Volunteer millers produce first Brixton flour

Milling training

Jean Kerrigan reports on the first flour produced at Brixton Windmill for 80 years

On the last Friday in November, 12 Brixton Windmill volunteers attended our first training courses in milling flour, using the electric driven French burr stones (the modular / provender mill) on the first floor of the windmill.

Jonathan Cook, chairman of the Traditional Cornmillers Guild and owner and miller at Fosters Windmill near Cambridge, gave an excellent introduction to running the stones. He also discussed with all the volunteers issues of health and safety, food hygiene and how to weigh and bag the flour.

At the end of the two sessions the volunteers were able to take away a bag of the first stoneground organic flour milled at Brixton for 80 years. The mechanical mill they were using to grind this flour is the machine that the Ashby family installed inside the windmill in 1902 and used to produce their “fine stoneground flour” right up until 1934.

A team from local TV channel London Live was also on hand to record the momentous occasion – you can see the video on our home page.

Angela Rouse, one of the volunteers, said: “I came on a tour of the windmill two years ago, and Shaun, the guide, was so enthusiastic. So when they said they were looking for volunteers, I offered to bake cakes for open days. Then when they were looking for vounteers to learn about milling, I thought you don’t often get an opportunity like that!

“It’s been really fun and interesting. I like what the windmill is doing in Brixton and it’s great to be able to contribute to what’s happening.”

Trainer Jonathan Cook said: “The training went very well, with an enthusiastic group getting used to how the mill operates. It will take time to learn how the mill runs in different conditions, at different temperatures, milling different wheats. It’s not just a procedure – it’s about listening and smelling as well as looking.

“The volunteers will need to practise, clean the inside of the stone tun regularly, meet all the trading standards and environmental health requirements. But the main thing is we’re grinding flour!”

Next steps

The Ashbys first powered the stones with a steam engine, later converting to gas power. Now the stones are driven by a new electric motor.

The training session allowed the Friends to understand what needs to be put in place to produce flour regularly at Brixton Windmill. There are some minor adjustments that need to be made to the stones and the mechanism that feeds the grain into the eye of the stones. We also need to put in place a sack hoist, benches for bagging up the flour, and scales, and we need to learn more about how the stones are cleaned.

Other requirements include solving the problem of storage, sourcing grain as locally as we can and also doing a feasibility study of who is likely to buy flour regularly from Brixton Windmill if we are able to produce a regular supply.

Over the next few months we will be addressing these issues and liaising with Lambeth food hygiene officers to ensure we meet the Food Standards Agency requirements. We will also be training more volunteers as millers.

Flour Fund push

The really big issue is to get a building close to the windmill where we can store grain and the flour we produce. We are determined to do this and ensure the windmill is producing flour regularly well before Brixton Windmill reaches its 200th anniversary in 2016.

We will need lots of support – and we now need to make a big appeal for donations to push our flour fund up towards the £20k target. You can donate to this fund here. And if you want to train as a miller, email info@brixtonwindmill.org.uk

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