Dorset, England's decommissioned Sturminster Newton Mill is a local tourist attraction. Now it's back in the flour business for the first time in 50 years.

By Jelisa Castrodale
April 23, 2020
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The Sturminster Newton Mill is an ancient flour mill that serenely stands on the River Stour in Dorset, England. It's a fully operational wooden water mill, the kind of benignly historical site where groups of British schoolchildren are willing to display an interest in its circa-1611 construction and its souvenir tea towels if it means getting a day out.

The Sturminster Newton Heritage Trust describes it as a "wonderful piece of industrial archaeology," and points out that there has been a mill on this same site since 1016. (Yes, for 1,004 years. That's not a typo). It produced flour on an industrial scale until 1970, and then was retired into a full-time tourist attraction—although it still makes a small amount of flour for visitors to buy in the gift shop or sample during their guided tours.

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But the mill is currently closed to guests due to... well, you know, and yet it's also busier than it's been in almost 50 years. According to the Bournemouth Daily Echo, millers Pete Loosmore and Imogen Bittner decided that, due to the current demand for flour and the loss of income from visitors, this would be a good time to re-embrace the mill's commercial production capabilities.

In its first fully functional 10-day period, they milled a ton of wheat; under normal circumstances, that would've been a year's worth. As a result, it has already been able to deliver 200 three-pound bags of flour to local stores and bakeries.

"We would have been milling, on the whole, about two days each month. That would have supplied us with enough flour to keep going throughout the whole of the season," Loosmore told the BBC. "It's been nice to bring the place truly back to life and back into something like it used to be when it was working six days a week." (Loosmore would probably know what that was like: his grandfather spent 50 years as the miller on that same site.)

“We're only doing this while the crisis lasts and it's not only helping us but the local community because there is a shortage of flour," Bittner said. "In one way we have an advantage over the bigger mills, which are used to selling large sacks to the wholesale trade and don’t have the machinery or manpower to put the flour into small bags."

The town of Sturminster celebrated 1,000 years of milling heritage in 2016, which local historians said was an accurate anniversary because of a combination of the assets that were part of King Edmund Ironside's Newton Castle, and by the agricultural records in The Domesday Book (written in 1086) that mentioned the town's four existing mills. After literally witnessing 1,000 years of history, it seems fitting that the mill would have a part in this undeniably historic event that we're all currently living through now.