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City Flour Mills/Priday's Mill

The main building of the City Flour Mills was erected in 1850 for the brothers
Joseph and Jonah Hadley. Soon after they started, the brothers were involved in a famous legal case, Hadley v Baxendale, which is well known to law students on both sides of the Atlantic as it set a precedent that has become the starting point for all discussions about how damages for breach of contract should be assessed. The mill was later run by Reynolds & Allen and then by Priday Metford & Co, but after being sold to one of the national milling companies, it was closed down in 1994. Now all the machinery has been stripped out and the buildings have been refurbished to provide luxury apartments with space for a restaurant on the ground floor.

The City Flour Mills in the 1920s when operated by Priday Metford & Co. The original mill is on the right and the large central building was a warehouse The water tank on the roof supplied a sprinkler system in case of fire.

Priday's Mill in 2004 converted to apartments, with a newly built block to the left behind the rebuilt replica of the original stone-fronted office building.

The Hadley Brothers
The City Flour Mills were built in 1850 for the brothers Joseph and Jonah Hadley. Before this time, most of the wheat imported through Gloucester was sent on by barges and canal boats for milling at existing water-power sites in the Midlands or along the Stroud valley. The Hadley brothers thought it made good sense to have a mill at the port of entry - an early example of what later became general practice. The plant initially consisted of a few pairs of millstones and some flour dressing machines driven by a steam engine. The venture was so successful that the brothers soon built the adjoining warehouse, and they installed two new steam engines and other machinery to double the output of the mill. Top

Hadley v Baxendale
Unfortunately, however, the crank shaft of one of the steam engines fractured and needed to be sent back to the manufacturers at Greenwich to serve as a pattern for a new one. It was delayed on its journey, and the consequences led to a court case that is still studied today. The Hadley brothers sued Joseph Baxendale, senior partner of the carriers Pickford & Co, for their loss of profits during the five extra days their mill was idle. At the initial hearing at Gloucester Assizes, the judge accepted that the defendants were answerable for the natural consequences of their breach of contract, and the jury awarded damages of 50.

Pickford's considered that this was unreasonable and asked the Court of Exchequer to order a new trial. After hearing legal arguments, in February 1854, the judge granted the request and set down the principles which any jury should consider when estimating damages (report right). He said that where a party had entered into and broken a contract, the other party should only receive damages for consequences that might reasonably have been contemplated by both parties at the time that the contract was made. As the Hadley brothers had not made it clear that the profits from their mill were at stake, he considered that it was not reasonable for Pickford's to be expected to make good those profits.

No record has been found of any subsequent retrial before a jury, and it is assumed that the two parties settled out of court. What is certain is that the judge's ruling established the forseeability test for consequential damages that has been followed in virtually every Anglo-American jurisdiction. Hadley v Baxendale is studied in nearly all courses on contract law, it is discussed in academic papers by legal scholars and it is referred to in over 30,000 sites on the internet. However, very few lawyers know anything of its geographical setting, and so to mark the 150th anniversary of the ruling, a conference was held in Gloucester in June 2004 to discuss the international influence of the English common law in general and the current relevance of this case in particular. Top

Reynolds & Allen
By 1860, the Hadleys had transferred their activities to London, and operations at Gloucester were taken over by Joseph Reynolds and Henry Allen, who also had mills in the Stroud area. Their continuing success set a fine example, and six other flour mills were established in Gloucester between 1863 and 1871. All this contributed to a very busy period in the history of the docks, with many vessels bringing in increasing amounts of wheat from all parts of the world.

Reynolds and Allen passed over management of the mill in 1875 to a new partnership formed by their sons, Vincent Reynolds and John Allen, together with Francis Tring Pearce who had married John Allen's sister. They were soon faced with the need for major new investment to meet the threat of growing competition from cheaper foreign flour. A totally new method of milling using rollers instead of the traditional stones had been developed in Hungary, and the partners were obliged to purchase the new equipment or risk getting left behind. Unfortunately, this investment was followed by a period of general economic difficulty, and the partners were forced to pass over the business to new management. Top

Priday Metford & Co
Priday Metford & Co was formed in 1886 by Charles Priday, who had two other mills in the area, F K S Metford from Bristol and F T Pearce from the former partnership. These three quickly got the business back into profitability, and it was members of these three families that continued to run the mill for the next hundred years. The new management did have an early setback when, on 4 Jan 1888, a serious fire badly damaged their warehouse which also contained the wheat cleaning machinery and the two steam engines which powered the mill. The fire burned for two hours and the floors of the warehouse collapsed, but the efforts of the local fire brigades managed to prevent much damage to the mill itself. At the height of the fire, the flagstaff on top of the warehouse fell sideways and plunged through the roof of the neighbouring office. Although production was disrupted for a period, the warehouse was well insured and during the rebuilding, the opportunity was taken to incorporate silos for storing the wheat in bulk rather than keep it in sacks piled up on the warehouse floors. An automatic sprinkler system was also installed, and a huge roof-top water tank for feeding this was a prominent feature on the docks skyline for many years.

By the early years of the 20th century, most of the wheat used by the mill arrived at Gloucester in barges that loaded from sea-going ships at Sharpness or Avonmouth and delivered to the north end of the Victoria Dock. The wheat was generally loose in the barge, and then it had to be shoveled laboriously into sacks so it could be carried the few yards from the quayside to the mill on a horse-drawn wagon. In the 1920s, this procedure was swept away by the installation of a suction plant and overhead conveyor that could transfer the wheat in bulk direct to the mill silos.

From c1920, Priday Metford made use of the North Warehouse for packing and storing flour, and they also had a small mill there to produce their well-known Hercules brand of wheat meal flour. In 1962, they had to move out as there was a proposal to demolish the building, and flour packing was transferred to the Victoria Warehouse with the flour being conveyed there by a pneumatic pipeline. Other modernisation at this time included the construction of a huge concrete wheat silo in 1964. 

During the 1970s, Liverpool became the dominant west-coast port for wheat imports, and the delivery of wheat to the mill gradually changed over from the use of barges to lorries coming down the motorway. In later years, a greater proportion of English wheat was used, and deliveries came direct from local farms.

Investment during the 1980s kept the mill machinery up-to-date, and the firm supplied bakeries over a large area of the West Midlands, but further changes were needed as a consequence of the general redevelopment of the docks. In particular, the bagging plant had to be moved about half-a-mile away to release the Victoria Warehouse for conversion to offices. By this time, there was no member of the Priday, Metford or Pearce families involved with the day-to-day management of the business, and they accepted a management buy-out. Then in August 1993, the new company was taken over by the Spillers Milling subsidiary of Dalgety plc, and they ordered the closure of the mill in March 1994 because of surplus capacity. This regrettably broke the last link with the corn trade that was once so important in the docks and brought a sad end to the history of one of Gloucester's oldest companies.

Sources: TNA RAIL 829 & 864 minute books; Glos Arch JV 13.1 & NV 15.3; GJ 13 Aug 1853; GJ 25 Feb 1854; GC 7 Jan 1888; Memories of employees.

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