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Spillers: 1934 Review

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Note: This is an abridged version of a chapter in British Commerce and Industry 1934

The History

The one-man business of Joel Spiller of 1832 has therefore grown into the nationwide organization of Spillers to-day. From Bridgwater and Bristol it spread to Cardiff, where the rapidly expanding coal trade gave it an unexpected impetus. The firm of Spiller and Browne was then founded.

In 1855 the firm began to manufacture ships' biscuits, and were the first in the market with this novel line. Grain offices were opened at Burton, Gloucester and Plymouth about the same time.

In 1882 the Cardiff mill was burnt and rebuilt on the latest lines. Five years later two larger mills were secured in Cardiff.

In 1889 the business was converted into a Limited Company under the title of Spiller and Co. (Cardiff) Ltd., and in the same year the name was changed again into Spillers and Bakers, as the firm joined forces with William Baker and Sons of Bristol.

In the 'nineties a separate business was formed under the name of Spillers Nephews for the manufacture of biscuits and cake

In 1896 the main firm spread its influence to Newcastle-upon-Tyne by purchasing the Phoenix Mills of Messrs. Davidson, which were immediately remodelled.

In 1900, as a wind-up of the old century, a grain office was opened in London, which is now the centre of the company's operations.

With the opening of the new century, the highly successful Turog Brown Flour Co was launched.

In quick succession biscuit factories were opened at Newcastle-on-Tyne and London, the Cardiff Channel Mills were formed, "Uveco" cereals acquired, and a cattle-food plant established in London.

The control of Nicholas Nagle and Co of Manchester followed

In 1913 the incorporation of Victoria Foods, and the linking of certain grain businesses under the title of Spillers Grain Co.

Finally, the head office of the entire group was moved to London in 1916 as a preliminary to the programme of planning that was in store as soon as the Great War, then raging, should draw to an end.

The first great step heralding the expansion of Spillers on modern lines, and dividing its history into two main eras, took place in 1919. In 1919 its title was changed from Spillers and Bakers, into Spillers Milling and Associated Industries, which embodied several associated companies, and the new post-war phase of the absorption of similar and allied industries commenced.

The first arrangement was entered into in 1920 with the well-known firm of W. Vernon and Sons, Birkenhead and London. This business was even older than that of Spillers and Bakers, being established over one hundred and fifty years previously. Equally progressive also with three large modern mills and a firm reputation in the household of its product Millennium Flour.

This was followed by an amalgamation with F. A. Frost and Sons, Chester. The founder of this firm, quite apart from his fame as a miller, had certainly contributed to the diversion of all English-speaking peoples as the original of the folk-song "The Miller of Dee."

They were followed by the acquisition of the important firm of John Jackson and Sons of Manchester and Bolton. Jacksons' is a household word in Manchester and throughout Lancashire, and "Ambrosia" Flour, which is the chief product of their mills, is the basis of much of the Lancashire man's food.

Two further amalgamations followed quickly — Rishworth, Ingleby and Lofthouse of Hull and Watson, Todd and Co of Birmingham.

In 1927 the name of the main firm was changed to its present designation of Spillers Limited. Amalgamations and absorptions of a minor character have continued.

Recently the goodwill and trade marks of the animal foods section of the Thames Milling Co were purchased.

More recently the business and goodwill of John White and Sons (Glasgow), and the Craighall Milling Co, also of Glasgow.

The latest acquisitions have been the share capital of Stoate and Sons of Bristol, and the important animal food business of Rowland Brothers and Co of Avonmouth.

The Process

Success can always be gauged by practical tests, and a glimpse taken even haphazardly at various phases in the history of the business confirms this.

If it is true that the milling industry has been revolutionized by modern machinery, which often requires changes in the layout of mills, and indeed sometimes demands the erection of new mills, it is equally true that Spillers have invariably been in the van of progress. The great mills which have recently been completed at Cardiff, and the equally mighty mills that are in course of erection at Avonmouth on the opposite side of the Bristol Channel, imply the closing down of several mills in those localities which have been useful in their time but were becoming out of date under the latest developments in milling; and in future these two mills will serve South Wales and the West of England. These model mills will contain a new type of plant that cannot be excelled in any other country in the world. Both are at vantage-points, with deep-water sites and every available facility for transport, including the provision of landing-places for aeroplanes.

In 1899 Vernons established for themselves world-wide fame and the undoubted supremacy of English flour by winning the Miller Challenge Cup at the International Bakers Exhibition for their Millennium Flour, against Hungarian flour previously always looked on as first in the world. This was the product of their famous Birkenhead mill, and in 1905 the erection and equipment of the magnificent new mill on the Thames for the manufacture of Millennium Flour in London brought this magnificent flour to the South of England.

It is characteristic of Spillers that all internal and mechanical improvements, the re-equipment and even the re-erection of mills have been financed from the internal resources and earnings of the company. Its capital has remained unchanged since 1926, in spite of the enormous capital expenditure involved at Cardiff, Avonmouth and other centres in maintaining the virility of the business.

A modern flour-mill is a maze of machinery, and not, at first impulse, easily associated with our basic food. Nevertheless, it is by means of this Titan that we obtain our modern flour. It requires but little human assistance, once it is endowed with power. Human hands do not touch Spillers' flour from the moment it enters the grain silo as wheat to the final stage of its being sewn up in sacks as pure white flour.

A grain ship arrives in the Thames and a giant elevator draws the wheat by suction from its holds at the rate of two hundred tons an hour, depositing it in the grain silo alongside the mill. This mill alone has an output for the production of nearly one hundred and twenty million two-pound loaves a year, and its silo has a capacity of forty million pounds of wheat.

From the silo the wheat is at the mercy of the hidden forces of the modern mill. It is dried, cleaned and scoured by cyclonic currents, and all foreign matter automatically removed. It is sieved by lengths in order to capture other intruding seeds. It is washed, dried and conditioned by steel radiators. It is then given a temporary respite by being allowed to cool with the aid of air currents. Finally, it is polished by brushes, and in this speckless and pure condition it is ready for grinding.

The polished grains are cracked between rollers of chilled steel, the shell being stripped off the kernel in the process. Bran and sharps are manufactured from the shell. But we will follow the fate of the white kernel. This travels onwards, and its outer casing is removed—the outer casing becoming the foundation of middlings, used for poultry food and cattle cake. But the cream of the kernel again moves onwards, and with a further rolling it becomes our modern white flour of uniform standard. Such is the general process of manufacture.

The selection, blending and conditioning of wheats, and the replacement of one wheat by another is no part of the present survey, although this is one of the most important and indispensable tasks in the preparation of modern flour, as the flavour of bread depends on this. The one grain of wheat of Babylonian tradition has become, through the experiments of successive generations of hybridists, the ancestor of all the two thousand varieties in existence to-day, and our millers are adepts in matching their varying characteristics to meet the tastes of consumers.

Chemists and other technicians are engaged continuously in their experiments on different types of wheat and their combination, whilst bakers within the Spillers' organization carry out tests in model bakeries on all finished flours after each milling. "Millennium" Flour, "Turog" Bread, Spillers "Extras" and "Ambrosia" Flours maintain their hold on the public through this unremitting attention to the details of manufacture.

Not only with the white kernel of the wheat for flour, but also with the husk and inner case, the firm carries on an enormous trade with by-products. The list of brands is long. Foremost among them are Spillers' "Shapes" for dogs, now a colloquial term in every household, the consumption of which has been trebled within the short space of two years. "Bonny Boy" oats, Spillers' "Balanced" rations, cubes and meals, poultry mashes, "Uveco" cereals for cattle, Spillers' "Victoria" foods for dogs, also for poultry — these are prominent in their national advertising campaigns.

The consumption of flour may be on the descending curve, but the demand for these animal foods is steeply on the ascendant. The scientific feeding of cattle and live stock by the preparation of balanced diets with a nicely adjusted food value, whether for fattening, dairying, or the maintenance of the general health of animals, is receiving close study by agriculturists in co-operation with the manufacturers of feeding meals. And wheat is becoming more and more the foundation of live stock and poultry foods.

Spillers' statistics from each of its many departments are therefore of great interest. The floor space of mills and factories reaches nearly a million and a quarter square feet; that of warehouses exceeds a million. The sacks used require the attention of the department of seamstresses; the plant and machinery demand trained engineers and a staff of mechanics in special workshops; transport entails full garage equipment and the services of qualified motor engineers, also with their staffs; the ships and barges a complete marine personnel; and the interests of public health, hygiene and scientific research, the services of chemists and other technical authorities.

The Board of Directors

The Chairman, The Rt. Hon. Sir Malcolm A. Robertson, P.C., G.C.M.G., K.B.E., is a man of great experience in public life, who has served his country in the Diplomatic Service in almost every country in the world and with great distinction. Of a compelling personality and verve, he is able to survey from his point of vantage the whole industry, and is able to see it in perspective from the national point of view.

Mr. E. A. V. Baker, the Deputy Chairman, on leaving Charterhouse, joined the Bristol business of the firm in 1891, and has therefore been identified with the milling industry for over forty years.

The remaining members of the board are Sir W. Norman Vernon, Bart., who was President of the National Association of British and Irish Millers, 1931-32-33.

Mr. Evan Phillips, who has a record of fifty-five years with Spillers.

Mr. Walter Allen, grand-nephew of Joel Spiller, from whom the company derives its title, also with a record of nearly fifty years.

Mr. A. Whittaker, who commenced as a boy with John Jackson and Sons.

Mr. Wilfred D. Vernon.

Mr. P. Lloyd Tanner, F.C.I.S., the Secretary of the Company, is a prominent member of his profession as a member of the Council of the Chartered Institute of Secretaries, and is able to claim an association lasting over thirty years with Spillers, over half of which in his present position.

See Also

Sources of Information