The Old Steam Mill

During the 1790s a five storey steam-powered corn mill was built on the site of the existing mill building. The original mill is not listed in the Wolverhampton rate books from 1792, but is listed in 1802, as a ‘committee’ occupying the ‘Old Steam Mill’.

In the 1818 ‘Staffordshire General and Commercial Directory’ the occupier is listed as Joseph Norton, but by the 1830s the entry had changed to Joseph and James Norton, James being Joseph’s younger brother.

The site also included the Norton family’s house, a yard, and two large gardens. In the 1820s, on the opposite side of Corn Hill, on the site now occupied by the sack warehouse, was Danks & Company's Wharf. In the early 1840s it was used by coal merchant Richard Evans.

Based on the 1842 Tithe map, with the canal diversion added.

In 1851 the mill had two steam engines, one of which was installed in 1845. So during the early years the mill must have been powered by a single engine.

The building on the southern side of Corn Hill, opposite the mill was the sack warehouse. It’s the oldest surviving building on the site, and was used as a warehouse for sacks of unprocessed and processed grain. The building is not shown on the 1842 Tithe map, but is marked on a map from 1852.

In 1849 to 1850 when the railway was being built from Birmingham to Wolverhampton, the canal was diverted, and the railway acquired the land containing the Norton family's two large gardens, on the northern side of the site. The line of the original canal that ran along the eastern side of the site was filled-in, except for the first 100 yards or so which remained as a basin serving the mill.

A plan of the mill from 1875.

Things went very wrong in the early hours of Thursday 22nd May, 1851 when a severe fire destroyed the original mill building. The building was completely destroyed except for the outer walls, which had to be shored up to prevent collapse. The two steam engines and boilers were only slightly damaged, so presumably they were in a separate building. The house, several store rooms, and the sack warehouse, were saved.

It appears that the fire which started on the 4th floor was first spotted by a boatman who ran up the road to the night watchman shouting “Fire”. The watchman saw the flames coming from near the brusher, ran to get some water, but then found that he could not get near the source of the fire because of flames and smoke. It is believed that the fire had been caused by friction in the machinery.

Four fire engines were called from Wolverhampton, but there was little that they could do. They were assisted by local police, and a detachment of the 50th Foot. The situation was made worse because the mill was fitted with gas lighting, and when the gas pipes melted due to heat from the fire, the gas fed the flames. Around two hours after the start of the fire, the road was dug up and the gas main severed, but the fire was not fully extinguished until Friday afternoon.

At the time the mill contained 12,000 bags of grain, most of which were ruined, and carried away in canal boats for disposal. The loss was estimated at between £10,000 and £20,000, only £8,000 of which was covered by insurance. The remaining sum had to be found by the Norton family.

The mill in the 1950s.

After the disastrous fire, a new fireproof mill was designed and constructed by Fairbairn and Sons of Manchester using the latest techniques. It had 18 pairs of mill stones, driven by two steam engines.

From the 1860s the mill is listed as being run by J. N. Miller – Joseph Norton Miller. This is because of a marriage between the Norton and Miller families. The firm also had premises at Trescott. The firm became a private limited company in 1907 trading under the name J. N. Miller Limited.

The original millstones were replaced by roller mills in 1884, and in 1925 the steam engines were replaced by electric motors made by the Electric Construction Company. The electrification of the mill was carried out by Christie Brothers of Chelmsford.

In 1910 two rows of silos were built at the eastern end of the mill. They were designed by Henry Lovatt and reached up to the third floor of the mill. The mill used a wide range of British and foreign grain, dealing with hundreds of tons of wheat a week. Products included white flour, national flour, self-raising flour, biscuit flour, wholemeal flour, bran, and animal and poultry feed.

The mill's products were delivered to most of the country. Grain arrived by bulk grain vehicles, and mainly came via the Liverpool Docks or the Manchester Ship Canal. A high proportion of the wheat came from Canada, the United States, Argentina, Australia, Russia, and the Danube Basin. The remainder came from British farms, together with barley, oats, rye, and other course seed grains for animal feed.

An advert from 1970.

In 1959 Millers ceased to mill flour, concentrating solely on animal feedstuffs.

The company then advertised the inclusion of a department for the growing and cleaning of cereal seeds, and the ability to collect and deliver all kinds of feeding stuffs and seeds from farms in bulk.

The mill closed in 1990 and has remained empty ever since.

In 2004 plans were made to convert the mill buildings into 49 apartments, but since that date nothing has happened.


Sadly the buildings have been the victim of two arson attacks that have put their future in some doubt. In March 2007 the sack warehouse was badly damaged by fire, which gutted the inside, and took much of the roof. Since that time the windows and doors have been boarded-up, and a gaping hole has been left in the roof.

The sack warehouse after the fire.

A second and more serious fire, that has put the future of both buildings in jeopardy, happened in August 2008 when much of the old mill was destroyed.

The Grade 2 listed building was badly damaged, much of the roof has gone, and the interior at the eastern end has been reduced to a mass of twisted metal.

Sadly the building was demolished in 2015.


Read a more detailed history of the company.

The mill in October 2009.

Looking down on Corn Hill and the mill buildings in January, 2010.

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