You are in [Places] [Great Western Mill]

(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.

Photo Gallery:

aerial-001 aerial-001
church street-0...
church street-004 church street-004
church_st_03 church_st_03
church street-0...
church street-005 church street-005
church_st_02 church_st_02
church_st_08_mill fire church_st_08_mill fire
church_st_09_mill fire church_st_09_mill fire
church_st_12_mill fire church_st_12_mill fire
church_st_10_mill firew church_st_10_mill firew
church_st_13_mill fire church_st_13_mill fire
mill fire-009
mill fire-009 mill fire-009
mill fire-011
mill fire-011 mill fire-011
church_st_14_mill fire church_st_14_mill fire
church_st_15_mill firew church_st_15_mill firew
church st new m...
church st new mill church st new mill
church street-1...
church street-101 smitham bridge mill 1981 church street-101 smitham bridge mill 1981
great western m...
great western mills 19851100 great western mills 19851100
great western m...
great western mills 19851101 great western mills 19851101
19840000ca Grea...
19840000ca Great Western Mill-01 19840000ca Great Western Mill-01
19840000ca Grea...
19840000ca Great Western Mill-02 19840000ca Great Western Mill-02
19840000ca Grea...
19840000ca Great Western Mill-03 19840000ca Great Western Mill-03
19840000 Great ...
19840000 Great Western Mill vehicle shed (Ivor Speed) 19840000 Great Western Mill vehicle shed (Ivor Speed)
19851000 Great ...
19851000 Great Western Mill-01 (Ivor Speed) 19851000 Great Western Mill-01 (Ivor Speed)
19851000 Great ...
19851000 Great Western Mill-02 (Ivor Speed) 19851000 Great Western Mill-02 (Ivor Speed)
19851000 Great ...
19851000 Great Western Mill-03 (Ivor Speed) 19851000 Great Western Mill-03 (Ivor Speed)
19851000 Great ...
19851000 Great Western Mill-04 (Ivor Speed) 19851000 Great Western Mill-04 (Ivor Speed)
Inside James Mi...
Inside James Mill-01 Inside James Mill-01
Inside James Mi...
Inside James Mill-02 Inside James Mill-02
great western m...
great western mills 19851100 great western mills 19851100
Mill Fire-006 (...
Mill Fire-006 (Moya Dixon) Mill Fire-006 (Moya Dixon)
19840000 New Mi...
19840000 New Mill closed 19840000 New Mill closed
19841200 Great ...
19841200 Great Western Mill [Ivor Speed] 19841200 Great Western Mill [Ivor Speed]

- 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

- Interior of Great Western Mill, undated (John Newton collection).

- Interior of Great Western Mill, undated (John Newton collection).

- Great Western Mill on fire, 22 Jun 1960

- Fire at Great Western Mill, 22 Jun 1960 (Moya Dixon).

- 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 after closure, c1984 (Moya Dixon collection)

- New Great Western Mill site partly cleared c1984

- New Great Western Mill vehicle shed, 1984 (Ivor Speed).

- New Great Western Mill, Dec 1984 [Ivor Speed].

- New Great Western Mill, Oct 1985 (Ivor Speed).

- New Great Western Mill during demolition, 1985 (Ivor Speed).

- New Great Western Mill during demolition, Oct 1985 (Ivor Speed).

- Site of demoloshed New Great Western Mill, Oct 1985 (Ivor Speed).

- 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.

Jane Orr (nee Cullum) emailed the Virtual Museum (Jul 2018) from New Zealand to add "My father Peter Cullum drove for James’ from 1951 until the family came to New Zealand in 1964. He was one of the men who continually went into the burning building to rescue the lorries. There were many more brave men that day. I am able to remember only Mr “Curley” Cook, Mr Le Petit and Mr Hancock along with my father.". She added: "We lived at 1 Croft Road at the time of the fire and I was awoken by the sound of banging, crackling and a strange glow through my bedroom window as I was at the back of our house. I looked out of the window and saw the flames so went downstairs a floor and woke my parents. My father shot upstairs and looked then dressed and raced around to one of the James family who lived on the corner of Church Street and Croft Road? They phoned the fire service (not many had a phone in those days) and then ran down to the yards. He and the other men moved the lorries into the Croft and then ran back to get the next ones. I don't remember how many there were in the fleet but they were all saved. My father said that the sound of the floors collapsing onto each other as they ran in each time was something he wouldn't and didn't forget. One of the men grabbed all the keys for the lorries but in doing so muddled them up and they then had to try them until it was sorted. For risking their lives so many times they were all thanked, got a hand shake, a well done and that was that! At the time of father's employment he was the safest driver and the most trusted with the new lorries. In the 13 years he worked at James' he had only two lorries; the last one RJB 647 was an articulated truck and trailer which is when he gained his "sidekick" Mr Curly Cook as in those days it was considered unsafe for large lorries to have  fewer than two in the cab. I still have his log books from that time and he didn't have one accident in 13 years and his lorries spent less time in the mechanics shops than anyone elses. He worked 16 hours a day, six days a week for £12 a week - which is why we came to Hawkes Bay, New Zealand for a better life and in all ways found it!"

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.

Robert James added (Aug 2018): "I knew Peter Cullum, who lived in an Avon Villa flat. Latterly he drove the Atkinson lorry 12 tonner and trailer 6 tonner combination flat truck. This vehicle was used to bring in raw materials from the docks and to deliver large consignments of malting barley to the midlands and north east.

Here are some of the names who were Peter’s colleagues:

Fred Cleverly and Denis Martin (Leyland Beaver & trailer)
Jim Walters (7 tonne Bedford)
Sid Valance (Leyland Comet)
Len Higgins and Ernie Little (Albion & trailer)
Nutty Rolfe (Bedford 6 tonner)
Morley Rolfe (Bedford 7 tonner; he went on to lorry and trailer)
Curly Cook (Bedford 7 tonner)
Bert Whatley (Leyland 12 tonner)
Bill Michener (Bedford 7 tonner; he went on to 14 tonne bulk grain);
Bill Swain (7 Bedford 7 tonner)
Robin Barnes (Bedford 3 tonner Reg CBL 25)
Peter Tarry (Bedford 6 tonner)
Joe Lewington (Leyland Comet 10 tonner)
Arthur Fox (Bedford 7 tonner; later Leyland bulker 10 tonnes)
Chips Hayes (Bedford 7 tonner)
Tony Grooby (AEC 14 tonner) and
Ronnie Regan (Bedford 7 tonner)

At the time that Peter Cullum emigrated to New Zealand, Bert Howe (Garage Services), Ginger Powell (Mill) and Paddy Jameson) all joined the £10.00 emigration scheme. Ginger and Paddy were ex Paras.

Those who were part of the lorry rescue team as I am told (I was at college at the time - it was the day my final results were published, 22 Jun 1960):

Norman James, Bill Clements, Ted Bradley, Dr Max Wallis, Doug Brown, Sid Valence and Ted Hill. There were others. All the lorries were saved although one Bedford 5 tonner was badly scorched. (This was a remarkable feet of bravery and must have been much apreciated at the time - HLP).

Incidentally, the only emloyees still alive (Aug 2018) are Ron Tarry, David Watts ( Somerset) and some of the ladies in admin - Elaine Martin, Audine and Maureen Regan and Wendy Nash.

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.

The New Great Western Mill closed in 1984.

For much more, see James & Co.

See also:

James & Co - Price List, 1937. (from Stewart Hofgartner)

James & Co - Order Form, 8 Mar 1937. (from Stewart Hofgartner)

James & Co - Cartridges, 1937. (from Stewart Hofgartner)

James & Co - Vitaliser dry foods, 1937. (from Stewart Hofgartner)

James & Co - Letter from Norman James re the fire, Jun 1960. (from Stewart Hofgartner)

James & Co - Brochure about the fire. (from Stewart Hofgartner)

- "Hungerford Mill fire" - NWN 23 Jun 1960.

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

- "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

- Manor Brewery

- Laundry

- Libraries

- Fire Service since 1924