May 05, 2015


The Marriage family have been flour millers in Essex since 1824 and farmers in the local area since the seventeenth century

Part 1: The flour mill

The Great British Bake Off starts with quality flour and Marriage’s

by Roger Gilbert and Olivia Holden, Milling and Grain magazine

First published in Milling and Grain, March 2015
The Great British Bake Off, a television programme that has captured the imaginations of the British viewing public, has provided companies such as W & H Marriage and Sons Ltd of Essex in the UK with increasing demand for its artisan flours for bread making and baking.

Mr George Marriage, who is from the ‘William side’ of the family and therefore flour mill orientated, is responsible for the overall operation of the mill and says, “The quality drivers for flour today come from the marketplace.”

Making a comparison, he says, “Nobody wants a cheap car these days” and there is a universal awareness of quality throughout the flour and food industry that is being better understood by consumers through programmes such as the Great British Bake Off.

“Everyone wants things to be better,” he adds. And consumers of flour are no different.

Flour milling, says George, is the same process no matter where in the world you are.

“The technology used is similar. It’s the materials used in manufacturing the equipment that has changed, such as the bearings and drives and resulting energy savings.”
Another significant change is in the control systems used in a modern mill. 

“Today everything is controlled and recorded by computer.

“For example, we are operating from a building built in 1899 and which started out producing just three-quarters of a tonne of flour per hour. Today, we house much newer equipment, and our colour sorter and computerised control systems combined with our laboratory mean we can control, trace and test quality at all stages throughout the process using our own laboratory services.”

It was in 1997 when a seven tonne-per-hour roller flour mill was installed which took the factory from a line shaft driven mill over to direct drive for its roller mills.

However, being unique in the marketplace is critical and Marriage’s are no different in defining what makes them special.

“It’s our customer services that are unique and provide us with our selling point.
“Comparing our industry to others, we know ours will always be there.”

A tour of the flour mill
Mr Andrew Thain, the Head Miller at Marriage’s, took us on a tour of the factory when we visited in February. He explained that his first visit to the company was as a schoolboy in college.

“That was 28 years ago. Something just clicked and I knew this would be the job for me.”
To this day he doesn’t know what it was about the flour mill ‘that clicked’, but he treats his job of head miller as a vocation and not simply a job. His dedication and attention to detail when Milling and Grain visited was obvious and reminded the writer of the principles of milling extolled in the past by our feature-writer Jonathan Bradshaw in these pages: that a miller must walk the floors of his mill every day looking over all the equipment and looking out for anything out of place. It was fascinating to see this discipline in action.

From the intake that can take in up to 60 tonnes of wheat per hour - or two (30 tonne) lorry deliveries an hour - to the reception control room where it takes just four hours to send and receive all the necessary test results from the company’s laboratory, to the roller mill floor itself, passing along all floors on the way while the writer was learning all the time about the uniqueness of this facility.

The mill has off-site storage but holds up to 700 tonnes on site with the new UK crops coming in between August and end of December.

Storage on site includes some 35 bins of varying capacities: 45 tonnes, 21 tonnes and a couple of 18-tonne bins.

“The range of storage helps us to handle the mill’s requirements,” says Andrew.

The mill’s emphasis is on producing strong, predominantly white flours; organic is an important consideration for some customers; flours made from high protein Canadian wheat can be selected by the customer; wholemeal flour traditionally milled on the French burr stones is also popular. Spelt, barley and rye are speciality flours that have been recently launched.
This company supplies a wide range of flours, including speciality and traditional stoneground varieties to high street and artisan bakeries, caterers and pizza manufacturers as well as an extensive range for home bakers.

And that was the surprise to the visitor – seeing a room housing a four-year-old Bühler colour sorter, going about its work in an orderly and accurate manner driven remotely by a computer housed in a cabinet on the wall and inspected occasionally, to the ‘stone room’ where four of the five large 100-year-old French Burr stones were in operation. The fifth was being dressed, resharpened by hand in the traditional manner that has been carried out down the centuries – what an impressive sight!
And what a juxtaposition these two images created - the very old competing in a modern marketplace with the very new! How can the two operate in the same mill just a flight of stairs and a room apart from each other?

Obviously, they are doing quite different jobs, but the irony of the traditional Burr stones – producing just half-a-tonne per hour of flour - and the modern Bühler colour sorter processing some 25 tonnes per hour, located almost side-by-side and intricately involved in producing a product that the UK’s leading bakeries and manufacturers are calling for, was hard to comprehend.

Quality control

Marriage’s undertake stringent quality assurance procedures throughout the milling process. They are Campden Research affiliates and are BRC Certificated.
“Our onsite technical laboratory tests the wheat from intake for factors such as protein quality, content and moisture levels and throughout the milling process,” says George.

Marriage’s end flour is baked into various products by their onsite master baker. This is vital, as the most important thing for Marriage’s customers, be they a professional artisan bread baker or someone baking at home for pleasure, is that they receive a consistent product every time.

Marriage’s have produced organic certified flour varieties since 1986, and Sampson David Marriage (fourth generation family member) was interested in organic production long before it became so high profile. George Marriage played a key role in the early development of the Organic Food Federation and served as Chairman for several years. Marriage’s have been active in organic industry research projects across the agricultural, milling and baking industries.

In the milling process, the best possible wheats are selected to ensure consistent flour quality. Marriage’s source English wheat from local Essex farmers where possible, including from the family’s own arable farms near the mill. This local commitment helps to keep food miles to a minimum. All of the farmers that Marriage’s source wheat from are members of the Assured Crops Scheme. Many of the farmers that supply Marriage’s have been farming families for generations – the same is true of many of the smaller independent family bakery firms that purchase Marriage’s flour.
In addition, Marriage’s source high protein Canadian Red Wheat; this is world renowned for quality in bread, pasta and pizza making.

Marriage’s have been members of the National Association of British and Irish Millers for many years. George Marriage is Chair of the Pre-Pack Flour Committee.
Marriage’s are also committed to supporting artisan bakery customers, many of which are small family run businesses. Marriage’s have sponsored National Craft Bakers’ Weeks since 2009 and Hannah Marriage is the Chairman of the week in 2015.

Marriage’s ongoing professional development of staff includes milling staff going to Switzerland for milling training.

“The foundation of Marriage’s trusted reputation has been built on our focus upon customer satisfaction.

“Marriage’s dedicated sales and technical teams are available to support customers face to face – for example visiting bakeries and production sites to ensure customers are achieving consistent production results. As a company, Marriage’s retain core family values yet are always looking ahead - one of the reasons the business is still thriving after almost two centuries. In the UK there are now only about thirty full scale milling firms, and Marriage’s are in a minority of family run companies.

Read the magazine HERE.

The Global Miller
This blog is maintained by The Global Miller staff and is supported by the magazine GFMT
which is published by Perendale Publishers Limited.

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