Why did millstone manufacturers concentrate in Mark Lane
Some years ago, I noticed that the surviving millstones at the House Mill, E3 were made by two different manufacturers, both located in Mark Lane, EC: Corcoran Witt & Co, or B C Witt & Co, and W R Dell & Son. I also noticed at other mills other millstone manufacturers located in Mark Lane. The millstone manufacturing sector is not well researched, but an article by D Gordon Tucker listed the names of 24 makers found in London between 1840 and 1939 (some appearing to be reincarnations of the same firm), of which 12 had addresses in Mark Lane.1 His list included Corcoran, Witt & Co and William Rawbonn Dell.
Why Mark Lane? Mark Lane is just north of the Tower of London. I am old enough to recall visiting the Tower, when the underground station was still called Mark Lane, rather than Tower Hill. A comparison of Harry Beck's maps show that the change of name was made in 1945/6.2
A Post Office Directory in 1902 shows over 180 corn factors/dealers/brokers/agents/flour merchants and malt factors with addresses in Mark Lane; 12 millers and several firms of distillers or their agents, whose business also depended on milling and the grain trade. There were also 12 firms of engineers or consultants with direct or likely links to the milling trade, including a millwright, Wm R Dell & Son and ten firms of engineers, three of which were listed specifically as mill or milling engineers. One of the latter was Bryan Corcoran Ltd. In addition, the offices of the National Association of British and Irish Millers and of the National British and Irish Millers' Insurance Society were located in Mark Lane. The reason for the concentration of milling trades was almost certainly the location at 53-63 Mark Lane of the Corn Exchange. This provided a centre for the London milling industry, where millers and distillers could not only purchase their grain, but also millstones and other milling machinery, and obtain engineering advice on mill operations – as well as meeting others in the trade, no doubt in a local hostelry. Given that the numbered buildings in Mark Lane only reached just over 100, it seems likely that many of the addresses were accommodation addresses where firms could be contacted rather than working premises. For example, an advertisement for W R Dell & Sons in 1872 shows millstones being loaded to a barge from the firm's works, which cannot have been in Mark Lane. The advertisement shows three men involved in loading: two on the barge and one operating the winch. About a dozen more men are shown working inside the premises, several of whom are dressing millstone faces.
Mark Lane appears to have been heavily affected by bombing in the Second World War and consists almost entirely of modern buildings. There is a modern stone and glass building still called the 'Corn Exchange' at 55 Mark Lane, but this appears only to be the name of the building, which no longer operates as a corn exchange.
Notes and references
1. D Gordon Tucker, 'Millstones, Quarries and Millstone-Makers' in Post Medieval Archaeology 11, 1977, pp.1–21
2. Ken Garland Mr Beck's Underground Map Capital Transport 2008, pp.37–8
© GLIAS, 2017