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Spillers' Avonmouth Mill
Victoria Road, Avonmouth, near Bristol, Somerset, UK
Spillers' Avonmouth Mill
associated engineer
Oscar Faber
date  1934 - 1935
era  Modern  |  category  Building  |  reference  ST511781
photo  courtesy ICE, published 1944
Avonmouth Mill is one of a trio of Modernist milling complexes designed by Oscar Faber for Spillers Ltd — the others were grain silos in Cardiff and mill buildings in Newcastle upon Tyne. The grain silos of this one still stand but are now derelict.
Grinding and milling grains produces both heat and fine dust — an instant fire hazard. Reinforced concrete, with its inbuilt fire resistance, became a common choice for constructing mills and other industrial buildings. It was also relatively cheap and easy to use.
Avonmouth Mill comprised grain silos, a mill and a warehouse and was built to produce feed for cattle, sheep, pigs and poultry. It also milled flour and manufactured dry pet food. It was built on the north east side of the inner dock, with plenty of moorings for ships unloading raw materials and loading finished products.
The dock wall at Avonmouth, adjacent to the mill complex, was built in 1877 and is founded on a hard layer of rock some 13.7-15.2m below ground, but the material both above and below this layer is very soft. Faber reasoned that if he transferred the weight of his buildings to this hard layer via piled foundations, it could cause the dock wall to collapse as the quicksand below the rock was squeezed into the dock under the additional weight. Therefore the piles had to continue through the hard layer and down into the bedrock 21.3m below ground.
The driven reinforced concrete piles were made from a mixture richer in cement than would normally have been used to ensure they were strong enough to pierce through the hard layer without disintegrating.
The reinforced concrete grain silo building had 64 bins arranged in four rows of 16 bins, 4.1m square and 30.5m high. Bin walls were 165mm thick on external faces and 150mm thick for internal walls. Hopper mouths were made from riveted steel plates. A floor above the bins carried the grain on conveyor belts to the mill. As with the earlier similar silos in Cardiff (1931-33), the building was constructed by slipforming the shuttering.
The seven storey mill building was steel framed — 68.6m long, 23.8m wide and 31.7m high. The steelwork weighed 1,525 tonnes and was fabricated and erected on site in less than 9 weeks. The warehouse had reinforced concrete beams and columns. Both of these buildings had Columbian pine floors, 100mm thick in the warehouse and 75mm thick in the mill, in each case overlaid with 25mm of maple planks.
Winter construction necessitated a warming plant to heat the concrete constituents before and after mixing, to control the setting time — which governs how soon the shuttering can be struck. The concrete was usually kept at 15.6 deg C, though warmer for the foundation piles.
The mills designed by Faber, who also acted as the architect, were equipped by Spillers with the most modern equipment then available. In 1934 it was claimed that “human hands do not touch Spillers' flour from the moment it enters the grain silo as wheat to the final stage of its being sewn up in sacks as pure white flour” (from British Commerce and Industry, see biblio).
Wheat from the silos was taken to the mill and sieved, washed, dried and polished before being ground between steel rollers to remove the husk from the kernel. The husk was used for animal feed and the kernel was milled to produce white flour. The bagged flour was dropped down spiral sack chutes that extended through all floors.
Avonmouth Mill ceased operation in 1998 and the mill itself and the warehouse were demolished some time after that. The derelict grain silos remain on the dockside.
Architect: Oscar Faber
Research: ECPK
"British Commerce and Industry: The Post-War Transition 1919-1934”,
Russell-Square Press Ltd, London, 1934
“Some Recent Industrial Buildings” by Oscar Faber, in The Structural Engineer, London, pp.466-481, November 1937
“Oscar Faber, his work, his firm & afterwards” by John Faber, Quiller Press, London 1989

Spillers' Avonmouth Mill