From the moment I saw a photograph of Melin Ardudwy in Hugh M. Lewis’s book Aberdyfi, Portrait of a Village, I wanted to know all about it. To my immense frustration, there is remarkably little information to be found. Melin Ardudwy is only mentioned in passing in local history accounts, almost forgotten by most histories of the village. It is not even mentioned on the Coflein website, which is usually a reliable starting place, often providing a few helpful references to chase. However, a bit of pottering around in my books and files turned up some information. The photograph in Hugh M. Lewis’s book is shown above right. In the process of my searches online, I was excited to find, on the People’s Collection website, a superb sepia picture of the mill (below left) showing it behind a train pulled by the locomotive Seaham, ready to depart. Next, I found that the mill was listed in Gwynedd Archaeological Trust’s document Ports and Harbours of Gwynedd: Aberdyfi under their “Buried Sites With Poor Archaeological Potential” category as follows:
25065 Melin Ardudwy. Assessment of Importance: D Site Status Reference: The site of a multi-storey steam flour roller mill of late 19th century date. No above-ground remains are evident and the site has become a housing estate. Easting: 260183 Northing: 296159.
This short piece pointed me in the direction of steam flour roller mills. By the 1870s roller milling was becoming widespread, and conventional wind-powered flour mills were being abandoned. Roller mills enabled the mass-production of much greater volumes of flour, which could be consistently graded and were used to make newly fashionable white bread. The Gwynedd Archaeological Trust’s Conservation Area Appraisal for Aberdovey says that the mill was erected in 1881. Apparently this area beyond the village was known as Ardudwy, hence the mill’s name.
The mill used to stand where the little housing development just outside the village on the road to Tywyn, near the golf course. The mill was four storeys high, stone-built, with five bays on the main frontage, three on the side, and had a protruding extension one bay in width. The brick-built chimney sits in the corner where the two parts of the building meet. It is a substantial edifice. A large shed-like structure stands at its side. Both photographs show a railway locomotive pulling trucks past the mill. The one in Hugh M. Lewis’s book shows clearly that a siding also ran into the mill itself, under the large white shelter visible in both photographs. This meant that flour could be taken further afield by rail, or taken down to the port for loading on to vessels for transhipment along the coast to south Wales.
The traditional approach to flour production was to crush wheat grain between two circular millstones, an upper runner stone that rotated and a lower bed stone that was fixed into a stationary position. The runner stone was powered either by wind or water. In the 1850s the repeal of the Corn Laws meant that imported grain was affordable and Britain’s dependence on imported grain grew from 2% in the 1830s to 45% (and 65% for wheat alone) during the 1880s. The arrival of the railway in Aberdovey seventeen years previously had resulted in an expansion of the deep water sea trade with imported cargoes from Ireland, South Wales, Newfoundland, the Baltic, South America and elsewhere, which in turn led to the expansion of the coastal and rail transport from the port. Cargoes were trans-shipped, via rail or coastal vessels, to other parts of Wales and England. Hugh M. Lewis says that wheat and barley were imported from the Mediterranean, Australia and Canada. At a time when white bread was increasingly in demand, mill technology was changing and rollers began to replace millstones all over Britain Rollers were cheaper to make than the skilled but arduous and time-consuming dressing of millstones. The website From Quern to Computer has a useful overview of the reasons that steam-powered mills became so popular, and why they were often located, like Melin Ardudwy, at ports:
In 1878 The National Association of British and Irish Millers (nabim) was formed for ‘mutual advancement and protection’ in the light of the ‘great changes which are now in progress in the manufacture of flour, and in the machinery used for that purpose’. These ‘great changes’ . . . were driven by two related factors: the growing demand for white bread and the increased importation of hard wheats from North America, Russia and also Australia and India, to meet demand. These hard wheats gave good quality flours, naturally higher in gluten than native soft wheats, which enabled the production of well-risen white bread. The gradual reduction method employed by the new roller mills was not only better suited to milling hard wheats than traditional millstones, but also to extracting a greater proportion of fine white flour. In addition, changes were taking place in the location of the milling industry, as large new mills were built at ports and on navigable rivers and canals, well-placed to receive deliveries of imported wheat. Such changes were also facilitated by the use of steam power.
Melin Ardudwy was an outcome of this industrialization of flour production. I can find no mention anywhere of exactly what internal machinery was installed or how many rollers it drove. However, the basic operation can be cobbled together from general accounts of steam-driven roller mills.
Roller milling, as the name implies, replaced circular stones with rollers, c12 inches in diameter, not unlike a big mangle, through which the grain was gradually broken down through successive pairs of rollers. These were set at a specific distance from each other, fixed by a technician, spinning towards each other at different speeds in incremental stages until the grain was sufficiently reduced. Grain was fed in to the rollers and extracted via pneumatic pipes. Flour was extracted at all stages of the process.
I have been unable to find out when the mill was demolished but a postcard that shows it in the distance (above) shows women in fashions that date to the 1910s/early 20s, so it was certainly still standing at that time.
Main sources for this post:
Gwynedd Archaeological Trust 2007. Ports and Harbours of Gwynedd: Aberdyfi. A Threat Related Assessment. GAT Project No.1824, Report No.671.1, April 2007
Gwynedd Archaeological Trust 2011. Conservation Area Appraisal: Aberdyfi, Gwynedd. GAT Project No. 2155. Report No. 956, June, 2011
Aberdyfi, Portrait of a Village by Hugh M. Lewis.
Aberdyfi, A Chronicle Through the Centuries by Hugh M. Lewis
From Quern to Computer: the history of flour milling. Roller Milling: A Gradual Takeover. September 06th 2016 by Martin and Sue Watts
England 1870–1914. The Oxford history of England by R.C.K. Ensor. (1936). Clarendon Press
Technology and Transformation: The Diffusion of the Roller Mill in the British Flour Milling Industry, 1870-1907. Jennifer Tann and R. Glyn Jones. Technology and Culture
Vol. 37, No. 1 (Jan., 1996), p. 36-69 (Available to read on JSTOR)