Mill grinds flour again

THE ancient mill on the Stour at Sturminster Newton is grinding flour commercially for the first time in 50 years, in response to the demand from home bakers during the Covid-19 crisis.

Sturminster Mill, beloved of painters and photographers, dates back to the Domesday Book and was a working mill until 1970. Since then it has been a tourist attraction, producing a small amount of flour for visitors who are keen to see the mill in operation.

Miller Pete Loosmore, whose grandfather was the Sturminster miller, and whose father restored the  centuries-old machinery in the 1990s, told the BBC: “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.”

When the coronavirus lockdown started, Pete said their  “first impression was that we couldn’t do anything with the mill because of social distancing,” but then he and  his fellow miller Imogen Bittner decided that it would be a good time to restart commercial production, given the enormous demand for flour, and the loss of income from mill visitors.

Part of the problem with the supply of flour to supermarkets and other retailers is the size of the bags of commercial flour, which makes up 96% of the market. This flour generally comes in 35-55-pound bags whereas the usual retail size is three pounds. The industry has ramped up production of the smaller bags dramatically to address the shortfall, according to Alex Waugh, director general of the National Association of British and Irish Millers: “UK millers have been working round the clock — genuinely milling flour 24-hours-a-day-seven-days-a-week to double the production of retail flour in an effort to meet demand.”

Pete Loosmore said it had been good “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.”

Shops stocking the Sturminster Mill flour include Dike & Son at Stalbridge.