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A handy mill

Feeding an army in the depths of a Russian winter requires some handy ideas.

Handmills like this one were carried by thousands of Swedish soldiers during the Great Northern Wars of the 18th Century. They were used by the Caroleans, the highly professional soldiers of the Swedish Empire.

Grain both lasts longer than flour, and is far easier to store and transport. As a result, many armies throughout history have granted its soldiers rations in grain rather than finished food, a practice that dates back to the armies of Imperial Rome. Napoleon’s Grande Armée brought hand-cranked mills with them on the Russian Campaign, but these were heavy and cumbersome. In comparison, this simple Swedish mill could be carried by each individual soldier. Made out of wood, it was light and could be easily dismantled into three parts, and was easy to repair. As the mill was made out of wood, the grains would have to be very soft: when we tried to grind modern grains in it, they were too hard.

It is a very simple mill to work: the grain would go into the trough, then the soldier, using his own strength, ran the large wheel over the grains. From here the flour could be turned into bread, biscuits and flat cakes depending on the needs and desires of the soldier as well as marching conditions and the other ingredients available. Indeed this was another advantage with soldiers grinding their own flour as it is more adaptable to the variable conditions of warfare.

 Gem from the Mildred Cookson Foundation Collection

Related links

  • Further Reading: Before steam-driven mills, wind-powered tower mills or horizontal waterwheels the strength of people and animals were used to produce our daily bread. Learn more about the earliest form of milling here. 
  • Curious Quern: Muscle-powered mills have been used for thousands of years. However, some, such as this rotary quern, would have been far more difficult to carry. Click here to find out more.

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An explosive business

These tools of war enabled centuries of explosive bloodshed.

This Gem is an adjustable copper measure for gunpowder and shot. Without these, it would once have been impossible for riflemen and sportsmen to reliably measure the correct amount of powder for their weapon and launch projectiles. To work it, one would twist the bottom of the copper cup to adjust the size based on markings along the side of this cup. One would then fill it up and scrape off any excess grains, giving a precise and repeatable amount of powder for reliable shooting.

Black powder was invented in ancient China, and travelled through the Islamic World along the Silk Roads. It arrived in Europe with the early Crusades and the Spanish Reconquista. Mills were crucial to its mass production as they drove a number of processes in its production. Often these were water-powered mills, through wind and horses were also used.

This centuries-old form of warfare was replaced in the late 19th century with developments in smokeless powder. However, Black Powder enthusiasts and the fireworks industry continue to use this potent mix for making a bang. 

Gem from the Mildred Cookson Foundation Collection

Related links

  • Further Reading: Black Powder was used in warfare for centuries. Learn more about how milling drove this lethal industry here.

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Up to snuff

A Pandora’s box that contained toxic tobacco.

This Gem is a miller’s snuff-box, inlaid with a beautiful and intricate windmill design, as well as some mother of pearl. Snuff boxes such as this could be highly detailed and would require the skilled work of silversmiths, jewellers and enamelers. According to the engraving, this one comes from the Jura region of France: an area known for its fine small-scale woodwork. Workshops in the area produced many snuff boxes like this one with a huge variety of inlaid designs such as flowers, clovers and rural scenes including mills.  

Snuff is ground tobacco that you inhale rather than smoke. It was popular from its introduction in the 18th Century through to the 19th both with the upper classes and those whose jobs would make lighting a cigarette or pipe an extremely bad idea. This included deckhands on the wooden sailing ships of the time, miners and millers working in their highly flammable mills.

Snuff boxes were popular from the 17th to the 19th century, and they remain a popular collector’s item today. They come in various shapes and sizes; most were small for personal use, and some were even integrated into jewellery. There are also larger designs for communal use – one example being the snuff box at the door of the House of Commons which continues to provide free snuff to MP’s, a practice dating to the 17th Century where smoking was banned from the Commons.

Snuff itself was produced in both windmills and water mills. To make snuff, tobacco leaves are bound together, dried and matured, then ground into a fine powder by the mills, either using traditional millstones or by driving a large pestle and mortar like the one in the drawing to the right. 

Gem from the Mildred Cookson Foundation Collection

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Losing your marbles

An insight into a centuries-old childhood tradition.

These marbles have been produced using the power of water. The way they are made is similar to how you would shape a ball of Play-Doh by rolling it between your hands to form a ball, but with marbles it is done by moving a chunk of marble between two large stone surfaces. Small chunks of marble are placed on a stone which has a circular groove cut into it, and another stone rests on the top of these marble chunks. This upper stone is turned by a horizontal water wheel, which causes the marble chunks to roll around the groove, producing perfectly smooth and spherical marbles.

Germany once dominated the marble making industry, and its rivers were lined with with hundreds of marble mills, ideally situated for easy exportation across the world. Marbles were produced by poor mountain farmers who used the mills as a way of supplementing their income. The mass production of glass marbles, thanks to the invention of marble scissors in 1846, killed off the German marble mills.

Only one marble mill survives from this thriving industry: situated in the Almbach Gorge in Bavaria, Germany, this mill has been working since 1683, making it one of the oldest businesses in the region. It last exported marbles in 1921, with the cargo heading to London. Its location next to a waterfall (which once powered the mill) makes it a stunning place for hikers to visit today, and reminisce about the industry that helped to shape the childhood of many generations.

Gem from the Mildred Cookson Foundation Collection

Related links

  • By Trawler from Aberdeen: Horizontal waterwheels aren’t what many people automatically think of when they imagine a waterwheel. However for one intrepid explorer, this made them worth catching a trawler from Aberdeen.
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Rags to riches

Turning your shirts into books.

This Gem is a picture that tells a story of its own origin: a sketch of a windmill, drawn on paper which has been handmade in the traditional way.

Although the sketch is titled ‘Molenpapier’, or ‘papermill’, it seems that the mill in the picture is not actually a papermill at all but the Dutch paint mill Verfmolen de Kat. Built in 1781 in Zaandam, North Holland, it is now the last working paint mill, which produces pigments for paint on a pair of large millstones and opens regularly to visitors.

Mills, powered by either wind, water, humans or animals, were commonly used to make paper until paper-making machines were invented during the Industrial Revolution.

The process of papermaking was done by a very poor group of people from developing towns and cities. Men, women and children could all work as rag pickers who collected old bits of material and brought them to the mill where women known as ‘rag girls’ would sort the rags into different types, open the seams, remove the buttons and cut the pieces to size. These rags could be made from various different types of material, from old clothes to sailcloth. There were two types of quality: lower quality fibres such as hemp making brown paper, and high-quality white paper being made from cotton and linen.

Once the women had prepared the rags, they would then feed them into the mill-driven machines which broke down the rags and separated the fibres, mixing them with water to create a soggy mixture called pulp. Using a wire mesh the same size as the desired piece of paper as a mould, portions of pulp were taken out and spread over the mesh, pressing it down hard so that the water is squeezed out through the mesh, the fibres knit together and a sheet of paper is formed. The sheets were then hung up to dry, and voila – there you have your paper.

Paper was originally invented in China around 200 BC. It came to Europe through the Islamic World, travelling up through Spain during the period of the Reconquista. From here it spread around Europe with the first recorded paper mill in the UK dating to 1488. The invention of the Fourdrinier Machine in 1803 industrialised the process, bringing to an end the centuries-old history of commercial traditional paper milling.

Gem from the Mildred Cookson Foundation Collection

Related links

  • Further Reading: You can learn all about the history of paint mills such as the Verfmolen De Kat.
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Nice rice

Mill don’t just grind flour.

This is a donkey-powered rice mill in China. It makes use of an Edge Runner Stone rather than using a pair of flat millstones. To work it, the rice would be placed on the stationary lower stone. The donkey then drags the top vertical stone around the edge of this lower stone, thus grinding the rice. The produced flour would then be brushed into a bowl. You can see in this photograph the lady on the right holding a brush for this purpose.

Rice is the staple food for a substantial portion of the world’s population. Rice flour can be produced by grinding rice, which is used to thicken stews and soups, as well as making pancakes such as South Indian appams. Its popularity has also increased in recent years as rice flour doesn’t contain gluten.

The ladies in this image are working at a Franciscan Monastery in Chan-Tong, China. The Franciscans arrived as Missionaries to China in the 13th Century, with the first being Father John of Montecorvino. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries there were waves of persecutions as Christianity was seen as a tool of foreign influence. However, relative peace was established in 1800 by the Treaty of Tianjin, and the religious orders returned en mass to China until they were once again expelled following the Communist Revolution.

Gem from the Mildred Cookson Foundation Collection

Related links

  • Further Reading: Before steam-driven mills, wind-powered tower mills or horizontal waterwheels the strength of people and animals were used to produce our daily bread. Learn more about the earliest form of milling here.
  • History of Rice Milling: Learn all about the milling of rice in this series of articles written by Mildred for Milling and Grain. 

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The life-giving camel

Mills come in all shapes and sizes: sometimes they even come with a camel.

This postcard shows a camel-driven Saqiya or Sakia. They were once a common sight across the Middle East and Asia, and in some areas are still in use today. They were animal-driven machines, with which water could be raised from one level to another for the purpose of irrigation. The name ‘Saqiya’ comes from the Arabic as-saqiya ( سَاقِيَة ), meaning ‘that gives water’.

The way a Saqiya worked was that an animal would be harnessed to a shaft attached to a large horizontal wheel. By walking around in a circle the animal then turned the wheel. This horizontal wheel would be connected to a vertical wheel by a series of interlocking gears. This vertical wheel, in turn, would drive a second vertical wheel. This second wheel would either have earthenware pots directly attached to it, or they would be tied to a large looped rope which would be placed over the wheel. These earthenware jars were called Zears or Qadus. When the wheel turned, the jars scooped up water, which were drawn up and would tip the water out into a trough. This would then transport the water to the fields for irrigation. British Pathe have an excellent clip of a Saqiya in action from the 1930s.

There is some debate about the origins of these wheels: in some places they are alternatively known as Persian wheels, and then others suggest they actually originated in India. However we do know that they developed during the Hellenistic Era (333-30BC) and were particularly common in Egypt. Egypt also used another system called a Noria, which was similar to a Sakiya but rather than being powered by animals they used the current of water down a river to turn the large wheels.

This Saqyia is a perfect example of how milling technology has developed in hugely different ways, with as many differences as there are mills. 

Gem from the Mildred Cookson Foundation Collection

Related links

  • Further Reading: Before steam-driven mills, wind-powered tower mills or horizontal waterwheels the strength of people and animals were used to produce our daily bread. Learn more about the earliest form of milling here.
  • Stereograph: The stereograph of a Saqiya Wheel was used to promote Excelsior Tours. You can learn more about how these special photographs brought exotic locations into the Victorian Parlour Room here.
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Theatre of machines

One of the oldest books in our collection, a guide for centuries of millwrights.

This fascinating Gem is an enormous folio-sized book called the Theatrum Machinarum Universale of Groot Algemeen Moolen Boek, which translates as the Universal Theatre of Machines or Large General Mills Book. It was produced by Johannis van Zyl and Jan Schenk as a reference book for millwrights and mill owners, and it contains highly detailed designs of mills for driving a variety of different functions. The copy that we hold in the Archive dates back to 1734, making it one of the oldest books in our library. What makes it such a Gem is its truly collosal size: it measures almost two foot high, making it by far the largest book in our collection, as well as one of the oldest. Its size means that the drawings inside it are very large, too: making it easier to properly see them and appreciate the scale and detail of work. 

The designs are truly magnificent: they are a combination of impressive feats of engineering and beautiful works of art. For example, one of the Netherland’s famous drainage mills is drawn with a geometric star-like wheel, which was as complex in its technicality as its aesthetics. It’s amazing to think that these extremely neat and precise drawings were all done by hand – these days we are used to technical drawings of this type being done on a computer. Drainage mills such as this were very common in the low, flat Netherlands as they were used to move water from one level to another, creating large lakes and reclaiming the land, making the Netherlands as we now know it.

The book also contains examples of different types of sawmills. One uses the rotation of the sails translated through the shaft to drive circular saw blades. A different sawmill design shows a series of cams that transferred the rotation of the sails into a linear motion, driving sets of very large band saws.

One common theme between the mills is the large protruding pole from the caps of the mills. This design was down to the lack of fantails on Dutch Mills; instead, the caps would be turned by hand.

Every one of these illustrations is a work of art, whilst also representing the transferring of lifetimes of millwork. It is amazing to think of all those skilled millwrights who have used this book to create such a fantastic Theatre of Machines. 

Gem from the Mills Archive Special Collections

Related links

  • Further Reading: Without a design it would be impossible to build a mill. As the needs of milling have changed so too have the mills themselves. You can learn more about this here. 

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Mill of old age

Some mills have miraculous powers.

This postcard was produced by the Belgium publisher Marco Marchovici in the early 20th century. The illustration is of elderly women entering the ‘Mill of Old Age’ on the right. On leaving the mill they have been transformed into glamorous young ladies. In the middle of the mill there is a chute for some poor women who have been rejected in the process!

The postcard plays on a common theme of the transformative power of mills – another example being the German reservist mill, another one of our Gems. However unlike other examples, this portcard is less serious and far more charming: the more you explore the image, the more you are treated to humorous episodes. For instance, the rather despondent donkey, the elderly lady falling into the mill in a rather alarming position, or the young lady admiring herself upon emerging.

Marco Marcovici was a Belgium publisher specialising in the tourism industry, which produced a large number of postcards from 1901 to the 1930s. This postcard is unlike the company’s standard works, which were more likely to be collotype views or guidebooks than miraculous mills.

Gem from the Mildred Cookson Foundation Collection

Related links

  • Further Reading: Throughout history mills have been used as a symbol of rebirth, due to their destructive and constructive nature. Learn more about the origins of this symbolism here.
  • Germans Reborn: Not only can a mill grant you youth, they can turn you into a soldier, as this gem shows.

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Germans reborn

Mills are often used as a symbol of rebirth.

This intriguing Gem is a pre-First World War postcard entitled ‘The Reservist Mill’. It depicts German recruits going into the mill and coming out as reservists – the image explained by a poem underneath the mill:

‘Just as the finely-milled corn
Comes out as flour
The Recruit goes into the barracks
And goes home as a reservist.’

The postcard was produced at a high point of German, particularly Prussian, militaristic nationalism, following their victory in the Franco-Prussion War of 1870-1871. This victory had lead to the creation of Germany as a more unified state, combining provinces such as Saxony and Prussia. By 1914 Germany had the most efficient army in Europe, and implemented universal mass conscription. Men were recruited into compulsory military service which lasted for three years, followed by four years as a reservist.

‘Mailing cards’ such as this were introduced in Germany in 1865 by Heinrich von Stephan, the Postmaster General of the German Empire. The first legally printed postcard carried a similar Prussian militaristic theme, with a picture of a German Artillery man loading a cannon. From these origins, Germany would become the leader of the postcard printing industry, with a particular boom of ‘postcard mania’ in 1903. 

Uniquely interactive postcards such as this one were used by military service recruits to send home to their families: there is a little space over the mill’s doorway which allowed the sender to fill in the number of days they had left to go – in this case, 190. Unfortunately, the writing on the reverse is illegible, but we can only imagine that it could have been an update on military training life by an enthusiastic young recruit, or a promise that a homesick reservist would soon be coming home to his loved ones.

This postcard demonstrates the extent mills are part of the communal psyche as they have become a popular motif beyond the milling world.

Gem from the Mildred Cookson Foundation Collection

Related links

  • Further Reading: Throughout history mills have been used as a symbol of rebirth, due to their destructive and constructive nature. Learn more about the origins of this symbolism here.
  • Mill of Old Age: Mills weren’t just able to turn men into soldiers but made old women young again. Learn more about this miraculous power of mills here.
  • Hidden Messages: Postcards sometimes contained secret signals as in a 1910 item found by a volunteer, click here to learn the secret language behind postcards.