Flour Mill History Series: The Grinding of Wheat

Almost no industry in Dundee underwent greater changes during the late 1800s than that of flour and meal grinding. But where does Flour Mill Dundee fit into this story?

Evidence suggests that the Flour Mill Dundee building dates back to 1820, and in it’s earlier days it was more commonly known as Castle Mill.  Up until 1860 Castle Mill was 1 of only 3 flour mills to operate in the centre of Dundee.

  • Castle Mill, on Castlehill
  • Ward Mill, at Ward Road
  • and Caledonian Mill, at Peep o’ Day Lane.

These mills were of limited capacity and in order to keep up with demand, the majority of flour used by Dundee bakers at the time was actually ground at mills in neighbouring districts.  These mills included Invergowrie, Craigmills, and Baldovan. As you can imagine, bread at this time was a staple part of the Dundonian diet (and still is).  So the question remains: why did the original mills that were engaged in grinding Dundee’s flour eventually fall into disrepair?

Roller Mills

In those days wheat was ground exclusively with old-fashioned burr stones.  However, as with many things, a reformation began abroad.  The Hungarians were the first to change their grinding process from using stones to using roller mills- as they found it would produce a much whiter flour.  France soon followed their example, and it was not long before they were able to command the European markets.

Gradually roller mills began to replace the old systems.

The Fall of Local Flour Mills

In Scotland the roller mill system was first introduced through Glasgow and Leith. Bakers soon discovered that they could obtain good quality flour in quantities that suited their business.  Thus eliminating the risk and trouble of having to buy grain in season, and have it imperfectly ground at local mills.  During that time home grain produce was preferred and little foreign flour was imported.  So naturally, it was not long before Scottish mills abolished the imperfect stone grinding system and all 11 flour mills in the Dundee district came to a stand-still.  Including our very own building, Castle Mill.

What happened next?

Mr J Forbes White, who was engaged in the flour trade at Aberdeen, had built an extensive work called the Dundee Flour Mills in 1876.   The absorption of the older mills essentially threw the trade into his hands. He was able to build a very large grinding business, and soon became the only place in the district where flour was produced.  In 1887 Mr White then fitted the Dundee Flour Mills exclusively with roller systems and discarded all of the old machinery.  Before beginning to import wheat directly from America to Dundee. He had now completely remodelled the old system.

By 1890 large quantities of flour was being imported from Hungry, France, Germany, Hamburg and America. It is unknown how much home-made flour was still used at this point. However the importance of the flour industry in Dundee in the 1890s is undeniable. It is recorded that nearly 3000 sacks of flour were consumed per week in Dundee and surrounding areas. With approximately one sack of flour making 8 dozen loaves that amounts to 288,000 baked loaves every week!

I wonder what those figures would be now?


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