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Brief History of Audlem (Kingbur) Mill

Kingbur Mill was commissioned in 1915 by H Kingsley Burton, who ran Audlem Old Mill from 1909 until closure in 1916, when this new mill started operations.  It was on land rented on a 99-year lease from the Shropshire Union Railways & Canal Company (by then itself part of the LNWR railway), and was built as, and was always operated as, an animal feed mill.

Opened in 1915, Audlem Mill was larger and more efficient than the other local mills, and had the distinct advantage of being canalside, making it easier to receive raw materials and despatch finished products.  There was a covered gantry from the centre of the middle floor to the canal (which straddled the roadway in between), so that goods could be hoisted out of narrow boats, or be loaded straight into them.  This can be seen in some photographs, and the remains can still be seen at the bottom of the steps leading from the road to the towpath outside the mill – cut off iron girders in the concrete.

Within only 10 to 20 years, the canal trade fell away, and by the early 1930s, most incoming and outgoing goods were transported by motor lorry.

Audlem Mill is still known to many people as Kingbur Mill (after H Kingsley Burton), though the company stationery generally referred to it as Audlem Mill.  The Mill produced a wide range of animal feeds, by mixing a variety of ingredients.

These were received into the Mill in sacks, with most lifted by sack hoists (part of which still exist) to the roof area, where they were emptied into hoppers.  There are four large wooden hoppers still to be seen on the first floor, each about a metre square.  The grain and other ingredients fell by gravity to the ground floor, where they were milled or mixed as needed, and then bagged as finished products.

How was the Mill powered?

Many visitors assume that because the Mill is alongside the canal, it was water powered.  The flow of water in canals is not adequate, and canalside mills were all powered in some other way.  Audlem Mill had an oil-fired Crossley engine housed in the single storey building at the rear (now used by British Waterways for canal maintenance) which drove all the machinery via a series of belts and pulleys.  The belts entered through the rear wall, and power was distributed throughout the building.  The pulleys and other drive gear still exist in the roof space, and there are other remains throughout the building.  Crossley later became involved in providing omnibus services around Cheshire and North Wales.

The Millers

H Kingsley Burton (d. 1947) and his family lived at Laurel Grove farm in Salford, a settlement at the other end of Audlem.  He was buried in Audlem cemetery, close to the canal that had featured so much in his life.  He was succeeded as Miller by his son, John Burton, who lived at Copthorne House, close to Audlem railway station, which was closed in 1967.

Though John had done well at school, and had obtained a place at Cambridge University, he was persuaded instead to enter the family business.

John Burton and his wife had two daughters.  They remember playing in and around the Mill as children.  A pig was kept in a brick shed where the car parking area now is, and it was fed with animal feed from the Mill.  Broken biscuits from Huntley & Palmer went into the feed, though the girls remember eating some of the pink wafers!

John Burton ran the business until the early or mid 1960s, when he sold it to Pauls of Newcastle upon Tyne (now part of BOCM Pauls).  They kept him on to run the Mill.  Within a few years, Paul’s sold the business, and it was taken on by Raymond Walker and son Stephen.  By this time, competition from large animal feed firms was evident, and Audlem Mill, the last of several old mills in the Audlem area, finally closed in the late 1960s.

A new life

Audlem Mill was taken on by John and Philippa Stothert, who in 1974 started work on the three storey building.  The ground floor became a canal shop, the first floor became a workshop and art gallery, and the top floor was a flat to live in.

The bathroom was formed in the old corn hoppers!

John Stothert had been involved in canals from the mid-1940s.  He went up the Llangollen Canal in about 1949, a major effort in those days, and later founded Shropshire Union Cruises at Norbury Junction, one of the earliest boat hire companies, himself building many of their boats.  John did many things in the Audlem Mill workshop – including building furniture and a microlight aircraft.

John and Philippa created what was to be one of the earliest canal shops in the country – and it has become one of the best known.  On John’s retirement, Peter and Chris Silvester took over in 2007, after they had completed another major renovation of the building.  They have been careful to ensure that the original building and fixtures have been retained.