There has been a mill on the Lode at Soham since at least the 1600’s. The mill that Alfred Clark had his eye on was built in 1811 to take advantage of Soham Lode, a canal, which provided both water-power and an easy economical means of transport. Flour travelled by barge to Ely where, in due course, the Railway came to make a direct link with the London market. By the 1850’s there were seven pairs of millstones. Four powered by water and three by steam with coal brought in from the railway yards by returning barges. A modern mill house had been built on the site with its’ own gardens and orchards.
The vacating tenant had not run the mill successfully, and by the early 1860’s its’ trade had dwindled away. The tenant was forced to give up the business and accept the financial losses. The owner, Mr Dobede (Do bid ee), who was Lord of the Manor of Soham at that time, put the mill up to let requesting annual rent of £150. After much discussion with Mr Clark, Mr Dobede granted him a 7 year lease at an annual rent of £90.
On Christmas Day 1864, at the age of twenty-seven, Alfred Clark took up his tenancy of the mill. For the first year, he had just one apprentice and one man (employee), John Bradshaw Carter, who spent the rest of his working life with the firm.
The Founding of Clark & Butcher
Alfred Clark had married Sarah Bovington in 1862 but she had died suddenly in 1873. By 1876 he had become engaged to Adelaide Butcher who he married in 1876. Her brother, Henry A Butcher, wanted a change from the Drapery Trade he worked in, so Alfred pursuaded him to start running a mill at Stetchworth and they could then run the two mills as a single business. It was a massive career change for Henry, but he agreed to it and the firm of Clark and Butcher was founded. In December 1876, at Ely, the mill at Soham, which Alfred Clark had been leasing from Mr Dobede came up for auction. The new firm of Clark and Butcher were able to purchase the freehold of the entire 2 acre property, including the granary, mill house, farm yards and orchards, at a knock down price of £520.
Alfred & Adelaide Clark 1899
On 1st September 1879, the railway from Ely to Newmarket was opened, the new station at Soham and adjacent goods yard were sited close to the mill. This was a great advantage to Clark and Butcher.
In 1885 the technical process of roller-milling was introduced. Mr Henry Simon of Manchester designed the plant at Soham to the individual specification of Clark and Butcher. It was able to produce six to eight sacks of flour per hour, and was the first complete roller mill in Cambridgeshire.