Bryan Corcoran Ltd, Mark Lane & Backchurch Lane

Several generations of the family worked in the area. By 1780 Bryan Corcoran was established as a millstone builder and millwright in Mark Lane, near Tower Hill - the centre of the corn trade, where in 1828 the Corn Exchange was built, in Greek Doric style, at a cost of £90,000. He was a keen horseman, with a house on Croydon Common. In 1824 he wrote to the Sporting Magazine [picture by J. Pittmann of Warwick Square the same year]:

Your correspondent Nimrod having brought my horse and self before his brother sportsmen and the public, is the reason of my troubling you with this scrawl. He has said enough of me, but not half enough of my horse. I am anxious that his good deeds shall accompany his name to posterity— a faithful servant, who never deceived me, nor turned from any fence that I had courage to face him to; nor on my part, did I ever dismount from him, or turn him over a leap of any description— always ready, and no day too long for him. Nimrod has got his pedigree, but not his name. He is known in Surrey, as well as to Mr. Tattersall, by the name of Miller, having bought him from a miller. Neither is Mr. Nimrod exactly correct in my name. However, in my horse is strongly verified the old adage— viz. "When down, down with him". He was once so low in the world, as to be obliged to plough and harrow for his living, and might then have been bought for eighteen guineas, at which price a gentleman at Beddington might have bought him. Times are altered—all Lombard-street cannot buy him now!!!  I wish Nimrod had said nothing about the new almanack, &c. Although I have often joked about such matters, when with a jovial friend or two, 1 never had any idea of its being put forth to the world: however, having said it, let it pass—I care not. I might perhaps have some pretensions, having some time back five children alive under six years of age. But all this is not my boast: no, my boast is, keeping a good place in the hunt, and afterwards, my best endeavours to save the stag. Amongst the many of such endeavours perhaps Ray Common may be remembered:  I am sure it is by Charles Morton, as also many other such times. I considered it a duty.
The story of the hurdle and the doctor needs no correcting; and the challenge about the five-feet fence may also be correct. From what I know of myself, there is no man more likely to say so; but then, it must have been provoked by some observation. His information about the time I began to hunt is pretty correct; and at the present I have just stepped into my 73d year; but what of that, so long as I don't feel it? Miller and I are as young as ever.
Now, Mr. Editor, giving Nimrod credit for his very superior abilities, it appears to me he has come into Surrey on purpose to quiz us, and I shall call him "Quiz", unless he pays me a visit at my cottage on Croydon Common. I'll have a sporting friend to meet him. We'll talk o'er the chace, point out the best place for the old horse's head, and he shall see the children {the almanacks I have not preserved). We'll be merry. Adieu. Mr. Editor, pray excuse this—Yours respectfully, Bryan Corcoran. Croydon Common, Feb 2, 1824.

His son Bryan joined him - the firm of Corcoran & Son was established in 1805. By 1823 they were at 36 Mark Lane, insured in 1830 as stationer, bookbinder and wire screen weaver, corn machine maker, and warehouseman - elsewhere paperhanger is added. In 1836 they paid poor rates on the premises as Bryan Corcoran & Co: Philetas Richardson was a partner, but was excluded from the register of voters because the rates were not paid in his name. The printing work continued - see here for a book they printed in 1864 (on the history of All Hallows Berkyngechirche in the City, reflecting the family's ecclesiastical interests) - but their primary trade was supplying millstones [left is their mark on the runner stone (the one that moves in grinding) of Provender Mill, Brixton, under restoration, and a tie plate from elsewhere] plus equipment for millers and maltsters, including the manufacture of a range of measuring tools.

On 9 June 1823 Corcoran gave evidence on the petition relating to the Weights & Measures Bill, for establishing uniformity, which was enacted in 1824 but not put into effect until 1826 to allow time for compliance. The Act made no changes to the measures for mass or length, but the measures of capacity underwent considerable change. The three previously authorized measures for Ale, Wine, and Dry measures were outlawed, and the new Imperial gallon was defined as the volume of 10lb of water at 62°F, with a bushel being equal to 8 gallons (or 4 pecks).  The new measure had be used for every kind of grain and other dry commodity, as well as spirits, wine, ale, beer and other liquids, throughout the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.  Under this system, a gallon of water weighs 70,000 grains, or 10 Ibs (avoirdupois), leading to the saying a pint of pure water weighs a pound and a quarter.

The DUKE OF SOMERSET (in the Absence of the EARL OF HARROWBY) in the Chair
Mr Bryan Corcoran Is called in; and examined as follows:
What is your profession?—A Bushel maker, as well as a manufacturer of Mill stones for Millers.
How do you ascertain the correctness of the Bushel which you make?—By the Standard at Guildhall in London; our Measures are prepared in the neatest and safest manner we can, sufficiently drawing out all the moisture; the sap is completely extracted, as we suppose, and it is almost immoveable.
After what model is it made?—Round, with an even bottom, according to what it is; if it is for a Farmer, we make it Sixteen inches diameter and the depth is regulated accordingly to hold a bushel, about Twelve inches deep; if it is for a Corn Merchant, we generally go by the Standard, Eighteen inches and Half wide and Eight inches deep, which is as the Act of Parliament expresses it and is called a Meter bushel.
When you have made a Bushel as accurately as you can by Measurement, how do you ascertain its contents?—No otherwise than by comparing it with the Standard at Guildhall, the same as when we take a copy of the Standard in the Exchequer for a Corporate Body, we endeavour to take it as accurately as we can from the copy which is in the Exchequer; but which is not correct by any means.
Do you verify the accuracy of that Bushel which has been made by Measurement by trying what quantity of liquid it will contain?—Yes; if it contains equal to the other we do not go into the minutiae what the Quantity is, but we make it the same as the Standard at Guildhall or the Exchequer.
You do not weigh the water?—No, never. There is one other Bushel we make for the Granary Keepers and the Wharfingers, and those who turn over so much grain in the port of London, which is Two inches deeper, but will hold the same in capacity; both correspond, or so nearly as to pass between Buyer and Seller; this narrow Bushel or Drum bushel is for the convenience of the workmen, that one man can turn over with agility and practice from sixty to seventy quarters in one hour, which cannot be done by the wide Bushel; that must be worked double-handed; but with the narrow Bushel one man can do it; that is for the Granary keepers in the port of London.
Do you uniformly try the accuracy of your Bushel by filling it with water, and ascertaining the quantity of water it holds?—Always; from practice we know directly by our rule what the Bushel is, within perhaps the thickness of a sheet of paper or two; when these are prepared in the dry manner I have spoken of, we take them to the Guildhall of London; we always make them large enough, so that we can take down the superfluity, and that it may be finished afterwards; this is done before the iron is put on, before it is hooped; our wooden bushels are hooped with Iron: we always take care there shall be plenty of measure, then the Sealer whose business it is to seal them, the officer of the corporation, seals them with a brand, burnt on the inside and the opposite side; without that voucher we do not sell them.
When you have made a Bushel as accurately as you can by Measurement, and come to try it by its contents in water, do you frequently find that it requires a good deal of correction?— Sometimes very little; the water swells it a little, but it comes very soon to, while we are finishing it.
May not the measurement of a Bushel be made correctly without ascertaining its contents with water?—I cannot say; we never send it out without.
When you go to try it at Guildhall do you fill the Guildhall bushel with water?—Yes, the Guildhall Bushel is filled with water, and in as careful a manner as we can we take it out; there are Three wedges like a tripod, so that we can regulate it with the greate
st nicety; the water is taken out of the Guildhall measure and put into the other and back again; we then mark it on the inside with a point, and reduce it down to that point, to equal where the water was, and this same water is restored again into the Guildhall Standard; that is the practice with us.
Is not there a penalty on your selling measures without their being stamped?—I have consulted the Act, but have not found that there was a penalty.
The Mark is put near the top?—Yes, the Bushel ca
nnot be reduced afterwards without infringing on the burnt seal.
You have said that the Measure at the Exchequer is faulty, and different from the measure at Guildhall, have you not?—Yes, it is; the Act of Parliament refers to its being Eighteen inches and a half diameter and Eight inches deep; it is not so at the Exchequer, but goes tapering to the bottom, and has been cut out to enlarge it at some former time, and the lip of it is very unequal; some parts are up and some parts down; it is a very unequal measure, and very unfit to be called a Standard for any thing.
Has that happened by wearing?—It never was good; I have sent off, perhaps, more copies to Corporate Bodies than any one; but I dare not say that they are accurately like one another.
Are the copies sent from the pattern in Guildhall or the Exchequer Standards from the Exchequer?—Wooden ones from Guildhall.
Do you know the difference between the two?—They are made as nearly as the human hand can make them; I believe in the time that Mr. Alderman Combe was Mayor of London, he took an active part in it, and there were pains taken to make them alike, because prior to this the Guildhall Standard, being correct and circular, held more; it was a better made Bushel, and held what it ought; but I believe at that time it was reduced a trifle merely to correspond with the Exchequer Standard.
They are both Metal measures?—Yes, Brass.
If you, as a Bushel maker, were to have assigned to you the task of making a Brass and perfect Measure, do you suppose that Measure could be deranged again?—Never, but by the greatest violence; those I have made have been, perhaps, at the lip, half an inch thick very nearly, and a corresponding thickness all round, and at the bottom, with cast handles to it complete; there is nothing can ever destroy the Standard if it is done properly.
Do the Corporations frequently send up their copies to have them again verified?—No, there is no occasion; for a Standard which is once turned out properly can never vary; the principal thing we want is to have a proper Standard at the Exchequer, or wherever it may be directed; then there would be no difficulty: we suppose th
at the Exchequer is the place where the Standard should be that is identified as the Standard of England.
The Measures made from the Exchequer Standard, you say, do not always coincide with each other?—No, it is so imperfect that they cannot be made to coincide.
The Standards made after the Guildhall measure must all coincide?—There are none made from the Guildhall measure, only from the Exchequer; hence comes the inequality. If there were a new one, its being made smaller at the top than at the bottom, would give us a facility in ascertaining the precise quantity.
  The Witness is directed to withdraw.

As a result of the 1824 Act, they were one of several firms making chrondrometers, or corn balances. This determined weight per bushel from a sample from which impurities had been removed.

Another product was a grain tester scale [left], used to work out the percentage weight of a sack of grain (in pounds per bushel) after the grain husk, dust and dirt is removed, enabling the true value of the sack to be calculated - the difference could be quite significant. A measured sample of cleaned grain passes from the funnel into the barrel which is then hung on the end of the scale; the weight is then slid down the graduated ruler until it balances.

Mechanics Magazine of 1832 included this letter:
Sir, —A few days ago I had occasion to call at the very extensive flour mills of Mr. Edward Hudson of Leeds, called the King's Old Mills, in which are 40 pairs of stones, besides a considerable number of presses for extracting the oil from rape and linseed. Among the many ingenious contrivances for facilitating the work, my attention was particularly taken up with a patent Flour Dressing Machine, the use of which must be of very extensive advantage to the miller.
The patent was obtained by an ingenious man of the name of Smith, who resides in Bradford in Yorkshire; he has not introduced the machine many miles from his own town; and although it is the best piece of machinery of the kind I ever saw, I fear that for want of its merits being known to the trade, it will remain in oblivion. The great advantage this machine possesses over any other I have met with, is its being constructed entirely of iron and brass, so that it is not subject to warp and get out of truth, or to wear out, like those made of wood. It has also an appendage, which I never saw in any other flour dressing machines. Down the outside of the cylinder there is a round iron shaft, on which are fixed round brushes—which shaft is constantly revolving and brushes the flour out of the wire, while a slow motion given to the cylinder presents the surface of it to the brushes. When wheat is damp, a very great advantage will be found in keeping the wire constantly clear. By a contrivance in turning two or three screw nuts connected with the inner brushes, the arms can be lengthened or shortened, so as to make them press more ir less on the wire. The whole is considered a cheap piece of machinery, and likely to be very durable. I am informed that one of these valuable machines may be seen at the warehouse of Mr. Bryan Corcoran, No. 36, Mark-lane, London.
By inserting this in your valuable Magazine, you will do a great service to millers, and, I hope, to the ingenious inventor of the patent flour dressing machine.
Your obedient servant, W. R— C—.

In the mid-1840s Corcorans built kiln vents for Southminster Maltings, and around the same period at Stanstead Abbotts Maltings (now demolished - it was by St Margaret's station and the Jolly Fisherman
) supplied six roasting drums for making crystal malt and four small drums used for making black and chocolate malt.

At the 1851 Great Exhibition their stand included the following:
  • Model of an improved drying kiln for malt and all other grain, on a scale of one inch to a foot. The improvements are said to consist in economy of fuel, regularity of heat, and the prevention of condensation of steam.
  • Flour-dressing machine, consisting of a case containing a mahogany cylinder lined with woven wire, enclosing brushes hung with regulating screws upon a shaft, which, revolving rapidly, separates the flour from the bran.
  • Samples of very fine wire:- No. 150, woven brass (or 22,500 holes in a square inch), 18 inches wide. No. 100 by 650, twilled brass. 3,252 feet of iron wire-thread, weighing only two ounces. 3,900 feet of brass wire-thread, weighing only one ounce. Paper-machine wires, 7 feet wide joined. A woven wire malt-kiln floor, 20 feet by 16 feet, with flat seams. A corn-meter's shovel, bushel measure, and other implements used in the corn trade.
  • Millstones for grinding wheat made of French burr-stones, as generally in use in this country.
  • Portable corn-mill made of French burr-stones, to be worked by two or three horse power, and intended for the use of emigrants, and others.
[The catalogue adds: French burr-stones are in great request for the purposes of grinding in this country. They possess both geological and lithological characters of much interest. They are met with only in the Paris basin and the adjoining districts, in the lacustrine, or fresh-water deposits (Pleistocene), occurring in beds either continuous or interrupted, and generally mixed up with beds of sand or of ferruginous marls, which penetrate between them, filling up their fissures and honeycomb cavities. The beds sometimes contain no organic forms, at others they seem to be full of fresh-water shells and land plants, which have assumed a silicious character. The texture of the stones is essentially cellular, the cells or cavities being irregular in number, size, and shape, and are frequently traversed by thin plates. or coarse lines, of silica. They are quarried close to the surface, and are cut on the spot into parallelopipedal pieces called 'panes', which are bound together by iron hoops, and then form millstones. They are either of a whitish, yellowish, greyish, or bluish colour: the two latter are the most valuable.- J. W.]
A the 1862 London Exhibition they displayed the following (the insert is an 1857 advertisement, from a newspaper in Hobart, Australia, for the bolting cloths for dressing flour, which they exhibited):
Specimens of metal cloth; model of malt kiln; silk flour-dressing machine, mill stones, etc.
BRYAN CORCORAN, and Co. are the original makers of paper-machine wires, which they now weave to the width of 9 ft.
They manufacture every sort of wire work, deckle straps, felts, dandy rolls, moulds, and every description of driving bands. Established 1805.
  • Samples of wire-drawing in the various stages, from the bar of metal to the finest thread of wire.
  • 3,000 yards of copper wire, (or nearly 14 miles) drawn out of an old penny-piece.
  • 1,300 yards of brass wire, (nearly of a mile) weighing only 1 ounce.
  • 1,000 yards of iron wire, (nearly a mile) weighing only 1 ounce.
  • Samples of woven wire, from 1 to 28,800 holes in a square inch.
  • Fine and strong samples of various sorts; samples of Swiss silk, etc.
  • The largest millstone is 5 ft. 8 inches diameter in one solid block: a very rare specimen.
  • Millstones of various sizes, of the finest quality ever produced, for grinding wheat.
  • Peak, granite, and Cologne stones, grindstones, plaster, etc. mill bills and chisels of finest cast-steel.
  • Mahogany stone staffs and iron provers, iron blocks with brass sheaves.
  • Wire for flour and smut machines.
  • Silk dressing machines, elevators, and worms. Separators for peas, wheat, etc.
  • Brushes of all sorts for machinery.
  • Corn measures of all description.
  • Sack chains, jiggers, punches, spanners, etc. Swiss dressing-silk.
  • Blackmore's bolting cloths.
The exhibitors are also erectors of malt kilns on improved principles, as shown in model; makers of woven-wire kiln plates of any dimensions; malt and corn screens; malt gauges; shovels; sieves, bushels, sack trucks, and chondrometers for ascertaining the weight of corn from sample.

In 1868 Bryan Corcoran, together with William Dunham, also of Mark Lane, was granted a patent for improvements in apparatus for dressing millstones. But trouble lay ahead, with many visits to the law courts. In 1868 Bryan Corcoran senior (and his son) entered into a 21-year partnership with G.P. Witt -  one of several others in the same line of business in Mark Lane. Articles were agreed in 1871 with provision for arbitration and possible dissolution if one party was in breach. Disputes arose, and Corcoran sought to end the partnership and make this public. Witt challenged the legality of his actions and sought an injunction to prevent him, which the Chancery Court (Vice-Chancellor Bacon) granted. What appears to have happened next is that Witt purchased the business, goodwill, trade names and trademarks, and continued to trade as Bryan Corcoran, Witt, & Co (variously, over the coming years, from nos.48, 41 and Market Buildings, no.28, Mark Lane). Meanwhile, in 1871 Bryan Corcoran junior set up at no.34 (later moving to no.31) as Bryan Corcoran Ltd, brewsters' and maltsters' engineers. (He was born in 1843 - at 36 Mark Lane - and educated at Crawford College, Maidenhead; he worked for a time as a civil engineer in Doncaster, including involvement in building the Barnsley-Wakefield railway, and was a skilled engineer and draughtsman who took part in the proceedings of various scientific societies; he was a member of the Institution [sic] of Mechanical Engineers; see below for his church involvements.)  Further legal actions followed from 1873-76, as Witt sought an injunction to prevent the Corcorans trading under any name calculated to induce the belief that the defendant was carrying on business in succession to the original firm, from soliciting business from former clients, or opening letters intended for the original firm. Bacon VC granted this (Witt v. Corcoran (1873) 2 Ch D 69), and further litigation followed - writs for costs, an attempt to commit Corcoran junior for breach of the injunction (Bacon VC's order to this effect was overturned by Lord Chancellor Selborne), and a particular spat over a letter from Russia (in Cyrillic characters) which the Corcorans had opened. In the Court of Appeal, Corcoran maintained that the appeal was only about costs, and not the merits of the case, but the three judges (James and Mellish LJJ and Baggallay JA) were clear that, although Witt had not pressed for committal, the order could only have been made because there had been a breach and a contempt of court.

In this period the 'new' firm also faced legal action from outside: in Wegmann v. Corcoran, Witt & Co (1880), 41 L.T. 792, Wegmann, whose roller mills [see below] had been selling well, alleged infringement of his patents by Corcoran Witt who were importing for sale Weber's improved patent self-acting, noiseless, porcelain roller mill, entirely superseding all other roller mills, with or without differential speed. The case went to the Court of Appeal; Wegmann was unsuccessful, but gained publicity from the dispute, not least because of his prominent threats to infringers. (In the 1880s Witt was also involved in legal actions over other enterprises, including gold mining and a speculative venture in the Transvaal.)

In the event, Bryan Corcoran senior died at the end of 1878, aged 70 (his addresses given as 31 Mark Lane and 15 Douglas Road North, Canonbury), and the two firms continued to trade into the next century.
For example, these two advertisements from the mid-1870s:
BRYAN CORCORAN, WITT, AND CO. (Established upwards of a Century), Successors to and purchasers of the old-established business of Bryan Corcoran and Co., of Mark Lane, London, BUILDERS OF FRENCH MILLSTONES, CORN, FLOUR, RICE, AND PAPER MILL ENGINEERS, Wire Weavers and Workers, Millwrights, and General Mill Furnishers
BRYAN CORCORAN, WITT, AND CO. (Late Bryan Corcoran and Co.), contractors to H.M. GOVERNMENT.
Prize Medal and Two Honourable Mentions, Paris, 1855; Honourable Mention, Vienna Universal Exhibition, 1873 ; Grand Gold Medal, Moscow Great Exhibition, 1872,
At the Melbourne International Exhibition 1880-81 they won silver medals for mill machinery and wire work & wove wire, and Fourth Order of Merit for table lamps (!)

At the 1881 Milling Exhibition, according to The Engineer,
Messrs. Corcoran, Witt, and Co., Stand No. 40, exhibited a grinding mill of peculiar construction for producing semolina. The machine consists of a circular iron pedestal carrying a bedstone built of French burr, with spaces left between them. In these spaces are inserted cast iron frames covered with wire gauze, the object being to let the flour and semolina fall through the wire sieves as soon as they are separated from the branny particles, and thus nothing but the bran comes out at the circumference of the stone. Beneath the bedstone revolving drums are placed nmning round on a table to collect and distribute the flour and semolina; hammers are also provided to jar the sieves at intervals to prevent their choking. Samples of semolina made by this machine were exhibited, and appeared to be very good and clean. Messrs. Corcoran and Witt also exhibited porcelain roller mills, the champion middlings purifier, millstones, and other articles connected with mill furnishing.

Alongside this, in 1878 Bryan Corcoran Jun (as he billed himself for a time) included this advertisement [left] for French and Peak District millstones. A later commentator pointed out that this disproved any claim that French stones were cheaper: a pair of 4' 4" French stones had a list price of between £23/10/- and £35/5/-, while a pair of 4' 4" finished Peak stones had a list price of £12. This, he said, should in fact be no surprise; the cost of transporting stones would have been similar whatever they were made of, but to manufacture a balanced millstone from blocks of chert must have required considerable time and skill. As a result, French stones cost twice as much as Peaks, but were clearly what late 19th century millers wanted: stones that did not discolour the flour and needed minimal maintenance. It is interesting to note that a Peak stone 'in the rough' cost £4/10/- and that 'facing, rounding and cutting out eye' only added a further £1/1/-. Ten years later, his prices were the same, but his 1888 advertisement adds 'Roller Mills from £30; also Iron Rolls & Porcelain Shells'. This (and the spat with Wegemann above) foreshadows the revolution in British milling in the last decade of the 19th century, when roller mills replaced millstones of all kinds. The technology had been developed in central Europe in mid-century and was perfectly suited to the age of steam power and mass-produced steel.

He was also involved in developing patent kilns, vying with firms such as Robert Free and Henry Stopes to keep ahead of the game. In 1881, he advertised
MALT KILNS ERECTED with any number of floors ~ NEW FLOORS ADDED and existing kilns improved
The preference for double-floor malt kilns has steadily increased since the first was fixed by B. Corcoran in 1881
Galvanized Wire Dissipator ~ Barley Screens ~ Barley Washing & Drying Machines ~ Machines for extracting half-corns
Corcoran's tin and wood shovels - and all apparatus and tools for malting, &c.

At the 1892 Milling Exhibition he displayed wheat cleaning machinery, cockle and barley separators, French burr millstones, Pemaux's wheat washing machine and a newly-invented feed slide. 

Left is an oat crusher of around 1900, manufactured by Richmond & Chandler of Manchester, but with two plates on the hopper, one stamped No 1 P.R. Patent and the other Bryan Corcoran Ltd., 31 Mark Lane London. His advertisements (note the small but significant changes over the years) show that he had established his works and warehouse in Backchurch Lane - so he finally becomes part of our parish story!

The family church was St Olave, Hart Street, adjacent to Mark Lane. Bryan Corcoran (who like his forbear had a home in Croydon) was a keen churchman, and was elected Lower Overseer in 1900, Upper Overseer in 1901, Lower Churchwarden in 1903 and Upper Churchwarden in 1904. He wrote a guide to the church in 1906 (which went through three editions during his lifetime), and regularly showed groups from archaeological societies and elsewhere around the church. In 1911 he gave a silver gilt flagon, of chaste design, for use in the church (replacing two larger and older ones). Before his death in 1915, he had paid Mr E.A. Ebblewhite FSA, of Essex Court, Temple, £100 to transcribe verb. et let. the parish registers from 1563-1700 which (oddly) were in his possession and intended to issue them himself; his executors (Isabella his wife, and John Avery FCA) did this in his memoery.

Back to Backchurch Lane  |  Back to History