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UK Heap's Rice Mill (Joseph Heap & Sons Ltd.), Liverpool - September 2017

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History

Heap’s Rice Mill, which is now Grade II listed, was founded by Joseph Heap. It was constructed in 1778, on Pownall Street, Liverpool. Originally, the site operated as a small processing mill; however, additional warehouse space was constructed as demand for rice in Europe increased. The warehouse space was later combined with the mill to form one single building. The reason for Joseph Heap’s success can be attributed to the Indian Mutiny of 1857-58 and the American Civil War in 1861-65 as these events meant British traders were forced to seek out trade in other areas of the British Empire. Heap was one of the first to establish trade in British-ruled Burma. By 1864 the company was sending its own ships to acquire one thousand tons of ‘Cargo Rice’ for its Liverpool mill. Joseph Heap & Sons Ltd. became wealthy enough to own its own shipping firm which was known as Diamond H Line, named after their house flag. 

In the mid-1800s, during a period of expansion, Heap’s company constructed a number of new warehouses at various other sites across Liverpool. These buildings were used for the storage of sugar, and as additional office space. The sugar warehouses were later adapted and amalgamated into the rice mill industry. At this point in time, Joseph Heap & Sons Ltd. vessels were sailing as far as the East Indies and Australia. The original mill would also become the one that ground rice for Kellog’s Rice Krispies in 1927.

Despite several changes in ownership, Joseph Heap & Sons Ltd. main mill was still fully operational up until 1988. After this time, some operations were transferred to a new site on Regent Road. Parts of the mill on Pownall Street continued to operate until 2005. Twelve years later, however, and Heap’s original Rice Mill has decayed badly due to water damage, to the extent that it was due to be demolished in 2014. Nevertheless, a petition to save the site resulted in it being categorised as a listed building by English Heritage. This means the imposing structure remains one of the earliest and last surviving warehouse complexes in a once-thriving industrial area. It is also an important reminder of Liverpool’s rich mercantile history and overall prominence. In terms of its future, it is reported that the building is due to be converted into luxury apartments. However, the £130 million residential development has been heavily criticised because the developers threatened to pull out if they were forced to keep the interior. Subsequently, it is likely that only the original façade of the mill will survive; the interior is due to be sleek and modern. 

Our Version of Events

In the mood for a bit of action and adventure, we decided to have a drive over to Liverpool. We had a bit of business to attend to over in Scouse Land first, but plenty of time before that to get a couple of explores under our belts. We didn’t really have much of a plan, but since there are many places on our to-do list over in the North West, we had high hopes we’d get something interesting done.  

After taking a look at a site we’ve had our eye on for a while, and deciding the street was too busy for us to access it, we wandered back to where we’d parked the car. It was on the way that we spotted a very large derelict-looking building that was just ripe for the picking. It didn’t take us long to realise that this was the old Heap’s Rice Mill (the name is written on the side of the building) and that it’s rather historic. 

Finding access to the rice mill was a bit of a ball-ache to be honest. All of the ground-level doors and windows are covered with heavy-duty metal doors and shutters, so there’s no getting past those. We spent the next half an hour wracking our brains and were on the verge of giving up when we realised the way in was right in front of us. This raised our urbex-deprived spirits and ten seconds later we were inside the old mill, staring up in awe at an incredible bridge and several large tanks. The place felt absolutely huge from the inside, and it was fucked, in a nice, photogenic kind of way. The only downfall was the phenomenal amount of green fetid bird shit dripping from the roof, which was weird because there didn’t appear to be any living birds. 

Splodging our way through a good inch of crap, we made our way to the far end of the enormous alleyway we seemed to be in. From there, we found a staircase and made our way up with the intention of finding the roof. However, by level three we soon discovered that the former metal staircase had become so corroded a huge section had fallen off. This forced us to backtrack a bit, until we found a stone staircase. This was much more sturdy and took us to the top levels of the building. Roaming around up here, though, is quite risky, so if anyone happens to pop to Heap’s Rice Mill after seeing this report, watch your step! You should take Historic England’s description of the building, the one that says the premises is ‘mainly 7-storeys’, quite literally. Many of the floorboards have disappeared, and those that remain are completely rotten. We moved around very tentatively up here. 

Other than a few bits of leftover machinery and random bits of kit, there isn’t much to see throughout the building, but the extreme decay is pretty cool to see. The best bit of the explore, by far, was what we found in the basement. At first, we thought we’d discovered a normal cellar sort of setup. But, we stumbled across a small stone staircase that took us even deeper, until it reached a beautiful brick-lined tunnel. Unfortunately, the tunnel was sealed at the end, but we’re assuming it probably led all the way to the docks at one time. It seemed to head off in that general direction. After wandering around in the basement for a while, we agreed we’d seen most of the building and decided to call it a day. We didn’t have a proper place to stay, so we still had to find a spot to camp. On that note, then, we made our way back to the main street and set off in search of a place to drink a couple of beers and catch fifty winks. 

Explored with MKD. 
 

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