An ancient mill in the United Kingdom with roots dating back to the year 1016 is resuming full-time flour production to help with local demand during the pandemic. The Sturminster Newton Mill in southern England ceased industrial operations in the 1970s and transitioned into a museum for heritage tours. As part of the experience, miller Pete Loosmore would use the centuries-old machinery, restored by his father 26 years earlier, to create flour for his guests.

"We would have been milling, on the whole, about two days each month — that would have supplied us with enough flour to keep going throughout the whole of the season," Loosmore told the BBC. "And then suddenly we had lockdown — and our first impression was that we couldn't do anything with the mill because of social distancing."

The great British baking boom

Loosmore didn't have to wait long to figure out what to do next.

As the lockdown has dragged on, staples like flour have become increasingly difficult to find in shops. The problem has less to do with supply and more with how the British milling industry delivers it. Commercial flour, which makes up 96% of the market, generally comes in 35-55-pound bags. Supermarkets, meanwhile, stock much smaller, 3-pound bags. In an effort to produce more consumer-friendly bags, the industry has ramped up production dramatically to address the shortfall.

"UK millers have been working round the clock — genuinely milling flour 24-hours-day-seven-days-a-week to double the production of retail flour in an effort to meet demand," Alex Waugh, director general of the National Association of British and Irish Millers said in a statement. "The equivalent of 3.5 million to 4 million bags have been produced weekly by running packing lines at maximum capacity."

For Loosmore, a lack of flour in local shops around the mill's home of North Dorset was something he could definitely help address. With his milling partner Imogen Bittner, the pair decided to transition the site back to full-time operation.

Speaking with the BBC, Loosmore says they've already ground over a ton of grain over the last two-three weeks — more than they would have produced all last year.

"It's been nice to bring the place truly back to life and back into something like it used to be when it was working six days a week," said Loosmore, whose grandfather was the miller there for all his working life.

For an in-depth tour with Loosmore that shows how the Sturminster Newton Mill has operated over the last 1,000 years, check out the video above.

The Sturminster Newton Mill in North Dorset. The miller at Sturminster Newton Mill in North Dorset knew what he needed to do to help. (Photo: Marilyn Peddle [CC by 2.0]/Flickr)

Michael d'Estries ( @michaeldestries ) covers science, technology, art, and the beautiful, unusual corners of our incredible world.

1,000-year-old mill restarts full-time flour making
The Sturminster Newton Mill in the U.K. is grinding out flour full time to help boost supply during the pandemic.