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Page 9

Newsletter 91, Winter 2010  © Hampshire Mills Group


Trains, Tiles & Tidemills in Portugal
Photos and text by Nigel Smith

Nigel and Angela Smith saw these intriguing wall tiles and sent them with the following email to David Plunkett inviting comment:

We have just returned from a trip to the Douro valley in Portugal mainly for railways and trams, but we always look out for any evidence of mills and came across these images on tiles.  Amarante is a small town on the Tamega river a few miles north of Regua – it has a very well preserved historic centre with a wall next to the river showing old scenes in tiles including this intriguing view of 4 water wheels.  

In Porto's main suburban station, Sao Bento, the concourse is covered in tiles depicting historical scenes including this one showing a water wheel – possibly a tide mill perhaps?

David Plunkett, in turn, wrote to Claudia Silveira in Portugal for possible clarification and identification, and then responded to Nigel:

The awaited reply from Portugal over your enquiry of Oporto mill on wall tiles has arrived :    Make a special note of the Alcantara Tidemill within the (attached) tile panel.  I have looked at my copy of 'Molinos de Mar y Estuarios' by Litoral Atlantico, 2nd edition 2005.  The chapter on Portugal (from p.179) as 'Portugal Los molinos de marea', has lots of data, pictures and diagrams.  Unfortunately Oporto Region, is a dead area for recording at this time.  Hopefully Claudia will get round to the research soon, as stated in her message to me:

I would be very interested in seeing these tiles, however I only know 2 tide mills sites in Portugal where a vertical water wheel is documented, both of them in the south and being a former adaptation. About a possible existence of tidemills in Porto area, I don’t have for the moment an answer, because I don’t know very well the medieval documentation for the north, but I’ve been studying mostly the south. However I have some interrogations because I know that in Oporto there were also inlets referred to in some documents and some mills are also mentioned. To be sure I would need to make some research either in documents either in geographical data for the evolution of this area, which is a project for the next years.

The only representation of a tide mill in tiles is this one I send you, which is the Tide Mill of Alcântara, very close to Lisbon in the northern bank of the Tagus, destroyed in the XVIII th century. Next week there will be a meeting here in Lisbon to present the former conclusions of a study that is being carried on this set of tiles that represent the city of Lisbon. I hope to participate to learn a little bit more about the context of production of these tiles.

(These edited email extracts appear by kind permission of Nigel Smith and David Plunkett.)

On 17th November Nigel forwarded this reply from Claudia which he had just received, clarifying the tide mill matter further:

It’s a very beautiful picture, but unfortunately, it seems to be a river mill.  In the Douro River there were once several watermills with a vertical wheel, some of them destroyed to improve the navigation conditions during the XIXth century. Some of the remaining are very similar to this. My doubts about tide mills in this area are mostly those very near of Oporto, because there was an inlet there, and also nearby in Leça da Palmeira, where some mills were also functioning very close to the sea, but today they don’t exist and old photos are not clear about the typology because they show only the front of the mill, where we can see some horizontal waterwheels, but don’t show us the mill pond. Maybe old documents can tell us a little bit more... Best regards,    Cláudia Silveira

 Can any of our readers throw more light on these Portuguese mills?

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