James Cracknell visits Wright’s Flour, which has been milling wheat in Ponders End for 154 years
Enfield’s oldest business is showing no signs of slowing down.
For most of its existence Wright’s Flour, founded in 1867 by George R. Wright, has been based solely at its ancient milling site in Ponders End, on the River Lea. But recent expansion has seen Wright’s open a packaging and processing facility up the road in Brimsdown in 2014 and, at the start of this year, a new £47million mill at Harlow. It now employs around 100 staff.
Milling is said to have taken place on the river at Ponders End as far back as the Norman Conquest. The site today comprises a mix of old and modern buildings, with some parts dating to the 18th Century. Managing director David Wright, great-great-grandson of the company’s founder, still lives at the family home within the mill complex.
So why the need to expand beyond Ponders End? Richard Hawes, the company’s national account manager, told the Dispatch: “We are completely constrained here in terms of the footprint of the site and the fact that the buildings are listed. David was of the view that we needed to expand our packaging operations, so we bought the site up the road.
“The new building is performing very well and we have everything we need there to grow and develop the business.”
Could Wright’s ever leave Ponders End entirely? “We would never tear it down,” says Richard. “It is a family home apart from anything else.
“The Wright family is enormously proud of its heritage. David is the fifth generation and his son James has become milling director, so the sixth generation is in place.”
These days it’s unusual for such a successful business – with a brand recognised nationally and internationally – to remain family-owned and run. Would the Wrights ever contemplate selling up?
“It tends to be younger family businesses that ‘cash in’. When you have been going for over 150 years the main reason you would sell is if the next generation didn’t want to do it. [But] James is well ensconced, so the future of Wright’s is secure as a family business.
“I think when we get to our 200th anniversary the Wrights will still be running it. The heritage and history is very important to the company.”
The Ponders End site is now the producer of the company’s self-raising flour, while plain flour is produced at Harlow and the famous Wright’s cake and bread mixes are made at Brimsdown.
Richard insists that Wright’s has always focused on modernisation and innovation. In 1909 the water power from the River Lea that had driven millstones at Ponders End for centuries was withdrawn to supply the new King George V reservoir instead, prompting Wright’s to turn to a new source of power.
“We were early adopters of electricity,” says Richard. “The Wright family has always tried to look to the future. David moved us into retail – selling bread mixes and cake mixes – after he recognised their potential.
“We have more plans for the future – the mills [at Ponders End] need to be renovated as they have been here for a long, long time.”
Few businesses in the country have avoided suffering during the Covid-19 pandemic but flour remained in high demand and, in the early days of lockdown, there were even flour shortages in supermarkets.
“When Covid-19 came along the retail side of our business just exploded,” said Richard. “But at the same time the catering side of our business stopped overnight.
“Our retail lines were running 24/7, but we can’t do more than that. There was never a flour shortage during Covid-19 – although it looked like that – the constraints were the packaging and the supply of the bag manufacturers. They quite quickly ran out of paper! We never ran out of wheat.
“So it was a challenging time but I am very proud of the way the Wright’s workforce stepped up to get as much flour out as we possibly could.”