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John Munnings Collection

Authors: Nathanael Hodge & Laura Felton-Hustwitt

The John Munnings Collection contains detailed watermill sketches by artist John Munnings, together with his notes and the typescript for a book.

John Munnings (1916-1987) was the son of a miller and nephew of the artist Sir Alfred Munnings. He was born at Mendham Mill, Suffolk, and his planned book is full of fascinating reminiscences about his boyhood at the mill – for example this discussion of the importance of the five senses in making sure the mill was running properly:

The first great lesson for a miller to learn was the use of the faculties given us by nature. Firstly, one’s eyes to watch amongst other things the flow of the river in the millstream … Next in importance was one’s ears (as the only rev-counter was one’s finger on a shaft and a watch). To get efficiency and high quality of grinding, the correct speed of machinery was essential. When grinding millstones one had the familiar clatter of the shaker shoe on the damsel for the correct speed, and the particular whurring sound of the millstones rubbing together. There was also the familiar sound of the water hitting the buckets of the wheel, and the low rumble of the gears in the cogpit in a well-balanced mill … The nose being no less an important factor; few things were ever sweeter than the smell of freshly ground meal, but one could always above this detect the smell of an overheated bearing, when there would be a rush for the caster-oil can … Before the days of moisture testers, the quality of grain was decided by chewing a mouthful. This for the experienced miller was as accurate as any modern equipment. It had to be.

Munnings fought in the Second World War and was held prisoner by the Japanese. After the war he married and became manager of an agricultural firm. He was a keen artist, giving exhibitions at the Assembly Rooms, Norwich, and combined this with his interest in watermills to produce the many sketches now in the archive.