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(The following notes are largely based on "James & Co (Hungerford) Ltd, 1910-1986" by Robert James, 2001.)

The Great Western Mill was a large building which stood on the north side of Church Street. Following a major fire on 22 Jun 1960 , the site was cleared, and was eventually used for the present day fire station, car park and library.

The Great Western Mill was built in 1931-32 for Ernest James, "The Governor" of James & Co Ltd, and was built in the garden and grounds of Kennet House, 19 High Street, which he had recently purchased from Dr Barker.

Follow this link for much more on James & Co.

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- Great Western Mill, c1930

- Great Western Mill, c1936

- Aerial view of Market Place, Church Street and Great Western Mill, c1958

- Great Western Mill from The Croft

- Great Western Mill on fire, 22 Jun 1960

- New Great Western Mill at Smitham Bridge, c1965

- New Great Western Mill at Smitham Bridge, c1984

- New Great Western Mill at Smitham Bridge, c1984

- New Great Western Mill at Smitham Bridge, c1984

- New Great Western Mill site partly cleared c1984

- Trencherwoods building Wiltshire Close, Somerset Close and Wessex Close on the New Great Western Mill site, Aug 1986 [Ivor Speed Collection]

The Great Western Mill, 1932:

The building was of the latest design of steel structure, clad in corrugated asbestos, known as a "portal frame building".

Condors of Winchester erected the building. Machinery was installed and the whole mill was driven by the latest Fielding and Platt 2-stroke diesel engine, which ran the mill for 20-years before being replaced by electric motors.

A seed cleaning plant and mixing equipment for scientifically balanced livestock rations in new paper bags was the name of the game.

Great Western Mills were born and opened in 1932.

Horses and carts were being replaced by lorries as the Governor found that one 2-ton lorry could do the work of 3 horses and carts, even though they were inclined to breakdown.

The need to haul his own raw materials into the mill became essential to keep the plant running and most of these supplies were at the main ports of London, Bristol and Southampton.

A heavy haulage vehicle was essential. In 1934 he considered 2 possibilities, a 7-ton Foden Steam lorry, which was fast, cheap to run and cheaper to buy or a Leyland with a diesel engine. He decided that the Leyland Beaver was the best, he thought it should be able to tow a trailer, making it a 12-tonner. It actually became a 13-tonner a year or two later when he bought a 2-speed rear axle for £37. Soon there was a fleet of 5 lorries.

Follow this link for much more on James & Co.

The Depression began to fade for farmers after the establishment of the Milk Marketing Board in 1932. The Game and Dog food trade expanded tremendously all over the country. Agencies were agreed for the supply of fertiliser and chemicals as farmers began to test out new research. Likewise farmers began to see the real benefits of balanced livestock feedingstuffs.

In 1936 the new mill was extended for the first time to accommodate the growing business. It was to be expanded almost continually during its lifetime:

1941/42 - Corn Drier on the back and bins holding 90 tonnes of 3 tonnes per hour capacity

1947 - Maintenance Garage/Garage Services

1949/50 - Extension on the front of the mill

1953/55 - Single storey store and lorry garage

1956/57 - Four storey production plant, storage, dispatch and lorry garage.

1958 - New drier in Smitham Bridge Road and Laboratory for Seed Testing

1959/60 - The two buildings joined to increase storage and convenience. Fire safety wall built!

During World War II - 1939/45:

To begin there was little change then reduced supplies of imported human and animal foodstuffs created a new home demand for cereals and meat products. No beef and mutton from the Argentine or wheat, maize and Soya from USA or Canada.

Demand for cereal seeds and any human food offals were prizes for animal food. Waste potato, glume meal, bran and weatings were sought after for animal feed and many other unusual products were used.

The Mill was obvious from the air and was painted, on government instruction "terrain camouflage". The local air raid shelter was built in the orchard.

Business was only as good as the harvest and home produced raw material supplies. They thought to improve the quality of local grown cereals was essential and a new drier was built.

Feedingstuffs were rationed and allocated only to those with coupons.

Dick Smith was the keyman from early 1940 until rationing was abolished in about 1949/50. His job was to put up Pig and Poultry meals in 7, 14 and 21lb bags for delivery each week by Alfie Rolfe in his 3 tonne Bedford with a "tilt" fixed on to the lorry to keep the paper bags dry.

Most cubes and pellets were purchased from John Robinson and BOCM for resale.

Again there was no Game Foods until rationing was lifted.

After World War II:

During these years, the plant and buildings in the Old Brewery were of less and less use and were finally cleared out in 1956 and the tenancy given up. The rent had only been £50.00 per year for all those years.

By the middle 1950's the business was growing strongly, the war was passed and farmers were encouraged by Government to produce more to save the balance of payments. Business was good and more and more men were required to meet the requirements of the mill and drivers for the fleet of lorries and sales staff. There were no houses to let locally so cottages were purchased; houses were built in Sarum Way, Froxfield and Scarlett's Farm, which were let to staff.

In the late 1950's, major feedingstuffs and animal husbandry management trials were being run at Froxfield in cattle, pigs, poultry, sheep, cereal growing and grassland and promoted nationally.

Many new techniques started at Froxfield under the guidance of John Foll, the Nutritional Director. Alfred Schmidt managed the trials with Derek Smalley at that time and were very successful in boosting sales of feedingstuffs by farmers visits and the publication of results.

These successful developments and particularly the calf rearing, led the new business being contracted nationwide in James & Co Feedingstuffs to Somerset, Kent, Norfolk, Yorkshire, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales, where the feedingstuffs were manufactured under license.

The Great Fire, Jun 1960:

On Wednesday 22 June 1960, when business prospects for the future were excellent, a devastating fire brought the mill and business to its knees. Reported at 4.00am, but by 8.00am the inferno had burned everything except a steam boiler, a small office block and the fleet of lorries, which were saved.

Ten fire tenders raced into Church Street, supported later by 20 others to pump water and 3 turntable ladder engines. Fireman, Jack Williams was first on the scene with his father to set about the fire. During the day, over 50 firemen attended.

With the exception of Norman, all the other directors and several mill staff and drivers were away on annual leave before the commencement of the new harvest. Despite the fire still raging, calls of contact were made and within the day everyone was back to work to deal with the emergency. Despite the setback, temporary accommodation and storage was taken and production was restored within a few weeks.

The fire burned for a further eight weeks producing choking smoke, the smell of rotting feedingstuffs and swarms of flies. The adjacent railway was closed for about four days, so that the burned timber sleepers could be replaced. The local fire crew returned about 15 times to damp down further flare-ups.

In the meantime, James & Co feedingstuffs were being manufactured by licensees, who were already making James & Co feeds. Thanks to their co-operation, within a week 80% of the feedingsruff requirements of James & Go's formula was being sold again. Within 5 weeks our own manufacture had started from a new cuber and a few days later calf milk meal was being made. Twenty-four hours shifts were the name of the game from then on.

We must now go back to the first few days after the fire. It was the most devastating thing for the town, the people who worked for James & Co, for the suppliers and customers and not least the family, their worries were money, the bank, insurance, employees and what of the future.

Rebuilding a New Mill:

After the fire, production commenced within a few weeks of cubes and pellets and milk meals at Nobes Store at Membury.

A large aircraft hangar was taken at Membury Airfield for storage of finished feedingstuffs after Dudley had enlisted the help of an important game food customer, none other than Harold Macmillan, whom at the time was Prime Minister, who persuaded the Ministry of Defence to let a short tenancy to James & Co.

Then work began to seriously hold the trade and to build a New Mill, further west along Church Street beyond Parsonage Lane.

The complex planning of such a plant, which would normally take a year or more was crammed into a few short months. Such was the urgency that the outline plans for the New Mill were submitted and passed by the Hungerford Rural District Council in early September and the first loads of hardcore were tipped in January 1961. Work on the foundations commenced a few weeks later.

The directors sought tenders for the most modem, efficient and cost saving manufacturing mill and the contract was signed at Christmas just six months after the fire.

It was to be a year to the day that production commenced in the New Mill in January 1962.

(With thanks to Robert James)

The New Feed Mill, including a history of James & Co featured in a special article in The Miller on 14 Jun 1963.

See also:

- "A New Feed Mill for James & Co (Hungerford) Ltd", The Miller, 14 Jun 1963

- "James & Co (Hungerford) Ltd, Agricultural Millers and Merchants 1910-1986" by Robert James, 2001

- Advert for pig feed, Great Western Mill, c1950?

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