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The Devil’s Mill

The issue of The Miller dated 5 May 1930 contains this story about the ‘Devil’s Mill’

A miller’s apprentice loved a pretty peasant girl named Yvonne, but the young people concealed their deep affection from others, swore eternal fidelity and for a long time preserved their own secret. Meanwhile the ‘prentice laid plans for the future and dreamt of his coming happiness. One day he took courage, sent to the father of his Yvonne and begged her hand. Poor though he was, he hoped with his small savings and the work of his honest hands to provide a home for his sweetheart. The farmer, however, wanted no needy apprentice as his son-in-law and dismissed Yves with hard words.

For a long time the rejected suitor fought against his despair until at dead of night the Prince of Darkness appeared and offered to build him the finest mill in return for his soul. After a day of struggling the Devil’s persuasion went quickly forward, Yves assisting. It was a sad sorrow for Yvonne when she heard of the awful contract, but with true affection she prayed for her lover’s deliverance and persuaded him to resort to a stratagem. He fashioned out of a stone a representation of the Virgin and when the mill was complete, save for one stone, he handed the image to his Satanic Majesty. Cursing frightfully with rage the Devil fled from the place. Again Yves asked Yvonne’s father for her hand and this time attained his heart’s desire. Not only had his soul been saved, but fortune was smiling upon him’.

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The story of Sant Janabai

An image found in Hindu temples shows a god and woman grinding together at a mill. This is the revered Hindu sant (holy person) called Janabai.

Janabai was a low-caste maidservant and poet. There are various versions of her story, but according to one of these she was taken as a five-year-old child to the temple of the god Vitthal or Vithoba in the city of Pandharpur, the centre of religious devotion for the Varkari Hindu tradition. She refused to leave, telling her parents that although they loved her, they would in time have to give her away in marriage, and instead she wished to remain in the temple and devote herself to God.

The temple of Vithoba in Pandharpur. Parag Mahalley / CC BY-SA (

Janabai was then taken in by the poet Namdev as his maid. Namdev (c 1270 – c 1350) is a poet revered in both the Varkari tradition and in Sikhism (some of his poems are included in the Sikh holy book, Guru Granth Sahib). Janabai was also a poet, and is said to have composed over 300 hymns to the god Vitthal. The deity was said to have appeared to her and helped her with her daily tasks – her songs described him as her fellow serving maid. They are usually shown grinding at the mill together.

Here are some examples of her poems:

Let me undergo as many births in this world as You please, but grant that my desires are fulfilled. They are that I see Pandharpur and serve Namdev in every birth. I do not mind if I am a bird or a swine, a dog or a cat, but my conditions are that in each of these lives, I must see Pandharpur and serve Namdev. This is the ambition of Namdev’s maid.

Give me only this girl, O Hari [supreme deity], that I shall always sing Your sacred Name. Fulfil my only desire that You will accept my humble homage and service. This is all that I desire. Have mercy on me and fulfil my desires. I want to concentrate my eyes and mind on You and have Your Name on my lips. For this the maid Jani falls at Your feet.


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More mills in the news

Here’s another round up of mills featured in the news over the past few weeks.

Wheat field. Photo: Sue Watts

As we mentioned in our previous blog, the impact of the pandemic on mills has been significant, with flour still in short supply and many smaller and traditional mills working overtime to meet demand.

In spite of the huge increase in demand from home bakers, however, the lockdown may lead to a fall in total flour consumption. There is also likely to be a smaller wheat harvest than usual this year due to dry weather.

Here are some of the stories from the media about the impact on traditional mills:

The larger mills are of course playing their part too, with mills and bakeries making donations to the NHS and local charities. Similar stories could be told about mills worldwide, but I’ll leave that for another blog.

Thanks to those who have contacted us to send information and pictures to add to the archive. If you’re involved with a mill, let us know how things are going through the contact page.

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Bored? Why not take a look at our images and documents

If you’re stuck with nothing to do, try having a look through our Archive Catalogue, and help us improve our data.

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Our Archive Catalogue can be found here. It contains 84,554 entries relating to mills and milling, including 70,382 photographs and 2,078 text documents.

There are various ways to search the catalogue. From the search bars on the home page you can search everything, or just look for images. To find everything on a specific mill, search the mill database. You can also browse through images by country, UK county and mill type. For more information about searching see here.

With all this data, there are bound to be some errors or omissions so if you spot any we would love to hear from you. You can also look through our images tagged ‘Unidentified mill’ to see if there are any you recognise. To give us your feedback just go to our contact page.

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Mills in the news

It seems the coronavirus pandemic has affected every area of life, and milling is no exception. In fact news stories about mills, milling, flour and bread production have been particularly frequent in the last few weeks. Here is an overview of some of the stories.

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Photo: Martin Watts

The main milling related story in the UK has been the shortage of flour in the supermarkets, as the popularity of home baking during lockdown has led to increased demand. According to Alex Waugh, director general of the National Association of British and Irish Millers, the real problem is not a shortage of flour but packaging. Usually 96% of flour is sold to food manufacturers and delivered by tanker or in bags larger than 16kg. Even though mills are working 24/7 and packing lines are running at maximum capacity, it is still not possible to pack enough supermarket size flour bags to meet demand.

This has had a knock on effect on traditional mills. While these have lost their income stream from visitors, those that still produce stone-ground flour have seen a massive increase in demand as the public searches for alternative sources for flour. Many of these have been featured in the media in past weeks, including:

Letheringsett Watermill, Norfolk. Photo Frank Gregory

Other news stories about milling in the UK in the past few weeks include:


Trends in the UK reflect those around the world, with similar stories of a rise in home baking and corresponding flour shortage reported in the USACanadaIrelandNew Zealand and Turkey.

In countries where buying flour and baking your own bread is not just a hobby but the only way to feed your family, the effects can be much more severe. In India millers are facing a severe wheat shortage due to the closure of ‘mandis’ (agricultural markets) because of the lockdown, alongside unseasonal rains. The government has begun a programme of distributing up to 5kg free wheat per person per month, but as ‘chakki shops’ (small local mills) have also closed in the lockdown, this has left many with wheat they are unable to grind.

Small electric-powered mills in India. Photo by Geoff Holman, 2010.

In one case ten bikers were arrested for looting a flour truck. A week after lockdown began some agricultural markets began reopening, but others remain closed and the flour milling industry as a whole is running at only 25% capacity.

It is a similar story in Pakistan, where the pandemic has come on top of an existing wheat shortage at a time of economic and political turmoil. Other countries are also suffering.

Let us know your story

If you’re involved with milling, we’d like here how the pandemic has been affecting you. Send us a diary, photos or just an email.

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Help us record the impact of coronavirus on mills

The Mills Archive needs your help to record the story of how mills have been affected by the current crisis. If you’re involved with a mill, why not send us a record of your experiences (e.g. a diary and/or pictures), so that this can be preserved for future generations?

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Tomorrow’s history depends on your efforts, so please can you help? Send anything you think is relevant to and we will preserve and share the story. And please pass this message on to any who would be interested.

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The Mills Archive’s response to the coronavirus

During these unprecedented times, we thought we should reach out and reassure you that here at the Mills Archive Trust, we are working hard to continue to safeguard milling heritage.

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The Mills Archive is now closed to visitors and staff will be working from home, while continuing to maintain the security of the collections in our care. We will still be available to contact through our contact form, so please feel free to get in touch, but we would ask for your patience as it may take longer for us to get back to you, and in some cases we may be unable to answer your enquiry.
Our online resources and databases are of course still available and we’ll continue updating our blog and Facebook page with fascinating mill themed facts and stories, to keep you entertained if you’re stuck at home.
We encourage you to subscribe to one or more of our email newsletters, which address different aspects of milling history.
We wish all our supporters good health in this difficult time.

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Across the pond with Rex Wailes: Home again

The last entry in our series of blogs about Rex Wailes’ 1929 trip to the USA and Canada.

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1929 press cutting from Rex’s files, showing Canadian landscape

Unfortunately the last part of Rex’s diary is missing, so his account of his time in Canada is lost. Correspondence from the collection fills in some of the gaps:

I had a most enjoyable 4 weeks in Canada, of which the best was the week that I had in the Rockies, Unfortunately I couldn’t use my quarter plate camera, as I was riding all the time, and it was too cumbersome to carry about. The Kodak with its finder, is not as satisfactory, but even so, I got a fair number of successful snapshots

Letter to Percy Bentley, Vancouver, 22 July 1929

I had a most interesting time in French Canada, but unfortunately only three days there altogether. They have a number of derelict Tower Mills, all built on the French principle after the style of Nordasques Mill, but only one is a at work and I did not hear of it until the day before I sailed so was not able to see it. There is one derelict tower built in brick fairly tall and with a considerable batter, but that seems to be unique. The earliest known now was built in 1668 on the Island of Orleans, close to Quebec and I have full particulars of its history.

Letter to H O Clarke, Norwich, 16 July 1929

I had a very pleasant voyage across with a heavy swell which luckily did not affect me at all. I was very comfortable, but the Dining Room accommodation and the food were both very poor. I was put on the recommended list of passengers after much importunity at the White Star head quarters at Montreal and as a result was shown all over the ship except the bridge which of course, is only visited by invitation of the Captain.

Letter to Mrs Archibald, 9 October 1929

Another letter from this time is interesting in light of the direction Rex’s life was to take. While he was away the Daily Mail had run the following article, leading to several letters to the press about the fate of old windmills:

Artilce in Daily Mail, 17 June 1929

On his return Rex wrote the following letter to the secretary of the SPAB

The next chapter in the life of Rex Wailes was just beginning.


Here are Google’s suggestions for how to follow in Rex’s footsteps:

Boston to Nantucket

Nantucket to New York

New York to Philadelphia

Philadelphia to Seattle

Seattle to Quebec City

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Cleaning, folding and fixing – a conservation training day

A recent training day at the Archive, run by conservator Victoria Stevens, saw volunteers try out conservation techniques including cleaning, repairing and housing documents.

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The course was funded by our recent grant from the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust. Everyone who attended found the day a rewarding and enjoyable experience. We asked one of our volunteers, Kolja, for his view:

It was a fascinating course which aimed to provide methods and understanding for how to care for collections. The course outlined different types of material you would conserve in collections and different methods for cleaning and storing these items.

It began with explaining that risk assessment was key for cleaning. You have to look at the condition and fragility of any items, before considering how to clean and conserve them. We were given practical demonstrations of a range of cleaning methods, from as simple as using a brush, to latex sponges, to a specialised conservation vacuum – a conservac. This was followed on by looking at different methods of storage, and what was most appropriate for different objects, such as old books and photographs, through to larger old maps and designs.

Kolja, Nathanael and Noor folding archival packaging

Victoria demonstrating use of the conservation vacuum on a Rex Wailes drawing.

Cleaning with a latex sponge.

A Thomas Hennell drawing from the Rex Wailes collection, before and after cleaning

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Across the pond with Rex Wailes: Chicago to Minneapolis

Extracts from Rex Wailes’ 1929 diary of his trip to the USA and Canada. Part 23.

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4. 6. 29.

On Tuesday the 4th, I had tea with Miss Young at the E.S.U. This was my first introduction to cinnamon toast. Toast is made, buttered while warm after steam has come off and a mixture of equal parts of cinnamon and sugar is sprinkled on from a shaker. The whole is put back in the oven to warm just before serving, and served on a hot covered dish – excellent!

I left Chicago by the “Oriental Limited” at 11.30 p.m. standard time, going on board at 10.30. p.m. and turning in at midnight. I had a good berth in the centre of the coach. Ones “grip” and shoes go under the bed, on which one has to dress and undress – no easy matter. The attendant is supposed to shine the shoes overnight. Washing arrangements are three hand basins in the men’s smoking room – a small place about 6 x 12ft. There is also a small tooth-cleaning basin. Iced drinking water from a tank, and paper cone cups are provided outside in the passage.

I slept well until 5.45 when we stopped at Prairie du Chein. From the berth we appeared to be skirting a huge stone cliff running N.W. – about 150ft in height and increasing. It was well wooded. Below was flat country, well cultivated with black soil – the Mississippi Valley.

Lake Pepin

The railway follows the course of the river and the scenery constantly changes. In places the valley widens out so that one side or the other is unseen through the trees. At other times it narrows down to a bare ½ mile wide. The sides are broken with little re-entrant valleys, all thickly wooded. The Mississippi river here is not very wide, but is a slow sluggish stream bordered with swamps and shewing every sign of regular flooding. In one place it widens out into Lake Pepin where are scores of clam boats, which get fresh water clams – like coarse lare oysters. Rough pearls are occasionally obtained from them.

Wisconsin bluffs

After passing the Minnesota or Wisconsin Bluffs, we arrived at St. Paul. Here we had a 25 minute wait, so I went into the town to stretch my legs and get some Mistol and Ponds Cream – the first for my nose and the second for my face, which was getting sore. We were banked out of St. Paul by a locomotive.

The first things one noted about Minneapolis were the enormous concrete grain elevators and the storage dams on the Mississippi for power generation. A “gas-electric”, switching loco, was used to drag back the observation car, put on another sleeper, and bank the train out of the station. As we left we had a good view of the town. A tower known as the Foshay tower, and two other business buildings were very fine, but otherwise it was not very remarkable from what one could see.