The Albion Mill was the world’s first steam-powered flour mill and London’s first great wonder of the Industrial Revolution. Since the middle of the 18th century London’s population had grown from three quarters of a million to well over one million people and they needed bread The Albion, which was situated at the south of Blackfriars Bridge, quickly became the talk of the town, attracting large crowds from home and abroad who watched in awe as in 1786 this Leviathan burst into life. But not everyone was happy. London’s traditional millers understood that the Mill could produce as much flour in a month as their own mills could in an entire year.
The play Albion-in-Flames interleaves the history of the Mill and its owners, with the contemporary events of the French Revolution and the loss of the American Colonies. The lives, and loves, of Southwark luminaries such as William Blake, Dr Samuel Johnson and diarist Hester Thrale provide the dramatic backdrop to social unrest and the emerging feminism of the period.
On the morning of March 2nd 1791, the Albion Flour Mill caught fire and burnt down. Foul play was suspected immediately, not least because of the quick responses with which London’s traditional millers greeted the news of the fire. Groups of millers danced with joy by the light of the flames.
The sudden appearance of placards bearing slogans such as Success to the mills of Albion but NO to Albion Mill seemed to provide evidence that the occasion was pre-planned. Was it an accident, or purposefully fired by Annie, an out of work miller and lover of one of the designers or simply divine providence? The charred remains of the Albion Flour Mill stirred the imagination of William Blake who lived nearby to write of those “Dark satanic Mills.”
This event is part of the Blackfriars Stories event programme coordinated by Southwark Council with local partners.
This event is fully accessible