Sandstone Heritage Trust bids successfully on Phoenix Mill in Grahamstown!

The Phoenix Roller Mill has been in operation in its present form since 1907. 26-years ago the big Crossley gas fired engine was shut down and since then the Mill has remained in good condition but unused. As a result of the decision to sell the property the Mill owners put the Mill up for auction and it was acquired in an open bidding process by the Sandstone Heritage Trust. The Mill is substantial but 100% with all its accessories.

Sandstone is currently evaluating the logistical implications of moving it but the plan is to construct a special building for it and to rebuild it as it is. It is a working Mill with four E R & F Turner of Ipswich roller mills and six rotary screens and at least ten elevators by Henry Simon of Manchester and much more.

A working drawing of the layout of the Mill, together with detailed specifications and historical photographs, were all made available by the owners. Much of the machinery is described as 'old' in the 1907 drawing.

We look forward to a good working relationship with the owners of the Mill and many interested enthusiasts from the area who have offered their assistance. While it is a pity that the Mill will not be remaining in Grahamstown it will at least be saved from scrapping or being purchased by material merchants.



 Just a few blocks down from the Cathedral, this is where local farmers have come to buy provisions, building supplies and rations, as far back as anybody can remember.

On Thursday, 12th May, 2010, the historic Phoenix Roller Mill went under the hammer. The auction, held by Dave Mullins of ReMax Frontier clearly separated the contents of the building from the property itself. By prior negotiation, the woodwork supporting the machinery, the lower and upper floors and the trusses, were included with the mill machinery. Sandstone Heritage Trust was represented at the auction by Wilfred Mole, Peter Elliott and Andy Selfe for technical back-up.


 Dave Mullins reading the conditions of sale. It was a great social occasion, the turn-out was about 50 in number, not all registered buyers; no doubt there were scrapmen amongst them. The owner, Brian Bonsor was nervously smoking elsewhere, waiting for a successful outcome!

We were keen to keep the scrap-man away, there being a considerable weight in iron and steel, to say nothing about the used wood; there being several cubic metres of Oregon-type pine and possibly yellowwood involved. In the event, there were only two serious buyers for the Mill machinery, and the hammer fell to Sandstone Heritage Trust.

I did not stay for the auction of the property, rather returning to explore the Mill and photograph and video everything, with my mind on the next operation, marking and dismantling everything. Luckily, included in the sale is a General Arrangement drawing of the entire mill-house, which will be carefully reproduced.



 General Arrangement drawings of the Mill House, which will be a tremendous help in marking, dismantling and re-erecting the Mill.

The Mill consists of four Roller Mills and six rotary screens, on two floors, with line shafting under the ground floor and another shaft the full length of the building in the rafters. For handling the grain or flour, there are at least ten elevators. Motive power is a massive Crossley single cylinder open crank suction gas engine complete with its producer and scrubber, as last used. The Mill last ran 26 years ago.


 This painting by local architect J M English gives an impression of the scale of the engine! The main drive belt is on the wide pulley on the far side, going down to the line shaft below the Mill machinery.

A small amount of stripping has been done on the engine, and correspondence between the Mill owners and Crossley regarding their problems is included in the paperwork. It should be noted that Crossley were not entirely helpful in their reply regarding spares for an engine dating from 1907! The original invoice from Mangold Brothers was for £600, for the engine and plant, installed.

 Dave mentioned in the preamble to the auction that he had been in contact with the still existing E R & F Turner of Ipswich, makers of the Mills, to check on their possible age. A helpful person there informed him that their records don’t go that far back, but according to their earliest records and their rate of manufacture, he assumed these Mills to date from the 1880s.

There follows a selection of photographs to give an impression of what the Mill entails:


Roller Mill



Possibly the oldest of the four Roller Mills. It has a shaking ‘shoe’.


View along the back of the roller mills; there are four of them in a row.


Or is this the oldest?


Some of the elevators are by Henry Simon, a well-known Trafford Park firm in Manchester. One can see from the floor in this picture that it was essential that the woodwork be included in the sale!


Avery Sack scale, also included.


A beautiful example of a Stamford Mill from Blackstone fitted with 18” French Burr Stones.


 A Corbett Mill described as ‘The World’s Best Grinding Mill’!


 Workbenches, vices and workshop equipment were also included.


 Details of the wonderful craftsmanship involved in making of the trusses; this is the top of the king post.


The wrought iron band at the base of the king post.


The rafter joins the tie beam in a traditional joint. The roof trusses form the support of the upper line shafting.


The upper line-shaft and some delivery chutes from the tops of the elevators.



 A stencil for marking bags.


One of the Henry Simon screens on the upper floor.


A shaker operated by an eccentric, the outlet feeding a chute to a bag filler below. The floor planks are a foot wide!

What next? The property is likely to be sold for re-development, so after careful numbering, referring to the GA drawing, the entire contents must be dismantled and removed, loaded and removed to Sandstone Estates.

The best way to display it would be inside a large shed, big enough to enclose the entire building, and to substitute the walls with an exoskeleton of steel beams where the walls were. In this way, a visitor can stand back and view the four levels of the Mill working, while the whole is safe from the weather.

Included in the display must be the paperwork described above, amongst which are the complete records of every pound of meal it produced and a wonderful photo album.


Note, there is no pitched roof on this building.



 These will all be copied into digital form before being returned to Brian Bonsor, the original owner.

Before leaving the area, we visited Ann Palmer, widow of the legendary Geoff Palmer, the guiding light behind the Bathurst Agricultural Museum. From there, we visited the Museum and were given a guided tour and entertained by the two Alan’s who are steering the Museum on a steady, uphill course!


Some outside exhibits at the Bathurst Agricultural Museum.


 Stationary Engines, internal combustion and steam.


 A display board of medals from shows, collected by G North & Sons.




 An extensive collection of Caterpillars.

We were kindly put up and well fed at Peter and Michelle Elliott’s farm outside East London for the night, ready for our trips home.

Andy Selfe

16th May 2010