The History of Heygates Flour Mill
With over ten mills on four different sites, over 900 employees, and making more than 80 grades of flour, you might think that Heygates is just another massive corporation, but this is far from the case. At its core, it is a family run business, with roots going back to the 16th century and later in the 1800s moved into the milling industry. Those morals, and values are still the driving force today.
Flour rising from the ashes
They say that from tragedy comes opportunity, and in 1942 that was the case for the Heygates. Their mill was destroyed by a fire and at the time must have felt like the end of everything for the family. A new mill was built in its place, with the capability of producing 18 sacks of flour every hour, which was a huge increase for the business. Two years later, another mill was acquired to cope with demand, and now they have ten mills on four different sites, making the company one of the UK’s largest independent millers.
The Heygates mills
Located by a canal, a windmill once turned on the site producing flour. This was later demolished, and a new mill built and in 1945 the Heygates took over the business. At the height of its production, the windmill milled half a ton in an hour, these days, and thanks to modern technology, more than 12,000 tonnes an hour are made. The mill specialises mostly in producing baking flour but it also produces wholemeal flour, and large-scale prepacked flour for consumers. The mill has 80 employees.
A steam driven mill was built at Downham Market in 1851, the mill then converted to a roller mill system (as opposed to the traditional grindstone). Heygates were initially involved as consultants for the owners, and eventually took over the business in the 1950s. The mill’s main strength is its batter and wafer flour, and wholemeal for supermarket chains but its speciality is soft wheat. The Downham Market mill has 50 employees, processes 90,000 tonnes of wheat.
This site dates back over 1,000 years, and Bugbrooke is featured in the Domesday Book. Taken over in the late 19th century by the Heygates family, the direct descendants of those millers still run the business today. This is the main site for the Company and produces the majority of the company’s flour from its three mills. The animal feed is also produced at this location. 200,000 tonnes of wheat are milled a year, which equates to 150,000 tonnes of flour.
Photo credit: Watermills of East Anglia by Pat O’Brian - St Edmundsbury Local History - Water Mills along the River Lark
The village of Icklingham in Suffolk is proud of its milling heritage, with four mills being noted in the Domesday Book. The later 18th century mill burned down, and was rebuilt in a slightly different location along the river. Unfortunately, by 1910, the mill was virtually derelict and in 1921 the mill was purchased by Carlos Marston and since then the mill had been referred to as Marston’s mill. As well as milling flour, the mill also produced animal feed and traded coal at the wharf on the River Lark. In 2017, Marston’s mill ran into financial difficulties, and Heygates purchased the mill, saving all 16 jobs at the mill.
There is also the company’s state of the art test bakery for the bread product development, and a laboratory with technicians who work closely with the company’s clients to formulate flour blends so that clients’ exacting needs are met.
Flour for all occasions
These days, Heygates produce more than 80 grades of flour for manufacturing plants, supermarket bakers, craft bakers and retailers like Ratton Pantry. For every bakery need and desire, they have the flour to suit. In recent years, baking at home has become incredibly popular. With TV shows such as the Great British Bake-off providing a source of inspiration, the love of producing your own breads, cakes and pastries has been restored to our households once more. The range of flours now available, means that home bakers are able to delve into the delights of creating bagels, French sticks, and of course, banana bread; gone are the days of fairy cakes (though these are still a good solid firm favourite). Ratton Pantry offer a wide selection of Heygates flours, including the best-selling Bakers Green strong white bread flour for all those budding Paul Hollywood’s out there, to Pizza Flour for those wanting to create Italian masterpieces for dinner!
Not only do Heygates provide high quality flour for baking, but they also continue to supply 110,000 tonnes of animal feed each year. The feed mill at Bugbrooke uses fresh wheat feed products, which reduces the need for bringing in raw materials from other providers, minimising the mill’s carbon footprint.
Heygate Farms Swaffham is a 6,000-acre farm set in the beautiful market town of Swaffham, in Norfolk, they grow award-winning produce, including their renown potatoes, Norfolk Peer and Norfolk Keeper. They have a number of delicious recipes on their website using their potatoes, including this one for Potato and Rosemary Soda Bread .
The Farm is LEAF marque accredited, which recognises a sustainable farming practice. Swaffham Farm has ensured that trees are replanted, hedges are maintained and that the environmental impact of farming is regulated, monitored, and offset. They are not new to this practice, having implemented this approach for the last 30 years.
Values are important
One thing to take from Heygates is that despite the modern world we live in, the commercial pressure that drives most businesses these days, Heygates stands true to its farming history by treating the land with respect, creating employment, and delivering the highest quality products. Heygates continues to uphold the core principles of a family run business, which even some four hundred years later, are still evident.
Ratton Pantry are honoured to be able to provide our customers with Heygates products. As a family run business, we too share the same values and back in days gone by, we would have been proud to serve our local community, with technology, we are able to reach customers anywhere in the UK.