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Heaps Rice Mill

Joseph Heap and Sons Ltd., Rice Millers

Joseph Heap 1762-1833 was a sugar boiler trading with Barbados and Jamaica. In 1864, when rice shipments from the Carolinas were cut by the American Civil War, Heaps sent their Diamond H ships to lift a thousand tons of ‘Cargo’ rice for the family mill in Liverpool.

In 1866, 364,000 tons of rice left Rangoon, Akyab, Bassien and Moulmein aboard sailing ships bound from Lower Burma for the mills in Bremen, Hamburg and Liverpool. The first steamer loaded with rice passed through the Suez Canal in 1872. In 1890 Rudyard Kipling set the opening of his poem Mandalay in the old English capital of Lower Burma:

By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin’ lazy at the sea,
There’s a Burma girl a-settin’, and I know she thinks o’ me;
For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the temple-bells they say:
“Come you back, you British soldier; come you back to Mandalay! ”
Come you back to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay:
Can’t you ‘ear their paddles chunkin’ from Rangoon to Mandalay ?
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin’-fishes play,
An’ the dawn comes up like thunder outer China ‘crost the Bay!

Joshua Milne Heap, sugar refiner and rice miller of Outwood, Birkenhead, died in the year Kipling published Mandalay (1890), leaving £332,287 including his ‘estates near Rangoon’ to members of his family who had sold their ships to Gracie, Beazley and Co in 1882. The Diamond H iron ships usually sailed from Liverpool to Australia with passengers, often loading Australian horses for India before returning to Liverpool from Rangoon with rice. Their fleet included Cassiope, Parthenope, Antiope, Marpesia, Eurynome, Melanope and Theophane.

Parthenope, in the Queen’s Graving Dock, Liverpool
before she was sold to Italian owners in 1897.

The Rice Trade:

Early supplies of rice to Europe came from Italy but this changed in the 18th Century to the Carolinas, Bengal and Madras. It was imported into Europe in the form of ‘milled rice’ which was re-milled upon arrival. Re-milling was considered essential because milled rice quickly deteriorated and lost much of its flavour in the overhead holds of badly ventilated ships during long voyages. In the 19th Century, improvements in technology improved the process of separating the husk form the grain without excessive damage. This resulted in the rice being imported in the ‘husk state’ known as ‘Paddy’. Deterioration of the Paddy was very much less as the husk protected the grain. The process of removing the husk and polishing the rice took place in the mill.

Heaps Rice Mill

Joseph Heap first started milling rice on Park Lane in 1780, although the building that stands there now dates from the 1850s.The present Heap's Rice Mill, located at the junction of Beckwith Street, Upper Pownall Street and Shaws Alley in the Baltic Triangle area, was constructed in a number of phases: the first part being a south-eastern range erected as a rice mill. This was followed by a series of warehouse ranges constructed to the north-west across a yard area for the storage of sugar (also operated by Heap and Sons); these warehouse ranges were subsequently adapted for use as a rice mill by 1890 and the site amalgamated into a single use. The ‘Mill’ is now composed of a number of warehouses grouped together to form a single building. A former yard area, which was covered over in the mid-late 1970s, separates the two halves of the building complex. Heap's Rice Mill is not only one of the earliest, but one of the last surviving warehouse complexes in this area, serving as an important physical reminder of Liverpool’s rich trading links and mercantile history.


Merryweather appliance, 1850
On 10th August 1863 there was a fire at the mill which began on the top floor of the eight storey building. Workers at first tried to put out the blaze using water from a tank on the roof but this proved unsuccessful a fire engine from the West of England Fire Insurance Company was called, and also firemen  from Seel Street, Hatton Garden, Sefton Street, Salthouse Dock and Jordan Street.

By 11am that the firemen had sufficient water pressure to beat back the flames, but by that time the roof had fallen in and there was a fear it could spread to a neighbouring sugar warehouse. By noon that day however, the fire was well under control. The damage caused was considerable. A large quantity of machinery and stock was destroyed and there was considerable water damage.

The total value of the damage was estimated at £4500 (approximately half a million pounds today), but the company thankfully had adequate insurance cover it. Workers at the mill managed to cart away a lot of the rice, despite the scale of the fire and there was just one injury, to a Police Constable Ridge who broke his foot falling through a floor. The following day’s ‘Liverpool Mercury’ reported that it was thankful that the destruction wasn’t immense and praised the response of the fire and police services.

The Mill Today

Heap's Rice Mill scheme

A £130 million scheme to transform Heap’s Rice Mill in Liverpool’s Baltic Triangle has been granted planning permission by Liverpool City Council.

The scheme by One Park Lane Ltd includes 800 new homes, 12,000 sq ft of leisure and retail units and a new public square named Baltic Square. It includes the retention of much of the fa├žade of Heap’s Rice Mill, which was listed by English Heritage after an initial application was submitted to demolish the building.

The fireproof cast iron and brick rice mill survived hits by incendiary and high explosive bombs during the German 1941 night blitz on the Mersey waterfront.

Liverpool Records Office
Liverpool Central Library Archives
Lanacashire Magazine
Liverpool City Council

By Robert F Edwards

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