The Miller & the Mill

Extract from p194,5 and 6 of “Rural Life in Victorian England” by G.E. Mingay, Futura Publications 1979. Copyright 1976 Land Humphries publishers Ltd.

[p194/5] “Before the late nineteenth century one of the most widely found country characters was the miller, perennially white and dusty from his flour sifter. He often combined milling with a trade in corn, and sometimes developed a large middle man’s business. In addition to grinding the farmers corn on commission, he dealt on his own account, buying and selling and arranging shipments to distant markets. Corn-growing areas once had numerous mills, for the capacity of each was small and transport costs were a consideration.

There were two main types of windmill. The main structure of the wooden post mill was pivoted on a massive crown or centre post which in turn was mounted on two great timber beams crossed at right angles and resting on brick piers. From these cross trees a number of sloping beams, called quarter bars, held the crown post in position. The sails were kept in the eye of the wind by pushing the whole superstructure of the mill round on its pivot on the crown post. A long tail beam projected from the side of the mill opposite the sails and came nearly to the ground, often supported by a wheel. This was used to turn the mill, an operation which might have to be done several times a day manually or with the aid of a horse. The wheel had travelled round the mill so many times that it wore a circular rut in the ground. Uncertain, shifting winds meant a good deal of labour in turning the mill, but in the eighteenth century a fantail, consisting of a wheel with six or eight vanes, was added to turn the mill automatically as the wind changed.

The tower or smock mill, often much larger than the post mill, consisted of a brick or stone tower, or sometimes an eight-sided wooden tower, supporting a movable mill top. The sails were kept in the wind by the flyer wheel mounted above the mill top behind the sails.

[p196] However, wind … power diminished in importance as steam engine came into use in corn mills about the end of the eighteenth century. The engine might be portable or stationary, and at first was usually supplementary to the main source of power, used when the weather was calm …Purpose-built steam mills seem not to have been common until well on into the nineteenth century, and especially after 185o. Their appearance, no doubt, was linked with the increased availability of water-borne coal supplies and the later extension of the railway system in the second half or the century.

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