The History of Leith

October 14, 2008

The Last remaining part of Swanfield Flour Mill-Leith

“Leith has long been noted for flour making, its prominence in this industry being of course largely due to the fact that it is so conveniently situated for the importation of foreign grain. In pre-war times Leith imported four hundred and fifty thousand tons of grain annually.

The wheat used in the Leith mills is almost entirely foreign, although native wheat also enters into the mixture. Home-grown wheat is of good colour and flavour, but is soft and lacking in gluten. Flour made from it alone looks pretty, but is so starchy and weak that it is good only for scones and other bakers’ goods known as “smalls.” A baker could never get his loaf to “rise” who made it from flour of this nature. The strongest wheat we get nowadays is Canadian Springs, and this forms the basis of the mixture for bakers’ flour. Some Russian and Hungarian wheats are also strong, but are unobtainable meantime. Leith flour millers also use wheat from the United States, Argentina, Australia, and Manchuria, while Indian also comes into the Leith market at times.

When wagons laden with wheat come alongside one or other of the various Leith mills the wheat is emptied on to long bands of cloth, which move on rollers, and carry the wheat into the mill. Then it is caught in elevators, which are just like the buckets of a dredger, and these empty the wheat into huge tanks called silos. Below, these silos end in spouts, which the miller opens when he pleases. He opens two or three together, so as to mix the different wheats. Then other travelling bands take the wheat to be ground. The wheat passes through grooved rollers that crush the wheat between them, and then through fanning machines which blow away the chaff. The wheat is then ground small between smooth rollers, and, lastly, the flour is driven by a fan through meshes of very fine silk, and is ready for use.

While the above gives a general idea of what goes on in a Leith flour mill, it must not be supposed that the processes of modern milling are as simple as they would appear to be from the description just given. In reality flour milling is of a highly technical nature, and a flour mill contains vast arrays of highly intricate and delicate machinery, all designed to produce the highest qualities of flour at the lowest possible cost. In spite of the great advances made in flour milling in the last forty years, millers do not yet rest content with the position they have achieved. New methods and new machinery are continually being introduced into the mills. Of all the improvements made in flour milling the greatest has been the introduction, in 1881, of steel rollers for grinding the wheat. From the earliest times until the latter part of last century millstones were used for wheat grinding. The substitution of steel rollers for these millstones has produced nothing less than a revolution in flour milling. The millstone is practically obsolete to-day for wheat-grinding purposes, though it is still used in the manufacture of Scotch oatmeal.

The Leith Flour Mills (locally known as Tod’s Mills) in Commercial Street are the largest in the Port. The original mills were burned down in 1874. Leithers still remember and speak of this fire as one of the most destructive in the history of the town, the damage amounting to £168,000. In the original and also in the rebuilt mills the wheat was ground by millstones, but in 1882 steel roller mills were installed. Since that date great improvements have been made in milling machinery, as we have already said, and the Leith Mills have several times been reconstructed in order to give effect to these improvements and to keep the mills thoroughly up-to-date. They have now a capacity of over six hundred thousand bags per annum.

Junction Mill is a flour mill and also an oatmeal mill. It belongs to the Scottish Co-operative Wholesale Society, who took it over from Messrs. John Inglis and Son in 1897. The capacity of the flour mill is about fifteen sacks per hour, and in 1920 its production Was 123,808 sacks. In the same year the oatmeal mill produced 28,504 sacks of oatmeal, all the oats used in the mill being Scottish. Swanfield Mill in Bonnington Road is a flour mill, while Messrs. Inglis have a large oatmeal mill at Bonnington. These mills, like the others already mentioned, possess the latest types of miffing machinery.”

From “The Story of Leith” c1922

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