Snuff Grinding

Image: Snuff Grinding: ruins of the snuff mill, wooden gearing and water wheel, Golden Valley, near Tickenhill, Bewdley (late 20th century) [Image from: Bewdley Museum]

4. Snuff Grinding 

This photograph and the one linked with the title of this section show the wooden gearing of the grinding wheel at Bewdley Snuff Mill, dating in all probability from the 18th century. To the right of the picture are the remains of the waterwheel, which translated water power into the energy required to produce snuff powder by crushing the tobacco. The tobacco stems and leaves were crushed by an iron pestle rotating in an oak-lined mortar. After grinding, the powder was sieved, to create an even texture and then aged in oak barrels to develop the nose or bouquet. It could then be marketed plain or blended with scented oils. It is not clear whether these later processes took place at Bewdley or elsewhere. The Gloucester Port Books indicate that tobacco dust was transported downstream from Bewdley.

The Decline of Snuff Taking

Image: Upper Pool used as part of the snuff mill complex, Golden Valley, near Tickenhill, Bewdley (late 20th century) [Image from: Bewdley Museum]

5. The Decline of Snuff Taking

Snuff taking remained a popular habit until the 20th century, but by the mid-19th century it was becoming less fashionable.
• Fashionable society began to look on snuff taking as rather vulgar and the rituals associated with the practice lost their glamour.
• The introduction of cigars and cigarettes led to a new way of using tobacco by smoking.

In the 19th century, Bewdley snuff mill was converted for use by the horn making industry to cut the teeth for horn combs. By the 20th century the snuff mill and its adjacent area had reverted to its origins as a quiet rural valley.

Bewdley Snuff Mill

Image: Close-up of the abandoned snuff mill, Golden Valley, near Tickenhill, Bewdley (early 20th century). [Image from: Bewdley Museum]

3. Bewdley Snuff Mill

Little is known about the history of the Bewdley Snuff Mill. The earliest reference to a “Fish Pooll and Snuff Mill” appears to be in 1785. In many ways the area was a good location.
• The essential raw material, tobacco which was imported from America, could be easily shipped from Bristol, to Bewdley via the Severn.
• The extensive availability of water to power the grinding mills provided the relevant source of energy.
• Bewdley’s prosperity provided a market for snuff and the town was close to potential sources of demand in Shrewsbury, Worcester, the Black Country and Birmingham.
• The river and roads enabled the finished project to be transported and the movement of tobacco via the Severn is recorded in the Gloucester Port books.

Work and Labour

Image: The Snuff Mill, Golden Valley, near Tickenhill, Bewdley (early 20th century) [Image from: Bewdley Museum]

2. Work and Labour

Snuff was made by pulverising “cured” tobacco leaves, which had been allowed to ferment in their own juices for several years. Initially, snuff was ground by using a mortar and pestle or hand-operated grinders. As demand rocketed in the 18th century, power-operated mills were introduced. Snuff-grinding was largely a rural industry. Mills were located in areas where the force of water could be used to drive wheels which could translate energy into powering grinding machines. The photograph shows the Mill with a sluice gate to the right which could control the level of water in the mill dam.

Taking Snuff

Image: Portrait of Queen Charlotte, wife of George III, on the inside of an Enamel snuff box celebrating the Coronation of the King (Birmingham, 1761).

Wolverhampton Art Gallery

1. Taking Snuff

The hinterland of Bewdley was home to at least one snuff mill. Snuff-taking in the 18th century became a near universal habit as snuff was taken by men and women in all social classes. It was stimulated by soldiers and sailors returning from continental conflicts in the early 1700s and the growth of coffee houses providing a venue for the ritual of snuff-taking by the chattering classes. Its respectability was enhanced by royalty’s use of the product. Queen Charlotte was known as “Snuffy Charlotte” because of her addiction to the habit. Possessing a snuffbox became as much a definition of status and fashion as the latest mobile phone in the early 21st century. Huge numbers were produced in wood, ivory, silver, gold, enamel, porcelain and papier mâché. Snuff taking was linked with a complicated etiquette. One description published around 1800 divided the ritual into twelve stages:

1. Take the snuffbox with your right hand.
2. Pass the snuffbox to your left hand.
3. Rap the snuffbox.
4. Open the snuffbox.
5. Present the box to the company.
6. Receive it after going the round.
7. Gather up the snuff in the box by striking the side with the middle and fore fingers.
8. Take a pinch of snuff with the right hand.
9. Keep the snuff a moment or two between the fingers before carrying it to the nose.
10. Put the snuff to your nose.
11. Sniff it by precision with both nostrils, and without a grimace.
12. Close the snuffbox with a flourish.

The Making of Snuff

Text: Malcolm Dick

Image: Snuff Grinding: gearing in the snuff mill, Golden Valley, near Tickenhill, Bewdley (late 20th century)

[Image from: Bewdley Museum]


Snuff was an important consumer product in the 18th century. Rich and poor “took” snuff and it was processed in several locations. Outside Bewdley, a snuff mill was created to grind the raw material, tobacco. The history of the industry is linked to early 20th century photographs, which show the abandoned and derelict mill and machinery.