Joseph Rank Ltd of Clarence Street, Hull
1875 Joseph Rank (1854-1943), the founder of the company, was a third generation miller, who started in the business with an inheritance from his father that enabled him to rent a small flour mill in Hull.
He lost money at first and had to take a co-tenancy at West's Holderness Corn Mill which was driven by a steam engine, and which had 2 pairs of rolls as well as the conventional millstones. He was soon able to recoup his losses and set enough money aside to expand his business. At this time competition from American and Hungarian flour was an issue for English millers. Rank explored new milling methods to improve his competitive position against these foreign imports.
In 1885 he built the engine-driven Alexandra Mill flour mill, in Hull. By using steel rollers instead of mill stones, the mill was able to produce an impressive 6 sacks of flour an hour, up from one and a half. This mill was soon after extended to produce 10 sacks per hour.
In 1888 he built another steel-roller plant on the banks of the River Hull, with capacity of 20 sacks per hour but with room to expand to 60, as well as the first discharging elevator in the country and a silo of 20,000 quarters capacity. This was powered by a triple expansion engine, the first use of such an engine [in this application?] in the UK. The Alexandra Mill was then re-equipped with the best technology available (rather than being closed as had been planned) to produce 20 sacks of flour an hour and was considered one of the finest flour mills in the country.
1899 The company Joseph Rank Limited was registered as a private company on 12 May, to acquire the business of flour miller, corn merchant and seed crusher carried on by Joseph Rank. Joseph Rank became governing director, which he remained until his death in 1943.
At the turn of the century Great Britain was plagued by malnutrition. The poor often lived on little more than bread and tea, and infant mortality was high.
In 1901 military recruitment standards had to be lowered to find enough men to enlist for the Boer War: the new minimum height for recruits was reduced to five feet. Since bread was the staple of the country, Joseph Rank was challenged to increase productivity. He installed a plant that produced 30 sacks of flour an hour, and then another plant with a 40-sack-an-hour capacity. He also set up agencies to distribute his flour in parts of England where it previously had not been sold.
In 1902 Rank made his first trip to the United States, to see the wheat fields of the Midwest, determined to understand and conquer his competitors. Soon after his trip, the company built mills in London and Cardiff.
By 1904 the Clarence Mills at Hull had been expanded to 100 sacks per hour and a mill and silo had been built at the Victoria and Albert docks to serve the London area; another mill was being constructed at Barry at the same time. In subsequent years further expansion of the Hull, London and Barry mills took place.
1910 Advert: 'For prompt Sale, at very reasonable price, 1 superior TRIPLE EXPANSION HORIZONTAL CONDENSING ENGINE, all cylinders fitted with Corliss gear and pistons, with United States metallic packing, 16ft. diameter flywheel, grooved for 18 ropes, working at 180lb. boiler pressure, and giving 450 I.H.P.; built by Woods Bros., Sowerby Bridge, 1891; can seen working at Messrs. Joseph Ranks (Ltd.), Flour Mills, Hull, application to the owners engine, Rd. Sizer (Ltd.), Engineers, Hull.'
In 1912 Having established trade with Ireland from South Wales, the Ocean Flour Mills in Birkenhead were built to supply the needs of Ireland and north-western England. The 4 main mills were all on the docks, so as to allow delivery of large quantities of wheat. Soon after that date, the corporate headquarters was moved from Yorkshire to London.
WWI: Starvation was a real threat to the people of Great Britain; Joseph Rank was asked to become a member of the Wheat Control Board. Frustrated by the government's inability to warehouse large quantities of wheat as distribution became chaotic as many ships carrying supplies were sunk, he relied much on his own resources and initiative to buy and store quantities of wheat and to increase the production capacity of his London mill.
During the war years, the company employed 3,000 workers, many of them women who took on production jobs while men were away fighting the war. Despite his philosophy of personal initiative, Rank and his sons were known for public service, religious faith, and philanthropic work.
During the 1920s, the milling capacity in Great Britain exceeded the demand for flour. Nevertheless, Joseph Rank was able to expand into Scotland and consolidate and expand his operations in Ireland. He perceived the potential of new methods of transportation and communication very early, forming the British Isles Transport Company Limited to provide for the distribution needs of his company in 1920. Mills that were acquired were reorganised and equipped with the latest machinery to improve efficiency. These included :
- 1920 John Herdman and Sons Ltd (Edinburgh)
- 1920 Kirby's (Selby) Ltd
- 1923 Wm Sutcliffe and Son Ltd (Manchester)
- 1923 Thomas Hanley and Sons Ltd (Doncaster)
- 1923 Cleveland Flour Mills Ltd (York)
- 1931 Stanbury and Son Ltd (Barnstaple)
- 1932 Josh Appleby and Sons Ltd (Bootle and Blackburn)
- 1933 Simmons and Gifford (Winchester)
- 1933 Associated London Flour Millers Ltd  which comprised 7 separate firms.
1933 New mill and silo constructed at Belfast, to serve Northern Ireland. Another mill and silos were under construction at Southampton. There was also a growing business in animal feed (provender).
Joseph's second son, Rowland, had left the Rank company to join the Mark Mayhew mill at Battersea, which produced animal feed as well as flour, eventually becoming governing director before his death in 1939. After World War II, this mill was incorporated into the Rank group.
In 1935 Joseph Rank received the Freedom of the City of Hull (the only public honour he ever accepted), in part because of a trust fund he had set up in Hull to help "poor persons of good character."
1938 Joseph Rank, despite his age, contributed to the war effort by working as a secret wheat buyer for the government to build up stocks in the year before the outbreak of war.
1943 Joseph's eldest son, James, became chairman of the company after his father's death in 1943. He was employed during WWII as the government's director for cereal imports.
After World War II, James Rank was joined by an associate from his government-service days, Cecil Loombe, who became a director. Their challenge was to reconstruct the mills devastated by bombing and to expand the company. A new mill in Gateshead was their first big postwar accomplishment, soon after followed by one at Leith.
In 1952 James Rank (1881-1952) died and was succeeded by Joseph's third son Arthur as chairman. J. Arthur Rank had already built up the Rank Organisation by this time as a major force in British films. Under Arthur, the company explored many new ventures and began to acquire a variety of more than 100 small, family-owned agriculture and baking businesses. It was also during this period that the company's faith in quality control and research was firmly established. High standards of nutrition were set and maintained for both human and animal foods by testing in every phase of the production process. The legacy of these early efforts became the research centre at High Wycombe.
1955 Bakeries had been acquired accounted for a good proportion of the flour produced by the company's mills. Established new subsidiary British Bakeries Ltd. to coordinate the bakery division. Other significant activities were Blue Cross Animal Feed and Ranks (Ireland) Ltd.
1959 Acquired House of Dalton, manufacturer of cereal foods and spice merchants.
Sources of Information
- The Stock Exchange Year Book 1908
- Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, 13 May 1910
- The Times 23 November 1933
- The Times, 17 December 1932
- The Times 29 November 1933
- The Times, 9 December 1935
- The Times, 3 January 1953
- The Times, 24 January 1956
- The Times, 19 December 1957
- The Times, 17 April 1958
- The Times, 24 November 1958
- The Times, 17 March 1959
- The Times, 1 February 1961
- The Times, 4 January 1972
-  Wikipedia
- Biography of J. Arthur Rank, by Richard Davenport-Hines, ODNB
- The Nation's Bread Wonderful Development In A Vital Industry, History of the House of Rank: The Times, 23 November 1933