H.S. Pledge & Sons Ltd
Victoria Mills, Ashford, August 1982
|Founder||Henry Sturgess Pledge|
|Headquarters||Ashford, Kent, United Kingdom|
|Products||Flour, animal feed|
The firm was started in 1890 by Henry Sturgess Pledge. He was apprenticed at the Black Mill, Barham c.1850. Upon leaving Barham some time before 1882, Pledge ran the Wind, Steam and Water Mills at Kennington until 1892. Pledge ran the company with his sons Lawrence John Pledge and Walter Ebeneser Pledge. H S Pledge & Sons Ltd were millers and corn merchants owning two mills in Ashford; Victoria Mills and East Hill Mill.
- East Hill Mill – grid reference
On the mill it states the date when it was built "Flour Mill 1901". In the 1901 census of West Ashford the Miller was Pledge's son Lawrence, he lived at the mill with his wife Ellen and six children.
- Victoria Mills –
The Victoria Mills was a steam mill. It was built in 1890. The date was prominently displayed on the mill building. In the 1901 Census of West Ashford the Miller was Pledge's son Walter, he lived at the Mill with his wife Emma. Victoria Mills were working until September 1984, when the building was gutted by fire. The mill was then demolished due to it being left in an unsafe condition. The company had been taken over by the Garnham Family. In 1995 the company was dissolved.
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H.S.Pledge & Sons - Flour Millers & Merchants (Collated by Piers Garnham)
Henry Pledge built Victoria Mills on the London side of Ashford station in 1890. It was a roller mill with a 4 sack plant. He then expanded the business by building East Hill mill, on the other side of Ashford, in 1901.
After Lawrence Pledge died in 1909 the business was bought by the Garnham family with Alfred Garnham, Lawrence Garnham and Thomas Pledge running the business. In 1912 Leslie Garnham (Alfred’s son) took over the management with his cousin Stanley running the milling side. By 1917 the mill had been remodelled twice and was now up to 10 sacks.
Victoria Mill was powered by steam at first, but a generator was used to produce electricity from 1926. In 1927 Pledges won the Miller’s Challenge cup at the "Bakers and Confectioners Exhibition" in London, Mr Buckle milling the winning grist. They often won awards for their flours.
Pledges owned a very successful Seed and Corn Merchants business in Ashford High street called Worger & Co.Ltd which had been in existence since 1830.
The business was quite large, employing about 70 people, including 6 travellers and running a fleet of lorries in their familiar livery of primrose and red. As well as being flour millers, the firm had an extensive agricultural business with many thousands of tons of feeding stuffs being delivered to farms in Kent and Sussex and their lorries were a common sight around the countryside.
At one time wheats from all over the world were used in the bread flour grists; Russian wheat from the Steppes, wheat from Manitoba in Canada, and the Rosario and Plate from South America. My grandfather, Mr Leslie, would go to the Corn Exchange in Mark Lane, London on a Friday to buy wheats ex ship from the grain factors. Other buyers would follow him around to see what he chose! He was an expert buyer and this was one reason that Pledge’s flours were of such a good quality.
Using high quality wheats from around the world in the bread flour grists became economically impossible once the UK joined the Common Market and they were replaced by gluten and lower quality French wheats although Pledges did still import some Canadian wheats.
At one time the wheat came into London Docks and then was transferred to 100 ton sailing barges which would then take it to Whitstable. Then it was transferred to special wagons and sent by rail to the mill siding. The siding was taken away and then the wheat was brought in by road.
Two of the most well known patent brands of flour were "Emazone", a self-raising flour, probably named after an Emma Pledge, and "Manna", a 100% wholemeal bread flour ground on the millstones at East Hill mill.
Mr Stanley retired in the late fifties and Mr Robert (my father) then became the managing director after having been the mill manager. The agricultural trade became very competitive and was slowly wound down and the firm then concentrated on the flour trade with customers all over southern England and London. Special flours were developed for Chinese and Indian customers in London.
East Hill Mill was sold in 1972 and eventually became a nightclub.
During the night of 7 September 1984 a fire set by a determined arsonist, who had tried twice previously, engulfed Victoria Mills and caused £2 million worth of damage with only the shell of the building remaining. This was the biggest fire in Ashford since the Second World War. It took over 5 hours to bring under control with 60 firemen having been called out from Ashford, Wye, Charing, Maidstone, Folkestone, Chilham and Hythe. I will never forget standing in the mill yard with my father, in the early hours, watching the mill burn down. It was a very sad night. This time the arsonist had succeeded by turning off the sprinkler system. Fortunately no one was hurt. The building had to be demolished as it was unsafe being so close to the main London - Dover railway.
Mr Robert and the other directors met and decided to rebuild the mill. Quotes were obtained from Thomas Robinson of Rochdale and Golfetto from Italy, both highly respected milling engineers. The plan was to build the most modern and efficient mill in the UK, milling single variety wheats and blending the flours to obtain the end product, rather than mixing the wheats.
Meanwhile, G.R.Wright & Sons Ltd of Enfield milled the flour for Pledges so they could keep supplying their customers and keep all their employees in work while the site was cleared.
However, in the end, there wasn’t the time to rebuild the mill and install the machinery before the "loss of profits" insurance ran out. There was not the capital to fund the gap, and H.S.Pledge and Sons ltd finally came to an end.
- Henry Sturgess Pledge 1838-1903
- Coles Finch 1933, p. 157.
- Kelly 1882, p. 301.
- Coles Finch 1933, p. 228.
- Kelly 1903, p. 41.
- Kelly 1913, p. 43.
- "Liquid & Envy Ashford". Luminar Leisure. Retrieved 6 November 2010.
- 1901 Census of West Ashford, RG13/782, Folio 69, Page 8, Lawrence J Pledge, Flour Mills, East Hill, Ashford, Kent.
- See photograph.
- 1901 Census of West Ashford, RG13/783, Folio 36, Page 1, Walter E Pledge, Victoria Road, Ashford, Kent.
- "H. S. Pledge and Sons Ltd - dissolved 29/8/1995". Companies House. Retrieved 16 February 2015.
- Coles Finch, William (1933). Watermills & Windmills. London: C W Daniel & Co,.
- Kelly, E R (1882). Directory of Kent. London: Kelly & Co,.
- Kelly, E R (1903). Directory of Kent. London: Kelly & Co,.
- Kelly, E R (1913). Directory of Kent. London: Kelly & Co,.