Hampshire Mills Group








As soon as man discovered he could produce food and drink from grass seed he required a method of breaking down the hard seed.   The grain had to be ground to remove the husk and crush the “germ” inside.



Initially he crushed the seed between two pieces of stone; the bottom stone being shaped like a saddle (saddle quern) and the top stone rubbed to and fro over the grain.   `Saucer' querns were also used.


Later the task was made easier by using two round stones, the bottom stone being stationary and the top stone, with a hole drilled in its centre to take the grain, being rotated by hand (rotary quern) from about 500BC.



The Romans took the process a stage further by adding power to drive the runner stone, initially by horse or donkey, but later, around the 3rd Century BC, by using a water wheel which soon enabled larger stones to be used.   The Romans introduced the water mill to England.



The Domesday Survey records some 5,624 water mills in England, an average of one mill per 50 households.    The windmill did not arrive until around 1185.   The eventual general pattern in England was for windpower to predominate in the area southeast of a line drawn from Southampton to Scarborough  (i.e. the flatter lowland areas) and water mills in the remaining more hilly areas.  There were exceptions, for example the Lancashire Fylde, and there was an overlap where local conditions favoured a particular power source.


During the medieval period milling was controlled by the customary law of Mill Soke.   The mill was built at the cost of the Lord of the Manor in return for which his tenants were obliged to bring their corn to be ground by the Lord's miller, who retained a percentage of the flour ground in payment, his 'toll', usually about one fifteenth.   This arrangement can be seen as either the Lord providing a service for his tenants, or as a form of subjection and taxation, tenants being compelled to use the Lord's mill.   Millers were rarely popular figures, often being accused of taking more than they were entitled to, especially as they usually had the fattest pigs in the village!

By 1750, mill soke was disappearing, being replaced by a system where the miller bought grain direct from the farmer and sold flour direct to consumers.   This resulted in millers needing more storage space, thus mills were enlarged and the tall tower windmill began to appear.


Tastes also changed.   White bread became popular which resulted in the miller having to install extra equipment to sieve out the bran.




By 1850 the traditional wind or watermill had reached a high state of development, with many important operations automated and considerable use being made of cast iron.


The period 1750 to 1850 had seen an increase in demand for water power, as textile and other industrial mills appeared.   But more far reaching events were taking place.


*   In Hungary a new method of milling was perfected, using cast iron rollers instead of millstones ·


*   In North America there was an over production of grain (produced on very large farms at a lower cost than in England).  


*   This grain was exported at a cheap price to England but, being  very hard, could not be ground economically using millstones.   But it could by using rollers.  


*   The concept of fully automating grain and flour handling was introduced, again from America. ·


*   Large steam engines became a reliable source of power (although much more costly).  


*   By 1850 England had a comprehensive rail network which enabled producers to distribute goods (including flour) quickly to all parts of the country.  


During the period 1750 to 1850 the population of England rose from some 6.3 million to about 16.9 million, increasing the demand for flour.


Leading millers brought all these items together by building large steam powered roller mills adjacent to the ports.   Large quantities of grain could be unloaded direct from ship to silo, where the grain and flour were moved about the mill automatically, crushed and sifted not once, but up to six times to extract every last bit of white flour.   The traditional millers could not compete with these new mills, either in quantity or price, particularly in urban areas.  They did survive in rural areas, particularly by supplying animal feed as well as flour, but by the outbreak of the first world war, traditional flour milling had all but ceased.


These local mills became derelict and were assumed to be obsolete.   But the traditional mill can, and many do, produce flour of equal quality to that of the large concerns.   What it cannot do is make as much profit.


 Tony Yoward


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