A HISTORY OF BLACKFRIARS MILL (1833 – 1912)
The flour mill depicted in this painting was the second mill at this location – Ridout Street south of the Blackfriars Bridge. The first was a small two-storey affair built by Thomas Park in 1833. Park sold it to Dennis O’Brien a year later. A 5’ dam spanned the river south of the bridge, diverting the water down a mill race. The path of this diversion is now marked with a low wooden wall at the bottom of the walking path at the north end of Harris Park.
In 1871, the mill was managed by George Phillips who enlarged it to 6 ½ storeys. The mill was becoming a major business in the city, producing 160 barrels of flour a day. In 1877, Joseph Saunby purchased the mill from Phillips and modernized the operation by changing to rolling mills from the old-fashioned stone-ground method. This enabled the mill to produce up to 300 barrels a day of patented “Ruby” and “Tecumseh” flour.
With technological advancements in the milling industry, Saunby closed his mill and the building was demolished in 1912. Ridout Street was being expanded to accommodate more building and so tons of earth was brought in to extend the hill out into the river flats below. As a result, the only remaining part of the mill, the two-storey stone foundation, was buried under the earth fill.
Today, the only traces of what was a major part of London’s development as a city are the reconstructed mill race and a number of white posts with small metal models of the mill building on top. These markers are found at the entrance and exit of the old mill race along the riverbank and clustered at the bottom of Ridout Hill where the mill wheel once turned.
The painting “Landmark” is meant not only to commemorate a disappeared part of London’s history but to remind the viewer to pay attention to those subtle and sometimes invisible reminders of the city’s past. The banks of the Thames were home to much of London’s early history – the original Carling Brewery at Ann Street, the London Soap Factory (foot of Clarence and South Streets), the site of the Victoria Boat Disaster (near Greenway Park) and the formerly world-famous Sulphur Springs Spa at the Forks.