Charles Richard Smith Work
London, Portslade ca. 1820- ca.1891
I do not know for sure, but it is most likely that Charles began his working life, working as a clerk in his father’s broking business. I think, that by the time that Charles was of an age to work, his father was a Russia broker in the City of London. Richard Smith variously worked with his father, his father-in-law and also with a Stephen Marshall, and, significantly, he had offices at 4 Austin Friars, very close to John Mollett, who had his offices at 1 Austin Friars Passage. The lovely old painting at left shows the entrance to the passage on the left and also the entrance to Austin Friars itself. Behind the artist the street opens out to a beautiful little square.
Nevertheless, maybe the visit to Brighton, where they married and the visit to Lewes, Ann’s home, stimulated Charles to look for new business ventures in the area. Certainly by 1843 they were living in Brighton, as this is where Richard is born. I have a tantalising reference to Bear Mill in my notes. Bear Mill was a windmill just outside the centre of Brighton, so I assume that somewhere I found that Charles had worked the mill there - maybe in the wonderful ‘Encyclopedia of Brighton’ to which I am indebted for much of the information on this page. Why did he move from trading in wool to being a miller? Who knows - it might just have been an opportunity that came up. Be that as it may, by 1851 Charles gives his occupation as miller. Even more frustratingly, I find I have a reference to Charles as a flour agent - but have no idea where I got this from. I really must tighten up my note-taking and references. I guess the steps from wool agent, to flour agent to miller are somewhat more logical.
The Brighton Encyclopedia states that Charles came from the Terminus Steam Mills, in Trafalgar Road, Brighton. I can find no further information about this mill but at least it indicates that Charles was not a novice when he made his final business move.
However, by 1838 Charles seems to have struck out on his own, or maybe in partnership with an Alfred Hardwick, as a woollen warehouseman or Blackwell Hall factor. My evidence is a reference to an insurance document in A2A, giving the address as 22 Basinghall Street. This turns out to be the imposing building at left which is actually the Wool Exchange at nos.22-25, so it is likely that Charles just had an office in the building. What is a Blackwell Hall factor you may ask? Well Blackwell Hall - shown at left “was the centre for the wool and cloth trade in England from mediaeval times until the 19th century”, although this particular building was demolished in 1820. Blackwell Hall Factors were introduced as agents who charged a fee to handle the trade and in the seventeenth and eighteenth century enjoyed a monopolistic position in the trade. In 1820 the hall was demolished, and was replaced by the Bankruptcy Court. I cannot find what happened to the Blackwell Hall factors - but they must have still been in existence in 1838 when Charles took out his insurance policy. Maybe the name stuck but the trade was transferred to the Wool Exchange. All of this would support the view that Charles and Ann were merely visiting Lewes in 1841, and not living there.
For on 18th February, 1854, Charles Richard Smith signed a lease on the steam mill at Copperas Gap. The two pictures above are of Copperas Gap in earlier times when there were just windmills and no town around it. The harbouring the distance in the lower picture is Shoreham which adjoins Portslade.
The lease began on Christmas Day in 1853. His landlord was John Borrer, who seems to be the local lord of the manor. The duration of the lease was for 14 years, until 1867 but in 1861 this was extended until 1882. The annual rent was £130 to be paid quarterly. (£7,608 or $AUD 11,267 in today’s money). This seems like a pretty good deal to me. The mill was new and the latest technology and the lease included “all that newly erected steam flour mill stable and storehouse called the Portslade Britannia Steam Mill Together with the steam engine boiler chains ropes wire work flour and smut machines and all other gear”.
The Smith family operated and, I am guessing, at some point owned the mill, until around 1930 when they sold it to one of the largest milling firms in the world - very possibly at just the right time, as by 1933 the mill was no longer operating and it was demolished. So it was a family business for almost eighty years. They continued to innovate, being one of the first to install roller mills and also being only the second mill in the country to install electricity as its source of power in first years of the twentieth century. The pictures at left are of steam machinery in a flour mill, and the picture below is the mill (back right) as it was in Portslade. The picture at the top of the page is of the mill itself - as you see it was quite substantial.
It was a substantial business but by 1867 the local Kelly’s Directory refers to it as Charles Richard Smith and sons - the sons being Frederick and Richard I think. And by 1871 Charles himself had retired. He is still the head of the household, but he has no occupation and his still unmarried sons Frederick and Richard are the millers. And so, at the still young age of 58, Charles has retired. I wonder why. Had he had enough? Had it all been for his sons? Did his sons force him out? Maybe he was worn out with it all. For it must have been hard work.
Charles began all of this, although obviously he could not have done it without the original investment of John Borrer. Nevertheless all credit is due to him building up the business and creating a small business empire. The photograph at the top of the page is of the mill and shows the large granary, which according to the ‘Encyclopedia of Brighton’, was a separate building that later became the Porslade Hall and which had a mushroom cellar underneath. The granary towered to a height of 75 feet and the mill itself covered an area of 31,000 square feet at its height. There was also the wharf at which the barges unloaded the grain and loaded the flour, although rail and road were also used. The old Thames barges were frequently seen here. Apparently the cinders that were the waste material from the furnaces were dumped nearby for the poor to use as kindling in their home fires. Similarly the hot water discharged into the canal was also collected by the locals - maybe for a hot bath. The ‘Encyclopedia of Brighton’ refers to the Smiths as “public spirited people” who allowed the local fire brigade to practise on the granary.
Whatever the reason his working life was over, though not his life which had many more years to run. It’s a remarkable story really. Well, business obviously ran in the family and no doubt he was encouraged by his father, but how he made the move from trading in the city to milling on the Sussex coast will probably remain a mystery.
Barbara Cecilia Sundius
Blackwell Hall - a Wikipedia article
Sussex Mills Group - a group of enthusiasts, who have lots of information about windmills in general and also about specific mills - alas not those relevant to Charles.
Portslade in the Past: Britannia Flour Mills - a comprehensive history of the mill by local, Judy Middleton