didn't. There before our very eyes was flour pouring out of spouts, large centrifugal bulging, flour and dust everywhere, he knew exactly what to do, scrapping here and there, giving me instructions, move spillage away from that belt hole we don`t want flour on the floor below, we have to clear the “choke” and restart the machine, eventually the belt was replaced, this looked like a dangerous practice to me, but later found out that this was normal milling practice. We had both lost a lot of sweat and were covered from head to feet, our faces and hair were white like our overalls, however all the plant was now running as normal again. After I had cleaned away all the spillage and placed it into sacks to be redressed, I asked the rollerman, still covered in flour, how did you know that we had a problem on the machine, he stated” Experience lad! You don`t learn this in textbooks, there is no substitute for experience”, now you know why they call us “Dusty Miller`s”.
By the way the manager told me to give you this! ------- It’s a “Miller’s Spatula” a silver tool, for checking samples to the quality required. I thought to myself we are making progress in the right direction, every night my personal objective was to learn a little bit more, time permitting. I purchased a small pocket size black notebook. I started plotting the various flow runs and asked the miller’s if they were correct, some would say what do you want to do that for? You should keep it all in your head like we do, I think to be fair, they did not want me to learn too much, as in the future I could be a threat to their job, them being much older than me.
Milling Industries were now concentrating on bulk and even supplied bulk storage bins to their Out of the blue, while performing my flour packer’s duty, the Purifierman on duty came to relieve me for my break period; he then asked me if I wanted to swap jobs permanently, he was covered in flour dust from head to toe, he said he couldn’t cope anymore, every new wheat harvest adds extra pressure “chokes” everywhere, flour will not flow down spouts, machines breakdown, I’m too old for this job, it’s a “young man’s game” nowadays. I sympathised with him, but said if an opportunity came along I would seriously consider it, as my ambition is to run a mill at some time
.Being familiar with the duties of the Purifierman’s, but only with the close supervision of the rollermill. I said to my colleague “tomorrow is another day, and you may feel better then, with a good performance and no problems”. On my arrival the next day I was summoned to the Mill Manager’s Office, he informed me of the situation, the Purifierman and Rollerman had given me a glowing reference, which I appreciated, and nominated me as their replacement in the mill, I was happy and my colleague was happy, the changeover was agreed. As ever the grapevine was active and people wished me luck in my new environment, reaching the purifier floor I discovered what they meant, there was piles of flour everywhere, help was available as the early shift were there on overtime to get things cleared up.
I had never witnessed anything like it, belts slipping off, machines choked, lids on spouts full of slow moving flour going to their destinations. I was moving around like a headless chicken not knowing where to start first, a memorable shift, it could only get better! This did not discourage my ego, only dented it slightly! Once I arrived home I studied my little black book, this did not give me a magical solution, I studied the workings of the machines and the process linked with the various flours, I was baffled, there’s more to this milling business than what I first thought, has someone made a cock up! Was it human error or a mechanical problem? Next shift arrived, expecting to be mountaineering again; with all the heaps of flour lying about, but no the place was all clean and tidy and every thing seemed back to normal, everyone smiling and no bad language floating about, the Rollerman said you will get good days and bad days, if you had all good days they would not need us, you know, point taken. Although the job description stated Purifierman it could easily have been called Silksman it being a dual-purpose job. To keep on top of the job one must keep on the move, travelling by foot up and down the narrow stairways, basically looking for potential problems and listening to the noise of the machines jogging along nicely. Looking to see if all the belt drives were turning, operating the many machines, visually looking through all the inspection windows on the elevator legs to see if the band and cups were moving in the right direction, opening the occasional inspection lid to see if the material was flowing normally. Sampling and comparing samples was ongoing, if only one bad sample was not detected, the whole shifts work could be rejected and redressed through the mill, causing lost production or possible loss of customer goodwill! This would be unacceptable. To eliminate possible rejects permanent sample boards were laid out with every machine alphabetically marked, samples from all the machines were displayed at regular intervals on these sample boards for examination, this enabled the mill management team or team members to see at a glance the quality of the work being done.
The Centrifugal dressers presented the main problems any irregular samples were investigated; these machines were used for sifting out flour made in the gradual reduction system operating in the mill. Even a small hole or tear in the Reel Silk boulting cloth had to be repaired, this required the complete shutdown of the mill system and the machine in question had the outer inspection doors removed to view the internal cover, once the hole had been detected a piece of spare silk was cut to size, this piece of silk was put into a container (which had water and flour mixed together to make a paste), now wet with paste the piece of silk was placed over the hole or tear and allowed to dry. Mill was now ready to start again. If the hole or split was too big to repair then a complete new reel silk cover had to be fitted, this was a major job for the team, as these silk reels were very costly. Some of the centrifugal reels had more patches than sieving surface. Purifiers and Plansifters needed less attention as long as the sieving surfaces were kept clean and inspected from time to time. My imagery jigsaw was coming together piece by piece, Wheat into flour and by products, what about the wheat germ I asked the Rollerman, what about it!
Its “yellow” Vitamin E, a good fertility ingredient, old Sam on the flour packing has a handful every hour and he has five children, that’s why we mix it with the offal, to help the cattle to produce on the farms. Well I suppose it could have been feasible or it was another one of those old millers’s tales!
Many months had now passed, I felt confident I could tackle any problems, which may arose. I had also learnt to appreciate the dangers of the mill, never underestimate the power of the machines; they could maim or kill you. The old miller’s were telling me gruesome stories of old so and so who lost the top of his fingers in a roll, remember what’s his name who was pulled over the top of the line shaft, he was never the same man after that. What about “Garry”, who I asked? Well he died over in the Screenroom, very gruesome, something to do with the grinder; his ghost still haunts the mill and Screenroom, that’s why we get some chokes when he’s in a bad mood! I must admit, I had a near miss, the mill was stopped all the power was OFF! An elevator belt had come off, the only way to clear the choke (block) was to open the lid at the bottom elevator leg and scrape away the material, releasing the elevator band and cups, all of a sudden the whole elevator rotated with the sharp cups only inches from my fingers, the contents in the cups being released, turning the whole unit as fast or even faster than at normal speed when the power would have been on! My motto from that moment on, never underestimate machinery even when they are switched off, I learnt from bitter experience. There were plenty of jollifications between all the mill teams, consultation and communication between sections, had to be done by personally visiting the various areas, there were no telephones on site in those days. One advantage for me was to visit all the areas and ask questions about their jobs, what skills were needed, what was the product used for, some would jokingly say “if I tell you, you will know as much as me”. In the mill when there was a problem and you wanted to get hold of the Rollerman or another operator, the sack spiral chute which span from the top floor to the ground floor, a drop of 60ft, speed of rapid descent, one was just a blur as the operator flashed past each floor, the spiral chute reminded me of the mat Helter Skelter at a children’s Fun Fair. The only way back up again is to climb the stairs, there is a sack hoist which went to the top of the mill through various trap doors, but I never saw anyone dare to use the hoist, it was too dangerous and you could wrap oneself around the chain laden pulley at the top. Being in constant contact with the Rollerman, working as his mate and friend, I asked if he could give me an insight into his duties and of his knowledge of mill operating as this might help me develop my skills as a miller, I was also looking forward to taking my City and Guilds course. I was being moved from pillar to post, to help out, mainly on overtime so it was to my advantage, one might say I was becoming the manager’s Blue eyed boy, but most of the crew did not want the extra work at their age, the manager had no one else to call on and with my new expertise I was becoming a good investment. Eventually my regular Rollerman who had taught me so much, agreed `unofficially to my knowledge`, that when things are running well I will teach you as much as I can, he kept to his word, week after week there I was with my little “black book”. The amount of time that it went missing and it then suddenly appeared again, I expect it was viewed to see what I had drawn and had written down. One night shift, my friend the Rollerman, said we will change tonight you will be the Rollerman and I will be the Purifierman (unofficially) he left me a long list and said make sure all the floors and machines are in spick and span condition by 6am when the early team arrives. The wooden floors, machines and elevators always looked beautifully polished liked a ballroom floor, the only thing that I could not understand, the chemical used for cleaning the floors and machines, Liquid Paraffin, using a clean rag one, one spark or an over heating machine and the whole mill would be an inferno, and with a dusty atmosphere the possibility of an explosion. During break time I mentioned this to the team, one of the old miller’s said “even Hitler could not set our mill alight, so don`t worry lad!
Knowledge is Power.
More useful information was being highlighted to me about the duties of the Rollerman, to make sure that the rollermill must never be run without feed with the rolls in contact; this would be disastrous to the roll surface. Throw out lever moves the lower roll away from the upper roll it also disengages the clutch and stops the feed. Importance of the exhaust systems, remove warm damp air, which would otherwise heat the stocks and cause condensation. Remember Break rolls and Scratch rolls are fluted, shearing open the wheat grains and scraping the Endosperm (flour) away from the Bran husk or skin. The Reduction rolls smooth and polished surface has a tendency to crush and flake the stock, he then opened the glass inspection window and placed his hands on the top of the roll, never put your hands below the rolls it will nip your fingers and have your hand off in a second. You can touch the surface carefully spread both hands, fingers outstretched in the centre of the top roll. Move each hand at the same time, left hand to the left and the right to the right, the temperature across the roll should be the same, if not the roll will not grind the grain correctly and rings will collect on the roll which will also affect the grinding. Adjustments will have to be made to correct this problem. The Break and Scratch rolls need to be tested by collecting the throughs from under the rolls moving the hand underneath with a container, same as you did at the top of the Reduction rolls, the material has to be weighed with the Test Release machine, the graph will give you a guide to the settings required. Check the Synchroweighers and Wheat Blending units, make sure the mills never run out of wheat, the alarm bells will give you a warning, time to change storage bin. Check moisture content with the meter, any problems see the Screensman, keep production sheets and extraction rates up to date, handle any problems which may occur, double check finished flour for quality, any increase in speck content call me, I will be having a sleep (he was joking). The pressure of the job is now on your shoulders. In my own mind I wanted to succeed and not to call out for help! Thankfully we had a good run, so there was no Mickey taking after all. Arriving for my shift, the grape vine had informed me that the Rollerman and the reserve Purifierman were both reported as being absent with flu. The manager looked worried and approached me, he said, “I have looked at all the permutations and you are the only one who can help us out, will you run the mill for this shift and we will see how thing work out”. I agreed to do my best, but I had the feeling that he knew all along, that I had been having unofficial training as a Rollerman and that he had given it his blessing, my colleagues had been giving him progress reports, which must have been favourable. Everything went well, all credit to my makeshift team, I became more confident but not complacent, I had been very lucky, the number of times I had climbed the stairs from top to bottom, making sure everything was running smoothly and to capacity, the Laboratory reports were all satisfactory. The permanent teams reported back for work after two weeks away and I returned to my Purifierman duties with another skill under my belt, that of Rollerman.
Updating the production process.
The demand for flour was increasing, we were now working seven days a week, we noticed a message pinned on the notice board `All shifts to report to the roller floor, Monday next week`, the grape vine was alive with rumours, the Mill Manager and BCR seemed in a happy mood, things looked good, we were informed that the mill was to be remodelled, with new up to date machines to cope with the growing demand from our customers and to take advantage of the latest developments in flour milling technology. All the centrifugal dressing machines will be made obsolete (thank goodness) also the plansifter; two large Supersifters will replace these machines, Henry Simons will be the Millwrights and the mill teams will help with the project. Plans for the remodelling must have gone on in secret for some years and now it was happening, the Millwrights and engineers were soon on site, don`t be frightened to ask questions, you will all have an opportunity to see and work on the new remodelling, they will require knowledge from you, it’s a two way thing. The mill teams had mixed reactions, the older miller’s did not like change, they knew the mill like the back of their hands, with the new plant they would have to learn new skills. But I was always willing to learn and take on new challenges. Members asked will the teams be changed, we were all given assurances, nobody would be out of a job and there would be no loss of basic income, but overtime would be reduced. The remodelling went smoothly than expected, floors looked bare once all the centrifugals were removed, there was so much space available, the natural lighting was better than the artificial lighting, there looked to be potential savings all round. There was one “perk” for all the employees, wood spouting, flooring; parts of panels from machines were being secreted in various hideaways around the mill. The hierarchy in the office gave permission for the wood to be taken off site, everybody had cycles, and nobody owned a car, in those days to go to work. Cycles soon developed racks to carry the wood home daily, the smaller pieces used for burning on their fires, coal was the only fuel used in the homes at that time, larger pieces of timber made into furniture, as the wood was well grained and polished. Those pieces that nobody wanted were burnt in the Boiler house; redundant belting was used for garden edge borders and I was told it looked a very professional job. Bits and pieces of waste metal found there way round the corner to “Moys Scrap yard”, the cost of the waste disposal from the factory must have been “nil”, some of the obsolete machines were stored out of the way for potential sale, but later scrapped, too outdated for other milling organisations. The bygone era of the old centrifugal system, to the new Supersifters machines, with their many nest of sieves in each compartment it being the future development of the milling process. Experimental trials were continuously in operation during the run up, ready to hand over to the milling teams, we were all glued to every move, we did not want to miss out on anything. I must admit that I was writing down as much knowledge and guidance as I could get from the Henry Simon Millwrights. My opinion being, the Millwrights would rather have built a complete new Milling System, than mix new plant with old plant, they made this obvious to us, but it would have been impossible to justify the cost, what we now had will be the way forward! The Company were going in the right direction. We gathered round to scrutinise the finished flour samples from our new system, whether they were far superior than that produced by the old plant. Those dedicated machines had provided quality flour for many decades in the past. During trial runs there was a visual indication that highlighted a problem below the Supersifters, when a discharge sleeve bulge, filled to capacity “choke” developing. The worst scenario being when the sleeve is forced off, to return the dislodged sleeve back into position while those sifts are still rotating at speed, was the main hazard, knocking the hands and knuckles during the manoeuvres. Fortunately only minor adjustments and modifications were required to the Purifier Break and Reduction System, with this new set up. The mill with its permanent teams, were now back into their familiar surroundings, the business was back on track. Another year had passed and time was getting close for that senior millers of retirement age, the management group had to look to the future and develop potential new miller’s for the years to come. I personally found I was working between Purifier/Silksman and Rollerman duties, due to the unfortunate rise in absenteeism; we were working long hours, 12 hours a day, also at weekends to cope with the increased workload. Something had to be done; we had some flexibility, but needed technical skills. Eventually a meeting was arranged between all the teams and asked for volunteers to attempt the Flour Milling Industry City & Guilds Correspondence Course; to get to the advanced level would take four years apprenticeship. The TGWN had an agreement with the National Joint Industrial Council in Flour Milling that any successful candidate would receive an extra 10% increase in their wages, yearly. This in my opinion was to keep the employee’s in the industry, because there was not an easy progression into the Rollerman or management positions, thus for many miller’s the way forward was blocked, top miller’s tended not to move until there retirement. “Job for life syndrome”, by introducing the “carrot” this would encourage young millers to keep in the Industry. Four of us took up the challenge; we studied hard, worked together and managed to get enough percentage marks to progress to the 2nd Year Intermediate level. I found that this was heavy going, as it was a long time since I had last studied; we worked hard and reported to Norwich City College for the examinations, there were two parts, Flour Milling and Science. Waiting for the results, being an Internal World Wide exam, was very stressful, I could not bear the thought of failure, never have! Although the manager said to us all “don`t worry it won’t be the end of the world, if you fail, it’s not an easy exam, do your best”. I remember returning from my holidays and on the mat was the brown envelope with my results; I had obtained a First Class pass. On returning to the mill I found that two of us had passed but unfortunately two of my colleagues had failed, thus two of us would proceed to the third year. During this period of my studies, a Rollerman was about to retire and favourite to get the job was my colleague; I then asked if I could take his position in the Screensroom, as this was the only area where my skills were lacking. I had no opposition, thus my next development was the Wheat Cleaning and Conditioning Plant. Occasionally we were asked to help out in the Screensroom, so I had some knowledge of the process, but I knew there was still a lot to learn, I was always willing to learn. Like in all industries “Knowledge is Power” and sometimes this gives you a better chance of survival, if employees have to be made redundant.
The Screensman is one of the most important parts of the milling organisation, basically the aim of the Screensman is to keep ahead of the mill requirements, keeping a considerably reserve of wheat in the temporary bins, perfectly cleaned and conditioned into grists, so the mill can keep the flour mill running to maximum capacity, without any problems. On arrival at either silo, the wheat will contain a percentage of impurities; some wheat’s contain foreign seeds of every kind, as well as dust, earth, sand, stones, chaff and straw. This meant that the Mill Organisation had to have elaborate machinery to remove these impurities, plus the dirt adhering to the surface, before the wheat is milled. Conditioning of wheat from different parts of the world, vary considerably, in physical condition and moisture content, some preferred Manitoba Wheat from Canada, it being to hard and dry. While others liked English Wheat, which is too damp, these types of wheat must be artificially brought into a physical state, resulting in the separation of the Endosperm (Flour) from the Bran (Husk). Some wheat’s need water to be added, in others the moisture has to be removed, the moisture content of both raw wheat and clean wheat used in the mill, needs to be tested regularly, adjustments are made to the drying machine. The method of drying wheat, evaporation of moisture is carried away by air fans, however wheat is heated by hot water radiators within the dryer, water is circulated through the radiator pumping system. The Screensroom had as many independent machines under its control than the rest of the milling complex. The rates of pay between the Rollerman and Screensman differed slightly, although the Rollerman had overall control of the team. The Screensman was more independent, with the ability to work using their initiative, with the minimum of supervision. Working under pressure and making on the spot decisions, on a day-to-day basis. Linked with the cleaning and drying duties was an old Steam Mixing Boiler, built in Lancashire, it supplied steam to many of the plants operating on site, the Boiler being the “life blood” of the whole area. This Lancashire Boiler looked like half of an old coal fired railway engine! During my induction, the trainer gave me a checklist of instructions, for me to study, relating to the unit, it was endless. For example Tubes and Retarders, Safety and Blow down values, Pressure Gauge Feed pumps, Water treatment plant, Sight Glasses and the most important “how to light the Boiler”. The Sight Glasses enabled the operator to visually check the water level in the boiler, which had to be kept at approximately half way; if the water pressure gets low a bell will ring. Get a piece of old letter from the waste bag, place it behind the water sight glass, if there’s water in the boiler the letters on the letter become magnified through the glass, if there is no magnification check water treatment plant. The water comes from the water borehole, which is one of the deepest in Norwich, “if there is no water, run like hell”, my trainer jested. The boiler being coal fired needed a constant supply of fuel, 1cwt sacks, which had to be wheeled from the Coal Store, with the aid of a sack barrow, the coal was manually tipped into the large hopper, which was controlled by an automatic stoker into the furnace. If the steam pressure in the boiler dropped to low, for whatever reason, the whole site could be paralysed until the pressure was built up to normal standard. Lighting the boiler also needed a fair amount of expertise and knack, plenty of paper, wood, paraffin and a match, plus plenty of draught from the air fan. After a few weeks, I discovered how the “grapevine” was so successful in the past, a bag of rubbish would arrive from the office, inside snippets of information might be found, mainly from the old Gestetner copying and printing machine, it produced “black inked type” correspondence sheets, which the original white copies were required for the office files. When wage negotiations were in full swing, between the Milling Industry and the TGWU, plenty of interest surrounded the waste paper rubbish bags, as our governors would attend these meetings. I personally thought this was a golden opportunity for the bosses to send down “Red Herrings” on the odd occasion, to keep us workers on their toes, this might have happened from time to time, who knows? I had much admiration for the small at the top, as I had seen how hard they had worked, trying to keep the business viable, when I was the `Boy` working in the office. Mill teams were teaching me the ability to work under pressure, more importantly not to be afraid of hard work and willing to learn. We all help each other “one for all and all for one” (where had I heard that before?). However, as instructed I would walk around the milling complex looking for “trouble”, good training if one day you hoped to be the manager, you will have to know the lot, not just one section, I was informed. Being a bit naïve or gullible, they thought! Another pair of eyes, my timing would be about 2am, when on the late shift, it would be a good hour before I report back, keeping an eye on my own plant and taking wheat moisture, I would be well occupied. Well one night my regular routine was interrupted for whatever reason and there was my mentor sitting in a chair, with eyes closed and his mouth open, he then sensed there was something wrong, opened his eyes and said “ well! “what are you having a nap” said I, “no” he replied, “it happens to be my meditation period and don`t disrupt me again when you see me in this position” I never did. Expect he found another spot where he would not be disturbed doing his meditation! Another lesson learned “don’t do as I do, do what I tell you to do” seeds of wisdom. It was inevitable that having to work long hours (12 Hours.) is going to affect my ability to concentrate on my studies, somehow being in the Screensroom helped, as I could organise my own time and breaks. Working on night shift was not everyone’s cup of tea; there were advantages and disadvantages. Being multi skilled one never knew what to expect on arriving at the mill, but one area we would all dread! To be told at short notice that you were working on the large Silo unloading the cargo from the ship, which had not been finished by the day working team? We were aware of the high Demurrage charges incurred if you went past the allotted time for discharge, thus the mill team and Screensroom would be shut down and the late shift would continue to operate the Silo plant until it had emptied and cleaned the hull of the remaining cargo, all to avoid these on costs.
Being the tallest building on site, before reaching the main gate one would visually see the top floor lights shining brightly from the Silo, against the darkness of the sky, this would dampen our spirits before we had even started. The weather could also be unkind, especially when it was raining, with the dust adhering to our clothing, faces and arms, also penetrating onto our bodies, we had no showering facilities, only a hand basin with which to clean ourselves. We all looked very dusty millers every time we had finished unloading a cargo. The crewmembers duties were to move the ship into position near the Silo discharge elevator, which fed the grains to the top of the Silo and into the required storage bin, they were never enthusiastic about this, as it spoiled their nightlife and entertainment.
Moving the ship and manoeuvring into position was not difficult, the ropes from the Port and Starboard areas of the vessel, were linked to our quayside bollards, by pulling and loosening the ropes, the vessel would move, once in position the ropes would be made secure. The ship is now tied up, ready for the next move; commence work in the hull to unload the cargo. Consignments from the Continent were regular visitors to the City Flour Mills in Norwich, the crews would seek out the person in charge and try to do a deal, you move the boat, we will supply the luxuries, normally a bottle of Pink Gin or Whisky and a carton of cigarettes, being Teetotal and a non smoker, others were only to pleased to accept their proposal, I would always be outvoted. Some of the ships crew, it seemed, had their wives on board, when they docked in Norwich, but my observations were soon disillusioned when I had to record the name of the vessel on the production sheet. The same female “visitors” were going onto different vessels that had arrived from various countries of origin! Also entering the mills main gate with the crew members and then returning to the ship, expect a few of the local ladies found a sideline to improve their standard of living, becoming popular with the seafaring crews. Another humorous event, which springs to mind, during the late shift unloading cargo at the Silo, the European crews were always on the lookout to sell contraband goods. Cigarettes and Spirits, they always said it was only the odd bottle or carton, for their own consumption of course! “We don`t have any English currency to visit the Ferry Public House down the road.” They had to be careful as the Custom Officer could arrive at any time, he usually came by train to Norwich from Great Yarmouth, and his duty was to inspect the ships cargo for illegal contraband. If such goods were discovered, a notice was placed on the ships mast, for all to see, a fine was imposed and it had to be paid before the vessel was allowed to leave the Port. All the employees on the site knew the rules as notices were displayed, anyone dealing with contraband would be dismissed instantly, and this was a deterrent to everybody. However one of the seamen wanted to sell an “Instant Camera”, which took a picture and developed the film in a few minutes, everyone he had shown it to was amazed, a dual purpose camera, he demonstrated how easy it was to use. Nobody had seen anything like it, as it was not on sale in the UK market. All had curious eyes, but realistically nobody could afford to purchase.
That evening the crew went out and on return accompanied by the local talent from the pub, they asked us to move the ship and handed over a gift with the Captain’s compliments. During the night flashes could be seen rebounding off our quayside building, they came from the portholes of the ship, early in the morning the local talent in their miniskirts were placed back on land, as the ship had to catch the early tide back to Great Yarmouth and the North Sea. With only a few minutes to spare before departure, time did not deter the camera salesman; he could not sell his camera but wanted to sell his handiwork displaying the escapades of the party night, we all looked open-mouth and eyes at the pictures, we had seen nothing like them before. All I can say, it must have been an all-losers strip poker night and everyone being very friendly towards each other! I don`t know if this determined salesman received a sale for his provocative close-up photographs, but as the ship sailed away, we discovered that the regular talent, were “no ladies” on board that night. Sailors, what do people say, “a lady in every Port”? Never a dull moment, whilst we continued grafting away during the night, unloading yet another shipment, covered in dust and grime from head to toe. When the early shift arrived looking all spick and span, ready to start that day’s work, they and we discovered pinned to the Company Notice Board a pornographic photograph, was this, the handiwork of the “Phantom instant cameraman”? Yes, it was! Our seafaring friends on their arrival frequently asked the question, directions please to the “Red Light District” (did you know we had one)! Mill workers usually pointed to the Ferry PH just down the road, the Scarlet Women of the night were now plying their trade during the daylight hours as well. These were not all-local talent, many were arriving from other parts of the country, and company policy was to keep them out! Only let them on site when escorted by the crew. As Carrow Bridge opens, letting shipping through towards their berth position on the quayside, many “lady” spectators were looking for their seaman friends or trying to get their attention, by waving frantically. The police realised the ongoing problems and would pop in during the evening, but were somewhat reluctant to do anything, if the ladies were behaving themselves on the streets, their answer was, we have no problems and to take a hard line would make them all disappear into the unknown, at least we know where they all congregate, it is also handy to know if trouble breaks out, where to find the culprit. Being too accommodating to the police did not help one of our miller’s, he would always be there making them a cup of tea, being helpful and polite at all times, he had helped out at the mill doing some overtime. He was cycling down King Street on his way home, when the same policeman (who recently had the cup of tea) stopped him “no rear light on the bike”, he explained that he worked at the mill, don`t you recognise me! Sorry I’ve got my job to do regardless; our colleague was fined ten shillings. Thereafter every time a policeman went into the mess room, everybody (all three shifts) walked out, wonder if they got the message? During the next two years, more and more vessels and their cargoes of various cereals, were arriving at the Silo, the company erected Temporary Storage bins to handle this ever-increasing workload. Road transport had increased, vehicles arriving at King Street, parking on the Weigh Bridge, and then collecting their deliveries from the bulk bins, on to weigh bridge again, then off to the customer. In conversation with my old milling colleagues, they tried to convince me that the City Flour Mill was haunted, we were reading an article on the supernatural, which was in one of the daily newspapers. They told me they had seen a figure of a man dressed in white overalls and old cloth cap wandering around the mill, but he would suddenly disappear through the walls, bang doors, walk over the creaking floors, make a howling sound, knock things over, light bulbs would flicker and you would feel a presence. “He must be a Poltergeist” I said. In my view, unknown to me, he must have been my guardian angel, protecting me in the mill, helping me to have good runs and free from trouble. Any “chokes”, broken belts to repair and machine breakdowns, he’s just overlooking my progress, to keep me sharp and on the job. All the these noises that everyone encountered especially working near the riverside area, I had heard them all, but I never witnessed old “Cooper”, he was just doing his job, looking after things. Reads Mill is a warren of passageways and floors over a large area. My uncle, who’s a vicar, once said “Spirits are either people who don`t realise that they have died or are confused or trapped in their way of life. Exorcism can free a person of the evil spirits, but in my case I would rather have my Guardian angel floating around, especially when I’m not there, and why send a unhappy spirit back to heaven, if he’s not happy there, much jollification coming from my colleagues in our break time, due to my comments.
As the years passed by and many of the old miller’s had retired, my knowledge of the plant and machines, plus every nook and cranny around the site, had improved immensely. Our guidelines were to save energy wherever possible, turn off light switches not required etc. I knew the area “blindfolded” and was able to locate the location of the switches in the dark. This particular Winter’s night, the wind was blowing, there was ice on the river, noises from vibrating window frames and doors, alone light bulb in the distance swayed to and fro, a glow from the boiler furnace could just be visible in the darkness. I was walking along the gantry above the boiler, to inspect the level of coal in the hopper below, on the ground floor, when I saw a white figure with wings outstretched! Was this my guardian angel? It was moving slowly in the darkness, then suddenly there was other movement, two more figures in white, grabbing hold of a large handled broom which was near and handy, I tried to steady myself for this “spooky” situation. With my military training I kept quiet and managed to get a better view, the white figures were near a large elevator, which was blocking my view; there was more movement, wings flapping. I then discovered who these white figures were, three large swans, which had found there way through a large door, which had blown off the hinges, they had walked from the river along the quay to the warmth of the boiler house. I don`t know who was more frightened the swans or me. This gave me the golden opportunity to put the frighteners up my colleagues, so I slowly retreated back to the mill leaving the swans to roast, still spreading their wings from time to time. Made an excuse to my colleagues to give me a hand in the boiler house as soon as possible, eventually they did arrive, they could not find me and the swans had left, so the joke was on me. The only thing left was the swans droppings which one of my mates managed to slip on, he said “what’s that, you been greasing again”, we replaced the door which had blown down, to keep the heat in the building, only to find that one of the swans was still inside, that scared all of us! Good housekeeping and hygiene is essential at all times in the Flour Milling Industry, but one area, which is not always visual, is insects. Grain coming into the mill and empty sacks are the chief means of entry for the pests. The Grain cleaning machinery will remove external insects but have no effect on those that have burrowed into the wheat. Most insects can produce millions depending on the temperature; if warm they breed rapidly, if the weather is cold breeding stops. Every year it is compulsory that all mills have to close down for fumigation, chemical fumigation had to be carried out by skilled operators, and the whole area had to be sealed off, including cracks and crannies. Eliminating any Hydrogen Cyanide gas escaping into the atmosphere. This lethal gas will kill most mill pests, weevils and moths; the treatment normally controls insects for at least twelve months. However when any machine is dismantled, as a matter of practice and awareness, any detection of insects has to be reported and immediate action taken. As Rollerman, on opening the inspection door of one of the Reduction Rolls, I was shocked to see little black specks that moved, Weevils! We were instructed that “Permethrin” smoke bomb insecticide generators would be used on all floors, sixty in total; they were placed in strategic positions. A small tin container with a fuse, which had to be lit, this released the smoke (insecticide gas) spreading internally throughout the mill, the trick was to start at the top, lighting the fuses in sequence, until you finished in the basement, there were four in our team and we moved very fast, closing all doors and ending up in our mess room, our job was done! It was Saturday at midnight, approximately an hour later one of the team said “ sounds like activity outside” he then went out to investigate, returning immediately followed by three fireman who asked where the fire was? “What fire” I said, we moved outside into the yard which now had three fire engines and crews, all looking into the dark clear sky. The “smoke bombs” were sending gas like smoke through the exhaust systems and any cracks in the fabric of the building, visually it looked like the whole mill was alight (no flames, only grey like smoke), we had turned off all the lights which made look so realistic, as if the mill was on fire. The Fire Brigade Officer listened to my explanation; he said, “We should have been informed of what you were doing! We had emergency calls from all sides of the river; it only takes a telephone call. I was getting a reprimand and I apologised, the officer then asked if they could use this situation as a training exercise, “yes” was my reply. The fire crews had breathing apparatus, torches and other pieces of equipment, after about an hour the crews returned, pleased with this exercise, had never experienced anything like this before, the canisters were still belching out smoke above the mill. The local Press reporter arrived, “what’s the problem” the fire officer replied “only a drill”, reporter then asked “what’s all that smoke floating above the mill” the officer replied “smoke bombs, sorry no story this time, you can go back to bed”. We then had to put our heads together and write a report for the management team, we live and learn. The King Street area was a hive of activity, with Brewing being one of the main industries, unfortunately the Brewery of Youngs and Crawsley was sold, leaving many of their loyal employees out of work, fortunately just down the road R. J. Reads Ltd were losing some of their mill workers due to retirement and increased workload, this was the ideal situation to train and develop new skills for many of the brewery employees. The old Corona works site being leased to Reads for drying wheat, with the use of a Oil fired boiler, working around the clock 24 hours during the Harvest period. These changes put more pressure on the teams who had developed their skills and knowledge from the old dusty millers. The new employees like me, in the past had to work hard although a lot of the “donkey work” had been eliminated, the trend now was for bulk deliveries rather than the bags or sacks, which in the past had to be filled. Some of the new teams tended to “whinge” as their facilities were not as good as ours, our reply was that changes were in hand to improve; we have got to be patient and see what the outcome is! Thereafter the bosses have to cut the cloth accordingly. If that means not spending money and reducing the wages bill, then that has got to be done, its better to be in the team and working than on the sidelines (out of work), gradually those who could stand the pace were getting the feel of the job, others however left, but there were many more people looking for work and willing to have a try. Another humorous incident I remember, there was always someone trying to pull a fast one, its only human nature. If you were on a job where you had to be relieved, for a meal break, by the machine plant operator, this person would cover for the 30 minutes. This packer would have had his quota then go to the toilet and sit there for a few more minutes. Being on days it was not long before people noticed his tactics and decided to act, he thought everyone was gullible, and the tales got better to justify his absence on returning to his job, this irritated his colleagues, as their job was unattended while he was away. The plan was set, the unexpected packer for his extra few minutes skive, came out of the toilet “fuming”, the spy gang had pulled down the toilet roll 3 or 4 pieces, then wrote an uncomplimentary message with some very choice words on the next piece, then neatly rolled it back. He must have used the toilet roll and discovered the hidden message! He was truly caught out, the Shop Steward was confronted by the Packer “I’m being victimised for using the toilet” he said, he received no sympathy from that quarter; he knew the plan of attack, already. Never a dull moment in this mill. The third year City and Guilds had been a success for DB and myself; we could now concentrate on the “Advance Final Exam” at the City College, this was to be our objective for the coming year. I had now returned to the Screensroom after a long term, the permanent Rollerman had now returned and did not wish to change duties with me, he had not long to complete his valuable service with the company and wished to stay at the top of his profession to the end of his working career. I was quite happy, as this left me time for my studies with my course friend, we could study and compare notes during the shifts and also, we can communicate with the manager, if any problems occur, also to help out with the training of the new recruits trying to turn them into miller’s, as and when required. We needed to visit other mills, to see how they compared with our mill; our journey began with a visit to the windmills and watermills, very few of which were operational, but we did view several whilst on holiday. I would look for any mills in the Anglian Region, if sighted I would approach the owner or miller and ask if I could have a guided tour, to my delight, the odd one would say yes! I now realised that no two mills are the alike and it would take time to learn the various systems in operation. Maybe I was a little bit disillusioned, but then looking back our mill has changed, from Centrifugal Dressers to Supersifters, next move must be going Pneumatics removing all the wooden elevators, spouts, belts etc. Would the cost justification warrant change, only the bosses would know, the talk was that the Millers Mutual will help the Milling Industry with costs, this piece of news! Came from the Flour Millers at Colmans, discussions took place when purchasing our newspapers, at the Newsagents (Yellops). Colman’s plant was more up market than ours, them being a much larger organisation; ours was a small family business, the millers at Colman’s had not passed any of the City & Guilds qualifications, although they were encouraged to do so. Why bother! They had Flour, Semolina, Barley, Oats and the Mustard Mill, a “job for life” contract. Asked if we could have a visit, as the two of us were struggling to keep up with our course work, the answer received, sorry, but you are in competition with “Colman’s” Flour business, however they did give us a copy of the company magazine, which included details and photographs of their flour milling plant. When visiting Stalham Mill (Woodrow’s) we noticed their plant machinery was more up to date than ours, when we joined forces with them. We experienced the feeling of knowing our machines were past it and beyond repair, it would be replaced by secondhand equipment, even the Engineer had a broken cogwheel (minus one or more teeth) hidden in a dark corner of the spares cupboard, hoping that it will give birth to new teeth! To be reused as a replacement in the future, that is what he told us, nothing was dumped! Perks. Company Perks! For the mill workers were very few and far between, the odd piece of wood and cut price bag of flour, however one came to mind, hospitality car parking, the Directors agreed to a request from farmers, to park their cars on site during the Saturday afternoons that Norwich City Football Club are playing matches at home (Carrow Road). Our governors instructions to the mill teams on the Saturday afternoon shifts, to organise and control the safe parking of the visitors vehicles, so they didn't damage our lorries, which were also parked under cover in the yard. Not many people owned their own car, only farmers and the well off, employees in their own car was very rare, as most used to cycle to work, the streets of Norwich would be congested with cyclists, especially at leaving off time, it was better than waiting for a bus, certainly cheaper. The mill shift teams did not think it was a good idea, a bit of jealousy, taken off our jobs, having to arrange cover between ourselves, plus the onus was on the shift to make the scheme work. Reluctantly we agreed, the grateful supporters would ask what the parking charge is, we said, “Its up to you, there’s no fixed charge”. They must have felt sorry for us, we the “dusty millers” working on a Saturday afternoon, once one fan showed gratitude and slipped us a shilling, the other fans followed suit, we collected many shillings that day! It soon got round “Reads Car Park” is open on match days, more cars followed one after the other, as the season progressed we would fill every available space, we had become successful entrepreneurs in the car parking business. Don`t think anyone was reluctant to dip into their pockets, jingled money in the pockets of our overalls must have highlighted that there was a charge, “nice little earner” while it lasted. All the cash collected was divided between the shifts men on duty, as they all had to cover for the “car park attendants”. The Wheat Buyers returning from the Corn Hall on Saturdays, sometimes found it hard to get into the office, asked, “Are all these farmers”? We did not want to offend our growers and say “No, sorry you can't park here! The era of the sixties was coming to an end, much had been achieved worldwide, space travel, colour television, portable pocket calculators and computers, which it is said will change everything in the future, as for trade on site it had slowed down, the number of ships bringing cargoes of wheat had greatly been reduced for whatever reason. Many of the small village bakeries were disappearing into large Bakery Companies, which could supply more and more customers throughout the UK. customers.
Our mill was still running three shifts, but we were redeployed on other duties if the Self Raising plant packing household flour is busy, then that is where we will be working, we seemed to be all fingers and thumbs, we would never be able to match the skills of our dexterous female employees.
! Milling Industries were now concentrating on bulk and even supplied bulk storage bins to their customers.
Our mill was still running three shifts, but we were redeployed on other duties if the Self Raising plant packing household flour is busy, then that is where we will be working, we seemed to be all fingers and thumbs, we would never be able to match the skills of our dexterous female employees!
We also developed “another string to our bow” painting walls and ceilings, which were way overdue, as contractors were unable to do this renovation in the past, due to the mills heavy workload. To the credit of the bosses nobody was made redundant, even the hundreds of small window panes were cleaned with newspapers (wet) that had been collected and saved. Provender and Cubeing for cattle feed, plus Recero Flaking Maize plants were operating as normal, which subsidised the Mill. Stalham Flour Mill (Woodrows) and Tower Mill, Eleanor Road had closed down.
Some of the employees moved down to King Street Cuber Plant in the Provender Mill area. Horstead Mill had been modernised in 1960 and continued to operate until 1963 it was destroyed by fire (Accident). This period was a worry to us all; we had to put our faith in the skill of the governors to get more sales.
The main objective for my colleague DB and myself was to pass the Syllabus Advance Milling course before the year-end; if things did not improve at least we had some bargain power with a potential employer, if the worst did happen. We worked and slept milling, sorting through old exam papers, doing dummy runs, practice makes perfect as the saying goes, but to anticipate the questions with a new syllabus was impossible, the day arrived, off to the Norwich City College we went, exam papers looked at and all questions answered, for both sections Milling and Science, which was encouraging, we visited the Maid Marian Public House, to ease our minds after this stressful period. After we returned to our normal shifts and duties, we still tried to analyse our results, would we pass or fail, we would have to wait at least three months to receive the results. The workload gradually picked up, back to normal running three shifts, no excessive overtime, which was encouraging. Holiday period and two weeks off came as a welcome break from the mill. On returning home there on the doormat were several letters, one from the College Examiners in London, to my delight I had passed with flying colours. On my return to work I found my colleague DB had also been successful, also to a high standard. We were both congratulated by the Directors, who showed their appreciation by giving both of us a cash reward. My money was spent on buying a new bike! We in turn thanked our Manager GD, who had helped us immensely, all credit to him; he continued to give encouragement to those new millers now under training. My opinion, it’s what we learn after, we think we know it all and that it counts, but you never stop learning in a milling environment.
The desire now was to be part of the day shifts, but there seemed to be no new opportunity in the present structure, even if the plant was modified into a Pneumatic System, which would be the obvious way forward, this would reduce labour, assuming there was no increase in the workload. I know “business” is like a wheelbarrow, you have to push it to make it go, we would have to go some to double our workload, as I have mentioned before, we were a small family business. The Milling Magazine (a World Wide publication) which we received, were always highlighting new mills that were being built around the World, our previous manager BB left to work in a African Mill. The opportunities were there if you wished to travel. In the UK mills, amalgamation was immanent if they wished to survive in business; we were ahead of the game in a small way, as we had amalgamated with Woodrows, becoming Read Woodrow. The company policy was to recruit from outside managers, who had used Reads as a stepping stone to progress on the Milling roundabout to greater things. Each of these managers worked with the teams, I was grateful to them all, with their Theoretical and Practical experience, even the some of the “old millers” learnt from them, but it was not all one way, the managers learnt old skills, which they would never forget. During the night break we were reading the “Milling” magazine, which was delivered for all to read, we always spent time looking at what positions mills World Wide were being offered, to millers with our experience and qualifications. We then started dreaming at the possibilities, for and against; you still had to make a living, would it be a modern mill or a family mill like ours.
Colman’s upgrading their mill
The mill at Colmans was now spending millions to update their plant, during the day shift we would congregate at the Newsagents, to get our daily paper, Colman`s always sent someone to collect their papers. We kept up to date with the news coming over the bridge; Colmans had several mills, Flour, Semolina, Barley, Oil Mill and Mustard, at the time the biggest Milling Organisation. Wages were the same as ours (London rates), but there was more opportunity to progress to the position of Manager in one of their sections. Then in the local newspaper they were advertising for a qualified Miller for their Screensroom with Rollermilling skills, I was now in my early thirties, this would be a new challenge in a World Wide Company, my wife said “go for it! What can you loose”? My uncle was employed at Colman`s as a Electrician and my grandfather worked there until he was “Killed in the 1st World War”, I asked my uncle what was the company like. He replied “well I’ve been there 40 years so I’m satisfied, go for it you will be a manager in a couple of years, they are all getting on and don`t want the responsibility to move on”. I arranged an interview, shown round all of the mills except the Mustard mill, which was out of bounds to visitors, due to secrecy, I was impressed. What do I do, how do I tell my boss and mates, it was not easy.
Mr. Bryan Read, my boss said, “go for it, if it does not work out you can come back, we will give you a month after you leave, there’s always a job with your expertise. I was on my way to Colman`s, will I survive, I was in a win win situation, couldn’t lose, during my meeting with BCR, I was under the impression he knew more than he was saying, about his links with Colman`s and the Milling Industry, being on the various bodies and attending various meetings, some as Chairman. I always found him a gentleman, courteous and an ability to listen to all points of view, always getting down to the nitty gritty of humdrum jobs, however I don`t think you can change his mind once it was made up. He was the Governor.
Flour sales business.
When a flour contract is lost, for whatever reason, it’s out of our hands, the entire milling teams feel that loss personally, all gutted. However a new contract comes in, jubilation, everyone rises to the challenge. Company practice being reluctant to dip into their capital, when second hand machinery will do, sometimes this process was successful, other times a disaster, until a solution was found. One can always feel sympathy for a small family firm, but it can cause unnecessary aggravation and stress to get things right. A small engineering team plus the boss, get the backlash, as they must have had some input in viewing the machine project, giving it the thumbs up. Everyone in the teams always tried to help as best they could; at times some sparks of genius would filter through from the new potential miller’s, integrated into our team’s. Factory closures as Young and Crawshay, Case and Steward, Railway (Blacksmiths), Carpenters, semi-skilled Engineers etc. were gradually generating more skills on site, I was always willing to learn extra skills. If you cannot do a thing, then learn to do it and get on, was my philosophy. “If in doubt find out”! Safety always comes first in our business, once day workers, multiskilled Engineers and management had finished for the day, the mill shift team were on their own, there were no internal telephones, thus communication was difficult, so you just did your best, you did not want to contact management, they might not be able to do any better than we could ourselves. The nearest Public Telephone box, in case there was an emergency, was on Carrow Bridge, you had to use your own money (coins) if we wanted to call them for guidance, and we did not have the cheek to ask for our money to be refunded. I believe everyone knew that the mill teams could conquer whatever problem existed. The only time a mill would be shut down, for any long period, would be if a Elevator Band with metal buckets for lifting stock, broke, then it would be all hands on deck to cope with the aftermath of the breakdown and get the mill started. When the crumpled band breaks, it falls by gravity to the bottom of the mill, concealed in the wooden elevator leg casing. A rope would have to be attached to one end of the elevator, pulled over the top mill pulley, a drop of 80 feet approximately. The two broken ends of the band would be repaired, joined together with the aid of special “stretchers” which holds and tightens the band. The miller has to use his judgement, to get the tension right, when bolting the two together; he then removes the stretcher plus other equipment used in this operation. With a sigh of relief at job done well done, mopping away the sweat running down our faces, we are then ready to start up the mill. Each wooden elevator casing contained an inspection window, which gave the operator a chance to view the rapid movement of the buckets carrying stock to the top of the mill, if the operator noticed a bucket making a knocking noise or stationary he knew that there were potential problems ahead, the mill had over 30 elevators working at one time.
Adverts & Royal Norfolk Show.
Advertising is the means by which we make known what we have to sell, for us to survive in this business. As a small business, Reads only occasionally placed adverts in the local newspapers or trade magazines, to try to persuade or convince the reader into becoming a customer for our products, Reads “APEX” best quality local flour one can buy, being just one of them. However money was provided to advertise and give a high profile to the “RECERO” Flaked Maize product. The building, which housed the plant, had on one of the external walls, the word “RECERO” printed in large letters, and it was very eye catching for everyone within the vicinity of Carrow Bridge and the surrounding area. Enamel alloy tin plate plaques advertising the company’s product, were placed outside in strategic positions on the walls of buildings, high above the reach of a normal person unless you used a step ladder. These were also placed in Villages aimed at the Agricultural community.
Reads also had a stand at the Royal Norfolk Showground, to promote their products for the flour market and the farming Counties. A large white model of a windmill stood high above all the other trade stands; it certainly caught the eye of the visitors to the showground. As office boy I was always invited to work in the tent, mainly to fetch tap water from the water supply pipes, which were sited all over the showground, I had to wait my turn to fill the buckets, great was the demand from other trade stands. On returning the water to the tent, some of the employee’s wives would make tea and sandwiches for the visitors, farmers and customers, our salesman or travellers would welcome their clients with open arms and smiling faces, with the order book strategically close to hand while having a friendly chat, tactics used by all good salesman.
The same large windmill was also used for the Lord Mayor`s parade through the streets of Norwich, a low loaded lorry decorated in its distinctive yellow and coloured design, which local people could easily recognise.
Another comical incident I remember, Colmans large blue and white striped van with their logo, advertising their household flour, the van was parked ready for unloading and I was talking to the driver, who I knew, even if we were rivals. When two ladies walked pass, looking at the van’s logo on the side of the vehicle, one said to the other “Oh that reminds me, I must buy some Reads Self Raising Flour when I get to the Grocery shop”. One of the mystics of advertising I guess. R. J. Reads Flour Mill stationery was very professional, envelopes and letter headings, cosmetically eye catching and colourful for whoever received correspondence from the company, however when the merger with Woodrows in 1965 the letter headings and displays tended to be a bit amateurish compared with the previous design. The merger between these long-established local flourmills were to be coordinated under the one company, Norfolk Millers Ltd. This brought under the provender, activities of a trio of family businesses, G. E. Woodrow & Son (Tower Roller Mills) both in Norwich and Stalham Flour Mills. One of the problems of the milling industry was the tendency of fewer but larger customers, this way keeping the best traditions of these three businesses, backed by resources. Apart from flour milling, Read`s had a considerable trade in the importing of grain and Woodrows had extensive connections with the farming community throughout Norfolk.
The grapevine was working overtime, rumours were circulating, workers were under no illusions about the difficulties that lay ahead, everyone whether Reads or Woodrows would be under the spotlight, today all small firms have been absorbed into much larger companies, how long will we survive in the future? Geographically we were in the best position for survival, near the Power Station, River, Railway and Roads available. Who will our “governor” be? BCR is a chip off the old block, he must be favourite, consultation with the hierarchy was always remote and maybe rightly so, they wanted to keep a “happy ship” image, as long as we all got on with our jobs conscientiously, we had nothing to fear. I believe there was the image of “us and them”, but there was always loyalty towards the customer and quality. Overtime was always welcomed, when required to cover absenteeism, but the job came before anything else. BCR would cycle in and first thing in the morning he patrolled around all the Manufacturing Units, he would say very little, but his beady eyes missed nothing. Knowing the ritual the teams would always be on their toes, trying to cover up the previous shifts problems if they did not have time to clean up efficiently before leaving off. However it would not belong the Mill Manager would be on the warpath, we got a few choice words in our ears, “locking horns”, if necessary, but this did not happen very often, the poor old manager was always told it must have been the “other shift” by the Rollerman on duty, he could never win! The Mill Manager was always on hand during the day, but I expect he had to keep things close to his chest and not leak any confidential information to the workforce. It does not matter how good the miller is, if the market isn’t there everyone knows the struggle it could be for the flour milling business.
A Provender miller was cleaning a “choke”, he was covered from head to toe, with cattle feed, scrapping around like a headless chicken, completely out of character, being a competent operator. There must have been at least a heap of about 5cwt that he was working on. Asked what the problem was, then opened his mouth and pointed his finger in the direction of said orifice! He had unfortunately lost his false teeth in the heap of feed. We looked high and low but never found them, somewhere round a farm Pig Sty, a small Piglet would be running with a false smile on its face, containing an extra pair of teeth. The miller’s soon nicknamed our colleague “Choppers”.
Each new worker when starting on labouring duties in the mill, would be issued with the customary one handled milling Sack Barrow, some had rubber tyres, which were the best to manoeuvre and balance, the others were the older type with metal wheels, very noisy. If a colleague picked up someone else’s barrow there would have been some unwritten law saying that’s “my sack barrow”, names were placed on the side and other comments were added by other team members, thus this idea was short lived. One sack barrow was considered special it was the foreman’s, nobody dared to touch it, and at times it was standing around unused, but he would know where to find it. For devilment, a rogue metal one would stand in its place, the foreman would never move the rogue one, but venture around the mill, politely removing his barrow away from the unsuspecting worker, who would be directed to the old metal one. Many times I’ve heard a labourer complain to the foreman, this sack barrow needs oiling, all day long it keeps going eek- eek – eek, its getting on my nerves, the foreman answering back said “you must be going very slow pushing that barrow, it should be going eek-eek-eek-eek the faster you travel”.
Read Woodrow continued to look to the future, with growing demands, investing £250,000.00 remodelling the Mill, taking advantage of the latest developments in flour milling technology, the roof or the 1830 listed building had to be raised to house the pneumatic lifting equipment, which replaced the elevators which carried the stocks. MILLING STARTED 1890 – CEASING IN 1993 WHEN THE MILL CLOSED.
STAFF REMEMBERED. 1952 – 1969.
- Directors. - Hector Read, Jack Read, Bryan Read, Stanley Sheldon and Tony Carter.
- Senior Office Staff, Administration: Robert Lunn, Lilian Andrews, Maudie Ward, Walter Starr,Gordon Bartram, Ernie Dunn, Ken English, Len Venis, Lawrence Smith, Dennis Hunt.
- Travellers: Ernie Barnby, Walter Winter, Audrey Wasey, Muriel Wasey, Jean Moon.
- Office: Muriel Yaxley, Margaret Johnson, Vivian Lee, Don Cooke, George Saunders.
- Foreman, Silo & Provender: Len Todd, Tom Bradbery, Bob Vines, Geoffrey Wiggett, Lennie Howlett,
Freddie Clarke, Arthur Aberaham, Reggie Wilman, Jack Turner, Cecil Pepperill.
- Milling: Wilfred Farrow, George Lincoln, Jack Fields, Freddie Fields, Geoffrey Rose, Arthur Johnson, Ronnie Durham, Alfred Bunn, Albert Mason, Arthur Larwood, Nobby Clarke, Jack Burt.
- Transport Section:Jack Robinson, Bert Spelman, Hugh Nelson, Jimmy Wright, Harry Housego,
Geoffrey Coan, Arthur Allard, Norman Green, Eddie Huchen, Harry Rose, Maurice Warton.
- Maintenance Dept: Bob Bushell, Ted Betts, Vic Ulph, John King, Jack Hill, Lou Reynolds,
- Recero Plant: Peter Reeve, Jimmy Dunn, Colin Richards, Bob Dockerill.
- Mill Managers: Ken Lewis, Paul Scarnell, Bobby Blair, Geoffrey Dunderdale.
- Laboratory: Jennifer Freestone, Pat Feddleman, John Redfern.
- Flour Mill Teams: Sid Durham, Walter Lambert, Jack Burton, Joe Dearden, Billy Corder, Len Hales, KEITH FOWLER, Don Bullen, Bob Thomas, Sam Thomas, Freddie Clements, Brian Duce, Walter Moore, Ray Thurston, Maurice Love, Peter Nichols, Dennis Rushmer, Harry Eastel.
- Screenroom: Lou Cropley, Les Skipper, Lionel Mynett.
- SRF: Miss H. Betts, Mrs. Pye, Ruby Pye, Grace Gillings, Winnie Cubitt, Vera Page, Christine Betts, Doris Richards, Joyce Buxton, Daisy Wilson, Alma ……., Gloria …….., Jack Hatch.
R. J. READ: COMPANY HISTORY.
- 1801: A company was formed in Norwich (February 17th) for the erection of a Public Mill, to be worked by steam, for supplying Flour to the Bakers and the Public. A capital of £12,500.00 was raised in Transferable Shares of £25.00, the Mill was erected upon a site near Blackfriars Bridge, Norwich. Norfolk.
- 1830: The original Flour Mill building was a former Wool Mill in King Street.
- 1833: Norwich and Lowestoft reopened the river to the Port Of Norwich for sea going vessels.
- 1851: Robert John Read. Born 5th November at Wrentham.
- 1875: After working in several Flour Mills learning the trade, Robert John Read started business in a windmill, known as Ingate Mill, which unfortunately was destroyed by fire. The business then moved to Westwick Street, Norwich.
- 1884: Robert John Read Junior. Born at Beccles. He worked alongside, his Father.
- 1889: Business increased at this time, Roller Milling replaced Stone Grinding.
- 1895: Disaster and Despair! The great gale in March caused major damage to the mill and large chimney blown down.
- 1896: Mill completely destroyed by fire.
- 1900: Undaunted by their misfortunes the owners purchase St. Swithins Mill (Westwick) Norwich, from John Lee Barber, who wanted to continue in Oil Crushing Trade elsewhere.
- 1906: Firm expanded rapidly and Self-Raising Flour an important part of the business.
- 1910: Picturesque Horstead Mill. Purchased by R. J. Reads Ltd.
- 1912 Flood, Westwick Street: The Great Flood and the gales caused serious damage to the Norwich Mill, parts of the new Model Bakery, which had been erected to supply bread to the Army, were washed into the river and the Mill & Boiler House was under 9ft of floodwater. Robert John Read appointed Sheriff of Norwich.
- 1914: Milling continued throughout the 1st World War. The crankshaft broke, completely wrecking the Steam Engine; it was replaced by electrical installations.
- 1920: Robert John Read, died 3rd October, a truly Victorian Businessman. Business was good and expanding.
- 1921: The Firm became a Limited Liability Company, the founder’s two sons, Robert John (Jack) Read Junior and Lewes Hector Read became the first Directors. They started building for the future.
- 1922: Seagoing Coasters carrying Grain from the Continental Ports was becoming big business.
- 1923: Carrow Road lifting bridge was opened, also the Corporation Quay was established on Riverside Road, allowing ships to travel as far as Foundry Bridge. Increased river traffic became available especially when the Power Station opened in 1926. Wheat and Cleaning Plant remodelled (Simon Conditioner and Bins installed).
- 1926: To unload the Grain, meant it had to be handled twice, whether from Coasters or Wherries the cost was great, large ships could not manoeuvre through the small bridges in the City of Norwich. The remodelling of the Mill continued with the installation of Simon Rolls and Plantsifters.
- 1928: Future business. View site to accommodate all aspects, Milling, Transport, River, Road and Rail required.
- 1930: New site was purchased, the old Albion Yarn Mill Estate, King Street, and the cost £5750.00. However milling continued at the old Westwick site during this year. Sliced bread appears in Britain.
- 1933: New No.1 Silo (1000 ton capacity), built of concrete, received its first cargo.
- 1934: Albion Seed Stores fitted out with wooden Silo Bins (No.2) road area.
- 1935: No.2 Silo made with interlaced wooden bins, mainly for English Wheat direct from East Anglian Farmers.
- 1936: Provender Mill built for cattle feed. In October the factory was completely transferred from St.Swithins, Norwich. New 10 sack Flour Mill, Contractor Henry Simons, main building, work started in September.
- 1939:The Country was at War with Germany, but the Mill was in full operation, Flour Mill, Provender Mill and Recero Flaking Maize Plant. The firm of R. J. Reads successfully carried on through two World Wars.
- 1940: First bombs on the 9th July fell within 100 yards of Mill. Temporary stoppage as Air Raid Warnings on the go, these stoppages was mandatory and all production ceased. Crash warnings came from the Bracondale lookout tower. Mills running seven days a week. Machine Gun fire from Reads Flour Mill Silo, it was said, and soldiers were always walking about, and with the gun covered up any enemy plane would have been miles away before the gun could be uncovered!
- 1941: St. Pauls Cathedral, London, gives a Thanksgiving Service for the Milling Industry.
- 1942: War damage Old Mill at St. Swithins (Westwick Street), destroyed by heavy explosives and incendiary bombs.
- 1943: Houses No.s 196-239 and 240-243 purchased from John Morris Bakery.
- 1945: World War II over. R. J. Read & Hovis Ltd. Jointly took over R. H. Clarke, Great Yarmouth.
- 1958: Last Steam-driven ship “Moorlands” arrived at Reads with a cargo.
- 1959: Modifications to the Recero Flaked Maize Plant.
- 1961: Director L. Hector Read awarded the OBE for services to the Milling Industry.
- 1963: Horstead Mill destroyed by fire. (January).
- 1964: Corn Hall (1861-1964), Exchange Street, demolished (Now Jarrolds). Bryan Read son of Lewes Hector Read appointed Managing Director, Reads joins forces with two other Norfolk family businesses, C. E. Woodrow & Sons and Stalham Flour Millers, a new company formed called Norfolk Millers.
- 1965: R. J. Read. Ltd. became R. J. Read Holdings – Read Woodrow.
More text and illustrations to be added soon