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British Industrial History

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Albion Mills, Blackfriars

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Albion Mills on the Surrey side of Blackfriars Bridge, in Southwark

1783-86 Albion Mills were built by Matthew Boulton; John Rennie designed and installed the flour-grinding and dressing machinery.

Designed by John Rennie (the elder) and Samuel Wyatt and powered by Boulton and Watt engines grinding 10 bushels of wheat per hour in 20 pairs of 150 horsepower millstones, the Mills were the ‘Industrial wonder’ of the time, producing 6,000 bushels of flour a week. They quickly becoming a fashionable sight of the London scene… Erasmus Darwin called them 'the most powerful machines in the world.'

It was the biggest and most important mill of the period. The first trials of the machinery were made and initially there were problems with the sun-and-planet gear, which had been made by John Wilkinson, and some other parts of the working gear had a number of defects. Boulton, who spent a time in London, spent a lot of time on matters relating to Albion Mill. There were also problems with the piston rod of the engine.

By April 1786 repairs had been made.

1789 A second engine was laid down

1790 The output of the mill was very considerable for the period and the sales of flour in a week in June 1790 amounted to £6,800.

1791 March 2nd. Albion Mills burned down and the cause was never officially discovered, but it was widely believed to be arson by local millers or mill workers, feeling their livelihood was under threat. It was reported that 'the main cock of the water cistern was fastened, the hour of low tide was chosen' when the fire started. Rennie and Wyatt, the managers of the Mill, thought that the fire was caused by accident due to a lack of grease on the large corn machine in front of the kiln

Albion Mills remained a derelict burned out shell until 1809, when it was pulled down.

1810 Rennie built a larger factory at Holland Street, Southwark, on part of the old Albion Mills site, to meet the demand for his machines.[1]



* Albion Mills [2]

Mr. Rennie's adoption of wrought and cast-iron wheels was of much greater importance, and was adopted in all large machinery. The whole of the the wheels and shafts of the Albion Mills were of iron, with the exception occasionally of the cogs, which were of hard wood, working into other cogs of cast iron; but where the pinions were very small, they were made of wrought iron. The teeth, both wooden and iron, were accurately formed by chipping and filing to the form of epicycloids. The shafts and axles were of iron and the bearings of brass, all accurately fitted and adjusted, so that the power employed worked to the greatest advantage and at the least possible loss by friction. The machinery of the Albion Mills, as a whole, was regarded as the finest that had been executed up to that date, and formed the model for future engineers to work by.


* The Panorama

1790 Robert Barker, inventor of the Panorama (a radical approach to displaying landscape painting), after demonstrating his idea in Edinburgh, began a second and larger 360 degree painting, this time of London. He sent his son, Henry Aston Barker, to draw the view from the roof of the Albion mills on the south side of Blackfriars Bridge. From June 1792 the resulting image was exhibited in London.

1793 The first purpose-built building for the display of 360 degree panoramas was opened in Leicester Square. [3]


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. Biography of John Rennie, ODNB
  2. Life of John Rennie by Smiles
  3. Biography of Robert Barker, ODNB