Sometime between 1894 and 1896, the owner of The Grove on Wacton Road, John Furness, retired and moved to Sussex. The house and lands were bought by William Crane, who had been the miller at Shotesham water mill for more than twenty years.
William Crane was a local man, born in Hethel in 1834, and his wife, Matilda, came from Bracon Ash. Crane had ambitious plans and rapidly built a large three-storey building to house a new steam mill.
The mill was furnished with a set of plant supplied by E.R. & F. Turner of Ipswich, who were one of the pioneers of roller mill construction in England. They installed a 1½ sack (30 stone / 190kg per hour) roller plant, a double purifier, a vibromotor mixer, six centrifuges, a wheat cleaning machine, and a Crossley 10hp oil engine. So, despite being described as a "steam mill" there is no evidence that it was ever driven by steam and may always have used an "oil engine" to drive the mill.
Crane called his new business "Hygiene Flour Mills" and in 1898 he was advertising for staff.
Eastern Evening News - 1 October 1898
However, it would appear that the business was not a success. Crane would have had competition from Henry Ludkin's mill at Forncett End, which had been established for at least ten years, and Ludkin, being a local Forncett man, was well known in the area. By October 1900 the business, which appears to have been in the name of Crane's son, William Crane jnr., was in administration. William Crane snr. died on 19th November 1900 and his son was left to wind up the business. There were debts of nearly £7000 and assets of less than £4000. In the end William Crane's creditors received just 2s 4d in the £.
Norfolk News - 24 November 1900
The mill apparently continued to work for a while, and at the census in April 1901 it was being run by Lemon Keeler, the son of the publican at the nearby Safety Valve.
Forncett St. Peter census - April 1901
However, Lemon's job was short-lived and
in June 1901 the whole of The Grove estate, including the mill and its
contents, were sold at auction.
Eastern Daily Press - 21 June 1901
There is no evidence that the mill ever worked again, and it seems likely that most of the mill plant was sold at the auction and removed. There are no records of new millers in Forncett after 1901, and in 1903, following his father's death, Lemon Keeler took over as publican at The Safety Valve. So, Grove Mill almost certainly stood empty, having worked for only three or four years. In 1905, an invoice from Henry Ludkin's business records him selling crushed oats to the new owner of The Grove, Mr. Cooper!
Grove Mill in 2009. Photo - Mick Finnemore
However, the mill building remains to this day and is one of
very few 19th century roller mills to have survived in the county. A survey by
Norfolk Historic Environment staff in 2006 described it as "a remarkable
building to find in a rural Norfolk location." In 2009 the building was
converted to residential accommodation and was therefore preserved for many
years to come.
Thanks to Ann Hardesty and Mick Finnemore for help with research on Grove Mill