Henry John Fice Lee was born in Yealmpton in 1861 where he became a baker. Later, he moved to Ivybridge with his wife Amelia. Together they had two sons, Sydney Herbert and Henry John, and a daughter, Caroline who married Naval Officer Lt. William Frank Smallbone in 1918. He later became Commander Smallbone and they lived at Uplands on Exeter Road in Ivybridge. Henry and Ameila Lee lived initially at Clare Street and later, following the success of  business, at Greenwood on Western Road. Apparently, he had told his wife he would one day own a mill to supply his bakery business.

 

During the mid-1890s Henry Lee took his first step in fulfilling his aspirations. Samuel Head, the proprietor of a tan yard in the centre of Ivybridge advertised a corn mill ‘To be Let’. Although a date is not documented it is known that Mr Lee took up the lease of the Union Mills, a former cooperative mill which ceased operating in 1893. The Devonport Union Mill Society, a wholesale bread cooperative from Plymouth, had purchased the old manorial corn mills at Ivybridge way back in 1821 and had operated them with great success during this period. Mr Lee appeared to be a very successful businessman and soon needed to expand. In 1901 he publicised in the newspaper that he was ‘taking into partnership Mr. James Scoble in the Baking and Confectionery Department’. Mr Scoble resided at 5 Western Road whilst Henry Lee stated that his corn and forage business would be carried out under his personal supervision at the Union Mills in Fore Street.

 

At this time, the neighbouring paper mill, operated by the Holman family was falling on hard times. With poor trading conditions, largely the result of cheap imported paper, the mill was put on the market in 1903. At the auction, which took place at The London Hotel, the successful bidder was none other than Henry J.F. Lee. Over the next few years he converted the premises into a corn and provender mill. He modernised the building suitable for milling and provided a new facade facing Fore Street. A plaque on the exterior read ‘H. J. F. Lee Ivybridge Mills 1905’.  With continuing success, he extended his operations at Yealmpton where he founded Lee Bros with his brother Samuel Fice Lee.

What is a Provender Mill?

A mill providing animal feed stuffs, often part of a flour mill.

 

Stored cereal grains, predominantly wheat, but also barley, oats and maize are sorted to remove impurities prior to processing.

 

Grains are then ground, micronized, flaked or rolled before blending to produce pellets or meal feed.

 

The blended feed products are then stored in silos or similar bulk storage vessels awaiting despatch.

The vacated Union Mill now had a new lessee, a Mr Bertie Hawke. This marked the beginning of a period of intense rivalry between Mr Lee and Mr Hawke who were now in direct competition with one another. They were not only vying for business but also competing for the water diverted from the River Erme via the leat which they both wanted for their individual machinery. Documentary evidence records that there were times when they did not speak and the question of whose turn it was to use water from the leat was conducted by correspondence between their respective solicitors.

 

In 1913 it is recorded that Samuel Head of the tannery emigrated to Canada. It is believed that Henry Lee then went on to purchase the whole site. This included the old Union Mills, tan yard and accompanying properties, including Tannery House on Fore Street. The latter was to become home for his son, Sydney. Sadly, he died in 1927 having been, like his father, a successful businessman and district councillor.

 

The complete site became known as “Lee and Son, Ivybridge Ltd”. The acquisition of the coal yard enabled Mr Lee to diversify into coal and coke merchanting.

The front facade of the mill (above)

A photograph from 1948 taken from the tan yard, later the coal yard and showing some of the old warehouses and a worker’s cottage (right)

In the 1930s, the old Union Mills building became known as the “Cinema”. Twice a week a travelling cinema, operated by a couple from Saltash, would screen films for the local community. Seats cost between 4d., and 1s. 3d., (1.5p and 6p today) and the music was played by a retired school mistress called Queenie Peline. The young lads often brought their pea shooters with them, and using loose grain and maize which was always lying around on the floor of the mill, would shoot at people in the front rows. Eventually the manager would intervene, turn on the lights and eject the offenders!

A visit to Lee & Son Provender Mill in January 1968 records the daily routine:-

 

“The mill day begins at eight a.m. when one of the men goes up to the river and opens the wooden sluice gate of the leat. Then by opening another wooden sluice down by the mill, the water gradually turns the turbine and the machinery starts. Each day consists of grinding and rolling barley; mixing pig and poultry rations; making up special mixtures to customer’s requirements, and mixing corn for various purposes. All the finished products are then bagged and the bags stitched by a portable machine suspended from the ceiling. The firm’s lorries are delivering all day, sometimes a single delivery of four or five tons of cow cake but then other occasions, small quantities of feed for up to twenty different customers, what is termed a “grocery round”. The manager and office manager start at eight a.m. and for the first hour are kept very busy with the telephone, opening mail and stamping out invoices. At nine the secretary and clerks arrive.”

The cereal grains processed at Lee’s Mill were:

Barley –  the main cereal constituent in all animal feeding stuffs.

Maize – ground to make maize-meal, and then included in the mixtures. Maize is also used whole or kibbled (cut) for poultry grain mixtures.

Oats – chiefly crushed and sold for horses.

Wheat – a little of this is ground for mixtures, but chiefly used for poultry grain mixture.

Wheatfeed – a residue of the wheat grain after the flour has been removed. It is used a great deal in animal feeding stuffs as its lightness reduces the heaviness of a mixture.

Grass-meal – dried grass, ground to a fine meal – normally fed to indoor poultry to enhance yolk colour in eggs.

German-maize-meal – maize from North and South America sent to Germany where it is ground and then imported to England.

Bran – the name given to the outer skin of the wheat berry taken off in the making of flour, mainly used in poultry and pig rations. Bran is also used for poultices and bran mashes for horses.

Henry John Fice Lee went on to be a prominent member of the community. In 1896 he was elected to the Urban Council and served for 27 years, the last ten as chairman. He was instrumental in progressing the water scheme in Ivybridge. For ten years he was, by virtue of his office on the Council, a Justice of the Peace, and in 1919 he was added to the Commission of the Peace for Devon.

An interesting ceremony took place at the offices of the Ivybridge Urban Council, in the presence of the present and former councillors last night, when Mr H.J.F. Lee, a member of the Council from 1896 to 1923, and chairman from 1913 to 1923, was presented with a large framed portrait of himself from members of the council.

Mr W.H. Martin (chairman), who made the presentation, said they had met to acknowledge the good work of their former chairman. In connection with the Ivybridge water scheme, Mr Lee had been particularly prominent, and had always been behind important work at Ivybridge.

Western Morning News 7 August 1929

Under the Corn Production Act, 1917, and in accordance with the District Wages Committees Regulations, 1918, a Devonshire District Wage Committee was established in April 1918 which Henry Lee served as deputy Chairman. Additionally, he was a member of the Agricultural Millers’ Association in London; Chairman of the local Unemployment Committee, Chairman of the local Conservative and Unionist Association, and a founder member and President of the Ivybridge Bowling Club. One wonders when he had time to play bowls. 

Urban District Council at Harford
Members of Ivybridge Urban District Council outside Harford School attending the opening of Butter Brook Reservoir. Henry John Fice Lee is the prominent gentleman in the centre.

Henry John Fice Lee died on Sept 3 1931, just eight weeks before his 70th Birthday. His businesses in Ivybridge and Yealmpton closed for the remainder of the day in respect. Outside Lloyds Bank, set into the pavement, the initials H.J.F.L serve as recognition of his significant contribution to Ivybridge.

An unusual sight for the centre of Ivybridge !

These photographs from the 1950s show elephants from the travelling circus taking a drink of water from the leat serving Lee’s Mill.

After the death of Henry John Fice Lee the business became a private company, before his widow (who died in 1950), sold the business to a Mr Bradshaw. This gentleman then sold it on to British Oil and Cake Mills (BOCM) in October 1964.

During the 1960s, power for the machinery was still supplied in the main by a water turbine, with the leat remaining the water source. The machinery included a corn crusher, a maize cutter, a one-ton mixer, and a chain hoist.

 

Way back in 1937 a water turbine manufactured by Gilkes and Gordon Ltd of Kendall was installed at Lee’s Mill. This Pelton Wheel turbine was apparently capable of supplying 30hp and it is believed the power was transmitted to the milling and mixing machinery by a series of underfloor belts and pulleys. This turbine was saved when the site was eventually re-developed and is on permanent display at Harford Road Car Park. Its nickname was “The Snail” for obvious reasons.

B O C M

In 1899 British Oil and Cake Mills Limited (BOCM) was incorporated and became a pioneer in the manufacturing of animal feedstuffs on an industrial scale. The advances in both human and animal nutrition identified the virtues of a balanced diet and the contribution that the processing of certain raw materials could contribute to this.
Gilkes Turbine
Gilbert Gilkes 1937
Pelton Wheel Turbines
The Pelton wheel water turbine was invented by Lester Allan Pelton in the 1870s. This type of turbine extracts energy from the impulse of moving water, as opposed to the traditional overshot water wheels which relied upon the weight of the water to provide momentum.  Nozzles direct forceful, high-speed streams of water against a rotary series of spoon-shaped buckets, also known as impulse blades, which are mounted around the circumferential rim of a drive wheel.
Lee's Mill Prefab Offices
The prefabricated office block 
Lee's Mill warehouse
Looking down to the new warehouse
Lee's Mill Prefab Offices
The prefabricated office block 
Lee's Mill warehouse
Looking down to the new warehouse

In the latter years the mill came known as Glanville’s Mill taking the name of the then proprietor. However, in 1978 the entire site was sold to South Hams District Council for re-development and soon afterwards the old mill buildings were demolished. Corn milling which had existed in Ivybridge for centuries finally drew to a close.

Acknowledgement
A very special thank you to Jacqui Leigh who kindly donated numerous historical documents regarding Lee’s Mill to our archive collection. Her meticulous accounts, compiled with the assistance of her father, were invaluable in providing historical facts and an insight to daily life at the provender mill. Her father, Frank Gowman, was Manager of the mill for 10 years when it was owned by B.O.C.M. in the mid 1960s.

LEE'S MILL

Henry John Fice Lee was born in Yealmpton in 1861 where he became a baker. Later, he moved to Ivybridge with his wife Amelia. Together they had two sons, Sydney Herbert and Henry John, and a daughter, Caroline who married Naval Officer Lt. William Frank Smallbone in 1918. He later became Commander Smallbone and they lived at Uplands on Exeter Road in Ivybridge. Henry and Ameila Lee lived initially at Clare Street and later, following the success of  business, at Greenwood on Western Road. Apparently, he had told his wife he would one day own a mill to supply his bakery business.
During the mid-1890s Henry Lee took his first step in fulfilling his aspirations. Samuel Head, the proprietor of a tan yard in the centre of Ivybridge advertised a corn mill ‘To be Let’. Although a date is not documented it is known that Mr Lee took up the lease of the Union Mills, a former cooperative mill which ceased operating in 1893. The Devonport Union Mill Society, a wholesale bread cooperative from Plymouth, had purchased the old manorial corn mills at Ivybridge way back in 1821 and had operated them with great success during this period. Mr Lee appeared to be a very successful businessman and soon needed to expand. In 1901 he publicised in the newspaper that he was ‘taking into partnership Mr. James Scoble in the Baking and Confectionery Department’. Mr Scoble resided at 5 Western Road whilst Henry Lee stated that his corn and forage business would be carried out under his personal supervision at the Union Mills in Fore Street.
At this time, the neighbouring paper mill, operated by the Holman family was falling on hard times. With poor trading conditions, largely the result of cheap imported paper, the mill was put on the market in 1903. At the auction, which took place at The London Hotel, the successful bidder was none other than Henry J.F. Lee. Over the next few years he converted the premises into a corn and provender mill. He modernised the building suitable for milling and provided a new facade facing Fore Street. A plaque on the exterior read ‘H. J. F. Lee Ivybridge Mills 1905’.  With continuing success, he extended his operations at Yealmpton where he founded Lee Bros with his brother Samuel Fice Lee.
The vacated Union Mill now had a new lessee, a Mr Bertie Hawke. This marked the beginning of a period of intense rivalry between Mr Lee and Mr Hawke who were now in direct competition with one another. They were not only vying for business but also competing for the water diverted from the River Erme via the leat which they both wanted for their individual machinery. Documentary evidence records that there were times when they did not speak and the question of whose turn it was to use water from the leat was conducted by correspondence between their respective solicitors.
In 1913 it is recorded that Samuel Head of the tannery emigrated to Canada. It is believed that Henry Lee then went on to purchase the whole site. This included the old Union Mills, tan yard and accompanying properties, including Tannery House on Fore Street. The latter was to become home for his son, Sydney. Sadly he died in 1927 having been, like his father, a successful businessman and district councillor.
The complete site became known as “Lee and Son, Ivybridge Ltd”. The acquisition of the coal yard enabled Mr Lee to diversify into coal and coke merchanting.
In the 1930s, the old Union Mills building, became known as the “Cinema”. Twice a week a travelling cinema, operated by a couple from Saltash, would screen films for the local community. Seats cost between 4d., and 1s. 3d., (1.5p and 6p today) and the music was played by a retired school mistress called Queenie Peline. The young lads often brought their pea shooters with them, and using loose grain and maize which was always lying around on the floor of the mill, would shoot at people in the front rows. Eventually the manager would intervene, turn on the lights and eject the offenders!
Henry John Fice Lee went on to be a prominent member of the community. In 1896 he was elected to the Urban Council and served for 27 years, the last ten as chairman. He was instrumental in progressing the water scheme in Ivybridge. For ten years he was, by virtue of his office on the Council, a Justice of the Peace, and in 1919 he was added to the Commission of the Peace for Devon.
An interesting ceremony took place at the offices of the Ivybridge Urban Council, in the presence of the present and former councillors last night, when Mr H.J.F. Lee, a member of the Council from 1896 to 1923, and chairman from 1913 to 1923, was presented with a large framed portrait of himself from members of the council.
Mr W.H. Martin (chairman), who made the presentation, said they had met to acknowledge the good work of their former chairman. In connection with the Ivybridge water scheme, Mr Lee had been particularly prominent, and had always been behind important work at Ivybridge.
Western Morning News 7 August 1929
Under the Corn Production Act, 1917, and in accordance with the District Wages Committees Regulations, 1918, a Devonshire District Wage Committee was established in April 1918 which Henry Lee served as deputy Chairman. Additionally, he was a member of the Agricultural Millers’ Association in London; Chairman of the local Unemployment Committee, Chairman of the local Conservative and Unionist Association, and a founder member and President of the Ivybridge Bowling Club. One wonders when he had time to play bowls!
After the death of Henry John Fice Lee the business became a private company, before his widow (who died in 1950), sold the business to a Mr Bradshaw. This gentleman then sold it on to British Oil and Cake Mills (BOCM) in October 1964.
During the 1960s, power for the machinery was still supplied in the main by a water turbine, with the leat remaining the water source. The machinery included a corn crusher, a maize cutter, a one-ton mixer, and a chain hoist.
Way back in 1937 a water turbine manufactured by Gilkes and Gordon Ltd of Kendall was installed at Lee’s Mill. This Pelton Wheel turbine was apparently capable of supplying 30hp and it is believed the power was transmitted to the milling and mixing machinery by a series of underfloor belts and pulleys. This turbine was saved when the site was eventually re-developed and is on permanent display at Harford Road Car Park. Its nickname was “The Snail” for obvious reasons.
A photograph from the 1950s showing elephants from the travelling circus taking a drink from the leat serving Lee’s Mill
In the latter years the mill came known as Glanville’s Mill taking the name of the then proprietor. However, in 1978 the entire site was sold to South Hams District Council for re-development and soon afterwards the old mill buildings were demolished. Corn milling which had existed in Ivybridge for centuries finally drew to a close.
Acknowledgement
A very special thank you to Jacqui Leigh who kindly donated numerous historical documents regarding Lee’s Mill to our archive collection. Her meticulous accounts, compiled with the assistance of her father, were invaluable in providing historical facts and an insight to daily life at the provender mill. Her father, Frank Gowman, was Manager of the mill for 10 years when it was owned by B.O.C.M. in the mid 1960s.