A Brief History of Sidbury Water Mill
The first record of the mill at Sidbury was in 1281, when there were two mills on site, one for grinding corn and the other for fulling wool. By 1368 there were two Mills for corn, owned by John Welby, and in 1394 it was John Taillor who ran the Mill. In 1795 the Mill was set fire by the mob from Sidbury town as part of the bread riots during the Napoleonic War and as a result it was agreed not to send any flour out of the parish but save the flour for exclusive use of the locals. In 1834 thy Dean and Chapter sold the Mill to William Randall. At that time the Mill had two overshot wheels driving three pairs of stones. In the mid 1800’s the Mill was burnt down again, but soon to be repaired. Colonel Balfour, the lord of the manor in Sidmouth bought the Mill to help secure the water supply to his estates. George Cole was the tenant miller. In 1925 his son, George Ash Cole, inherited the Mill from his father and went on to buy the freehold in 1933, and the family remained owners until 1971. It had reverted to grinding food for small animals and birds. In 1930 a turbine was installed to power a dynamo that supplied parts of the village with electricity. In 1972 the mill was sold and stood derelict for almost 30 years.
In 1995 John and Judith Stephens bought the mill and with loving care restored the mill to be a fully working flour mill. in December 2020 with John and Judith returning to their Hampshire farm the new owners, Philip Parsons and Helen Munday, bought the mill.
Philip and Helen are now running the mill and, with a successful inspection from the local Environmental Health Office in April 2023, are pleased to place their flour on the market for purchase.
Whilst the mill is not currently open to the public, we hope to open on limited days in the future and the main equipment and wheel will be open for viewing when the gardens open to the public as part of the National Garden Scheme from the summer of 2024.
About Sidbury Mill flour
The production of flour is a relatively simple process. One of the unique elements of Sidbury Mill flour is it’s complete ‘field to shelf’ supply chain and manufacture. We believe that our flour is the only one that is entirely ‘East Devon’ in its provenance. Whilst there are a number of water mills in the area making excellent flour, Sidbury Mill flour is made entirely from wheat grown by ourselves on our farm and has not been sourced from elsewhere in the southwest which is usual practice at other mills. Just across the River Sid is our field that grows the wheat used to make the flour. A modern hard/bread variety of wheat is grown and stored for later sieving and transfer to the mill. Whilst not an Organic production system, production is low input of fertilisers etc. and a ‘no-till’ technique is used to maintain the soil in good condition. A simple crop rotation system is also used to ensure the health of the wheat.
What is the difference between Hard and Soft Wheat?
Wheat is classified into hard and soft wheat. For milling into bread flour, hard wheat is required, with the highest protein content possible (target 12 to 14% protein) to enable a strong rising of the bread during baking. With the use of a suitable hard wheat variety and good soil and crop management, the protein content of the wheat is ideal for production of high-quality flour for bread making. Soft wheats are suitable for making cakes, biscuits etc. but do not have sufficient protein needed to get the rise that is needed for bread. That said, hard wheat can be used as an all-round flour as the high protein content will not detract when being used in these other types of foods.
As a registered food business, the scope of Sidbury Mill is:
- The growing and harvesting of hard milling wheat on the neighbouring land
- The storage of dried wheat
- Sieving and cleaning of the wheat before milling
- Stone grinding of wheat to product wholemeal bread flour
- Sieving, Packing and distribution of the flour for local retailers
The Milling of Sidbury Flour
The process by which wheat is ground into flour is called milling.
Sidbury Mill uses water power to drive the wheel which in turn rotates the vertically set mill stones. In a simple process grain is elevated in bags to the second floor of the mill, where it is emptied in to a hopper and slowly fed onto the rotating stones housed on the first floor, once the wheel sends power to the mill. The process of milling is relatively straight forward. The main quality factor is the grind size of the flour, which is adjusted using a manual screw press which compresses the mill stones. During start up, the mill stones are separated until wheat grains are fed into the stones, then pressure is applied until the flour is fine to the touch, with no grit or bran flakes larger than 0.5 mm are seen in the flour. Once milled the flour descends to the ground floor for final sieving and packing into bags. All milling steps are done by hand and there is no automation.
The water to drive the wheel leaves the River Sid through a gate in the middle of the village, which is opened prior to milling and flows along the leat behind the mill, before being returned to the Sid a little downstream from where it left. No electricity is used to run the mill and all precious natural resources are returned to the environment after milling. The mill retains an Environment Agency Abstraction License to divert water from the River Sid along the leat and to return it downstream from the mill. The wheel itself is fed by the water from leat above the paddles (overshot) and the water drops down to return to the river.
Ground wheat which contains all of its constituent parts is called wholemeal flour and is considered to be a dietary whole grain ingredient. The only product sold by the Mill is wholemeal Flour. This contains all the parts of the wheat and because of the high protein content (over 12%) is suitable for making wholesome bread. As all of the wheat grain is in the flour it is also high in fibre from the bran and contains all the nutrients you would expect from a simply ground grain. The flour can also be used in any recipe that calls for wholemeal flour e.g. biscuits, cakes, desserts etc. The high protein content does not preclude the flour from being a great all-rounder.
Where can I buy Sidbury Mill flour
The flour can currently be purchased from the following outlets:
Drew’s of Sidbury, 27 Fore Street, Sidbury, EX10 0SD
Kings Garden and Leisure, Stowford, Sidmouth, EX10 0NA
Kings Garden and Leisure, Higher Hulham Road, Exmouth, EX8 5DZ
What can I make with Sidbury Mill flour
Sidbury Mill flour is at its best when it is used for bread making, but it is a great all-purpose wholemeal flour, so whenever your recipe calls for wholemeal flour, do go ahead and use it!
If you are new to bread making then check out your favourite recipe books for some lovely recipes. Our flour has a nice fine texture and plenty of protein so you may be surprised that you can use it on its own and you will get nice open textured and well risen bread. But if you prefer to mix it with some white bread flour, you will get a slightly lighter loaf.
If you have a bread machine then the following 100% wholemeal recipe will work well on the wholemeal setting for a large loaf:
Yeast 1 tsp
Sidbury Mill Flour 500g
Sugar 1.5 tsp
Salt 1.25 tsp
If you prefer to mix in some white bread flour reduce the wholemeal to 350g and add 150g white bread flour.
For sourdough aficionados, you will be pleased to hear that Sidbury Mill flour is great for sourdough too!