PortCities London

Flour milling and the port

Milling by steam

The application of steam power

Portrait of James Watt.
View full size imageJames Watt (1736-1819), inventor of the improved steam engine. © NMM

The future of flour milling lay in larger steam mills, powered by the new rotary steam engines invented by James Watt.

These mills were not dependent on the weather, and could process far larger amounts of grain in a shorter time.

Milling was one of many applications of the Watt engine, which allowed the mechanization of many processes in many industries, particularly textiles.



London's first steam mill

A portrait of Mathew Boulton (1728-1809).
View full size imageThe entrepreneur Mathew Boulton (1728-1809). © NMM

The Albion Mill in Bermondsey was completed in 1786. It was the first of the steam-driven mills, and many of the greatest figures of the Industrial Revolution were connected with it.

The promoter was Mathew Boulton, the entrepreneurial partner of James Watt, inventor of the rotary steam engine. The mill used the new Boulton & Watt steam engines, with components built by John Wilkinson. John Rennie oversaw the construction.


A medal commemorating John Rennie (1761 - 1821).
View full size imageA commemoration of the great engineer John Rennie (1761-1821). © NMM

The mill stood on the Thames and received grain directly from the river. It was so efficient, it could have driven most of London's traditional millers out of business.

In 1791, after only five years of operation, it was destroyed by fire. The cause was never established, and the mill was not rebuilt.



Other flour mills on the river

Sun Flour Mills, St Leonard Street, Bromley by Bow.
View full size imageThe Sun Flour Mills on the River Lea. © NMM

The Albion Mill was far ahead of its time. For most of the 19th century, the majority of flour mills were still very small.

On the outskirts of London, several windmills remained in business much as before. Several smaller steam mills used the Thames and its tributaries.

On the River Lea in Bromley, the Sun Flour Mills received their grain from lighters and small craft. 

Mumford's Mill, Deptford.
View full size imageMumford's Mill on Deptford Creek. © NMM

On Deptford Creek, Mumford's Flour Mills were founded in 1790. The mills were supplied by small craft entering the Creek from the Thames. Mumford's Mills flourished throughout the 19th century and were rebuilt in 1897.


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