A 1,000-year-old water mill in southwest England, which previously witnessed global pandemics such as the plague in the 17th century and the 1918 influenza pandemic, has resumed production to meet demand for flour during the current coronavirus outbreak.
The Sturminster Newton Mill was last fully operational in 1970, before becoming a museum and normally producing flour just two days a month during the summer.
It has now produced more than 2,200 pounds of flour in the last few weeks, the same amount as it would usually produce in an entire year.
Pete Loosmoore, the supervisor of the historic mill, told CNN: “We were set to open for the season when the coronavirus hit. Our first reaction was we have to close down and pack up.”
“But we realized that many local shops had no flour in them and people were desperate for it.”
With the mill closed to visitors, “we had a couple of tonnes of good quality milling wheat that we could use,” added Loosmore.
It takes the mill a day to produce 66 pounds (30 kilograms) of bread flour, and so far the team of volunteer millers have delivered more than two hundred 3.3-pound (1.5kg) bags of flour to local shops and bakeries.
Loosmore hopes “it will boost local shops” and said that “on the whole, everybody seems to be very happy with it.”
There is evidence of a mill being on the site since 1016 – predating the Norman invasion – and it was mentioned in the Domesday Book, a vast survey of life in Norman England ordered by William the Conqueror and published in 1086.
The current mill was built in 1556, a few years before Queen Elizabeth I took to the throne and more than 200 years before the United States Declaration of Independence. It was upgraded in 1904.
UK shoppers have been experiencing shortages of flour on supermarket shelves. As lockdown measures to prevent the spread of Covid-19 continue, people staying at home have been baking more and “both regular bulk buyers and consumers have been purchasing much more than normal,” the National Association of British & Irish Millers (NABIM) said.
On average the UK’s 27.4 million households buy one bag of flour roughly every three months, according to the NABIM’s latest figures.
While the UK is self-sufficient in flour, producing about 100,000 tons (90,000 tonnes) a week, the “production is limited by the capacity to pack small bags,” according to NABIM.
The industry is now running at full capacity, packing 3.5 to 4 million bags of flour a week to meet demand.