The existence of corn mills in Ivybridge can be traced back centuries but here we focus on what locals knew as Lee’s Mill, a flour and later provender mill, located just off Fore Street.

 

By the early nineteenth century, the old manor corn mill in the centre of Ivybridge, which for centuries had been operated by a local miller, was leased to the Devonport Union Mill Society. Established by dock workers in 1814, it was set up initially as a wholesale bread supply society. Operating as a cooperative it was able to provide flour more cheaply, with each shareholder permitted to take a weekly allowance of flour relevant to their shareholding. It was documented that the society had 650 members and by 1817 it established its own bakehouses to supply the members with bread. The continuing success of the society led to the acquisition of the manor mills at Ivybridge in 1821, naming the site “Union Mills” in recognition of its cooperative status. 

 

Sharing the same location at this time was Ivybridge Paper Mills, belonging to Benjamin Holman and later his sons, Francis and Henry Holman, However, unlike Stowford Paper Mills, this mill produced ‘thin browns’. These wrapping papers would have been made from poor quality rags, old ropes, netting and canvas.

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 King’s Arms from a later period

All the mills located in Fore Street relied on water from the River Erme to provide power for the moving machinery. A leat, an open watercourse starting at Erme Road and controlled by a sluice gate, ran under the new road bridge (which was built in 1834) and alongside the top part of Fore Street. Following the passing of the Beerhouse Act in 1830, a new inn was established. The inn was named the King’s Arms and was located only a short distance away from the mills. The landlord, John Seldon, made frequent requests to the mill owners claiming they were negligent in not covering over the leat which ran directly in front of his inn. It must be assumed that some of the inn’s customers failed to avoid the leat on departure (their predicament having nothing to do with the consumption of alcohol!)

All the mills located in Fore Street relied on water from the River Erme to provide power for the moving machinery. A leat starting at Erme Road, controlled by a sluice gate, ran under the new road bridge (which was built in 1834) and alongside the top part of Fore Street. Following the passing of the Beerhouse Act in 1830, a new inn was established. The inn was named the King’s Arms and was located only a short distance away from the mills. The landlord, John Seldon, made frequent requests to the mill owners claiming they were negligent in not covering over the leat which ran directly in front of his inn. It must be assumed that some of the inn’s customers failed to avoid the leat on departure (their predicament having nothing to do with the consumption of alcohol!)

The King’s Arms from a later period

Erme Road – the sluice gate to the leat can clearly be seen

In 1877 the Union Mills were rebuilt. An external plaque reading “Devonport Union Mill Ltd, Ellacott & Son, Engineers, Plymouth Foundry. Rebuilt 1877” recorded the event. The lessee miller at this time was Richard Pooley. He was to continue at the Union Mills with his wife Jane until its sale.

 

It is recorded that the dissolution of the Devonport Union Mill Society occurred in 1893. The site at Ivybridge raised a total of £610. The sale details documented in the local newspapers stated that ‘The premises are exceedingly well built, are in good condition and with the cart house, two-stalled stable with loft over, and the extensive garden in the rear, contain in all about one acre more or less. The Mills, which are driven by a powerful stream of water, are fitted with four pairs of stones, a No.1 Victor Smutter, and all necessary machinery and fittings for grinding 100 sacks of corn a week’. A smutter was used to removed the diseased grain before milling.

 

Given that shortly after, Samuel Head, the proprietor of the neighbouring tan yard was advertising the mill ‘To be Let’, it is logical to assume he was the purchaser. Sometime during the ensuing years Henry John Fice Lee took up the lease at Union Mills. Mr Lee had moved from Yealmpton to Ivybridge, earning his living as a baker. He lived initially at Clare Street and later at Greenwood on Western Road. Apparently, he had told his wife he would one day own a mill to supply his bakery business, so this was the first step in fulfilling his aspirations. Business appeared to be thriving as by 1901 Mr Lee publicised that he was ‘taking into partnership Mr. James Scoble in the Baking and Confectionery Department’. Mr Scoble resided at 5 Western Road whilst Henry J F Lee stated that ‘my Corn and Forage Business will be carried on entirely under my own Personal Supervision and all Orders will be executed at the Union Mills, Fore Street, Ivybridge’.

 

Meanwhile, at Ivybridge Paper Mills, the business passed into the hands of the next generation of the Holman family, Baldwin Holman, following the death of Francis Holman in 1900. Francis had dissolved his partnership with his brother Henry in 1887 to form F H Holman & Son. With poor trading conditions, chiefly the result of cheap imports, it was decided to put the business up for sale in 1903. The mill in Ivybridge had a willing purchaser in Mr Lee. Over the next few years Henry Lee 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’.  He later 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 leat water 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 emigrated to Canada and it is believed that Henry Lee went on to purchase the whole site shortly after. This included the old Union Mills, tan yard and accompanying properties, including Tannery House on Fore Street, which was to become home for his son, Sydney. 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!

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.

 

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.

 

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.

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.

In 1978 the entire site was sold to South Hams District Council for re-development.

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
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

The existence of corn mills in Ivybridge can be traced back centuries but here we focus on what locals knew as Lee’s Mill, a flour and later provender mill, located just off Fore Street.
By the early nineteenth century, the old manor corn mill in the centre of Ivybridge, which for centuries had been operated by a local miller, was leased to the Devonport Union Mill Society. Established by dock workers in 1814, it was set up initially as a wholesale bread supply society. Operating as a cooperative it was able to provide flour more cheaply, with each shareholder permitted to take a weekly allowance of flour relevant to their shareholding. It was documented that the society had 650 members and by 1817 it established its own bakehouses to supply the members with bread. The continuing success of the society led to the acquisition of the manor mills at Ivybridge in 1821, naming the site “Union Mills” in recognition of its cooperative status.
Sharing the same location at this time was Ivybridge Paper Mills, belonging to Benjamin Holman and later his sons, Francis and Henry Holman, However, unlike Stowford Paper Mills, this mill produced ‘thin browns’. These wrapping papers would have been made from poor quality rags, old ropes, netting and canvas.
In 1877 the Union Mills were rebuilt. An external plaque reading “Devonport Union Mill Ltd, Ellacott & Son, Engineers, Plymouth Foundry. Rebuilt 1877” recorded the event. The lessee miller at this time was Richard Pooley. He was to continue at the Union Mills with his wife Jane until its sale.
It is recorded that the dissolution of the Devonport Union Mill Society occurred in 1893. The site at Ivybridge raised a total of £610. The sale details documented in the local newspapers stated that ‘The premises are exceedingly well built, are in good condition and with the cart house, two-stalled stable with loft over, and the extensive garden in the rear, contain in all about one acre more or less. The Mills, which are driven by a powerful stream of water, are fitted with four pairs of stones, a No.1 Victor Smutter, and all necessary machinery and fittings for grinding 100 sacks of corn a week’. A smutter was used to remove the diseased grain before milling.
Given that shortly after, Samuel Head, the proprietor of the neighbouring tan yard was advertising the mill ‘To be Let’, it is logical to assume he was the purchaser. Sometime during the ensuing years Henry John Fice Lee took up the lease at Union Mills. Mr Lee had moved from Yealmpton to Ivybridge, earning his living as a baker. He lived initially at Clare Street and later at Greenwood on Western Road. Apparently, he had told his wife he would one day own a mill to supply his bakery business, so this was the first step in fulfilling his aspirations. Business appeared to be thriving as by 1901 Mr Lee publicised that he was ‘taking into partnership Mr. James Scoble in the Baking and Confectionery Department’. Mr Scoble resided at 5 Western Road whilst Henry J F Lee stated that ‘my Corn and Forage Business will be carried on entirely under my own Personal Supervision and all Orders will be executed at the Union Mills, Fore Street, Ivybridge’.
Meanwhile, at Ivybridge Paper Mills, the business passed into the hands of the next generation of the Holman family, Baldwin Holman, following the death of Francis Holman in 1900. Francis had dissolved his partnership with his brother Henry in 1887 to form F H Holman & Son. With poor trading conditions, chiefly the result of cheap imports, it was decided to put the business up for sale in 1903. The mill in Ivybridge had a willing purchaser in Mr Lee. Over the next few years Henry Lee 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’.  He later 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 leat water 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 emigrated to Canada and it is believed that Henry Lee went on to purchase the whole site shortly after. This included the old Union Mills, tan yard and accompanying properties, including Tannery House on Fore Street, which was to become home for his son, Sydney. 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.
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. He died on Sept 3 1931, eight weeks before his 70th Birthday. His memorial in Ivybridge is a plaque bearing his initials “H.J.F.L” set into the pavement outside Lloyds Bank in Fore Street.
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
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.”
In 1978 the entire site was sold to South Hams District Council for re-development.
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.