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Where Did the Rice in Kellogg's Rice Krispies Come From?

Heap's Rice Mill
Beckwith Street, Liverpool

Listed: 2014
Grade: II
NHLE entry: Listing details for Heap's Rice Mill

The Rice Mill in 2014
The Rice Mill in 2014 © Picture courtesy of Towner Images

In Liverpool's development as a port of world significance, the importing of various forms of foodstuffs was an important aspect of its growing pattern of trade.

Early supplies of rice to the rest of Europe came from Italy, but in the 18th century this changed to the Carolinas in North America and Bengal and Madras in India. Various events in the 19th century, including the Indian Mutiny, the American Civil War and the abolition of slavery all disrupted the flow of rice. As a result, European merchants and millers turned their attention to British-administered Lower Burma where rice production was expanding.

Messrs Joseph Heap & Sons Ltd was one of the first European rice firms to establish its business in Lower Burma. In 1864, it sent ships there to acquire 1,000 tons of cargo rice for its mills in Liverpool, and soon stationed a company representative in Rangoon. Other European firms followed suit, but Heap & Sons led the way, establishing bases in three other ports.

The north west elevation, showing the mill’s huge loading bays
The north west elevation, showing the mill’s huge loading bays

Heap's Rice Mill, Liverpool

Milled rice - rice that has had the husks and bran layers removed - would quickly deteriorate and lose flavour in the holds of badly ventilated ships on long voyages, so milling it on arrival was essential. Heap & Sons developed their rice milling capability in buildings on the edge of an area known as the Baltic Triangle, just south of Liverpool city centre. This is now in the buffer zone of the Liverpool Maritime Mercantile City World Heritage Site.

These buildings served originally, in part, as sugar warehouses and were later adapted for milling rice as the business expanded. The building complex exhibits many of the austere styling characteristics of 18th- to 19th-century warehouse buildings. Internal cast-iron structural features and external cast-iron window shutters are surviving evidence of the fire-proofing measures introduced following a fire in 1863. These and other later alterations do not compromise the mill's character and instead have added to its interest as an example of evolving industrial architecture.

Many nearby warehouses and other commercial buildings that formerly dominated the area were lost during the Blitz of 1941, while others have been demolished and replaced by modern developments. This makes Heap's Rice Mill not only one of the earliest, but also one of the last surviving warehouse complexes in the area, serving as an important physical reminder of the area's rich trading links and mercantile history

Heap's future

Rice production ceased at Heap's in 2005, when the rice mill was still supplying Kellogg's main UK factory in Manchester with the rice that went into Rice Krispies. The building remained empty until the summer of 2014 when, following a successful application by the Merseyside Civic Society to list the mill, planning permission was granted to convert it to luxury apartments.

For more information on Britain's rice trade and its status as 'workshop of the world' from the 18th century onwards, visit English Heritage's 'Discover England' 'Commerce' page. More on Liverpool's heritage can be found on the Merseyside Civic Society's website.

Source of reference

Cheng, S-H. (2012) 'The rice industry of Burma 1852-1940', Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

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