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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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Smugglers’ Mills and Nefarious Thrills

Throughout the ages, the role of the miller has been subject to all sorts of stories and stereotypes: millers have been slandered, satirised, respected and romanticised all in equal measure.

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Langstone Mill, Havant. Photo: Ashok Vaidya

Oft-times in literature, the miller has been the recipient of a similar treatment to smugglers and pirates, his contemporary romantic ruffians: filling the role of a somewhat shady yet dazzlingly handsome heart-throb, feared yet envied, who takes part in some suspiciously clandestine but thrillingly passionate scandal or adventure.

It surprised me not at all, therefore, when flicking through a delightful 1930s tome in the Mills Archive library called The Mills of Man by George Long, I came across an account attesting that at one time, the jobs of milling and smuggling did in fact go hand in hand.

Mr Long describes how, at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries “when that nefarious traffic reached its zenith”, the miller had an important role to play in the highly-organised smuggling trade. The miller was “frequently the individual responsible for the actual delivery to the consumer of the articles ordered. The reason for this was that the mill was situated in every village – either wind or water – and could easily deliver contraband articles concealed beneath the sacks of grain or flour which formed its legitimate trade. Further, those small mills which had no delivery vehicles of their own could hand the articles to the callers as they brought their grist and took away their flour.”

So it seems that millers took a leading part in the work of delivering orders to the customers in towns and villages – an ingenious method indeed! This business would not have taken place completely secretly: often the whole village would have been in on it as many of them would have benefitted, as we hear in Rudyard Kipling’s poem A Smuggler’s Song: “Brandy for the Parson, ‘Baccy for the Clerk”. Those that didn’t benefit chose to subtly turn their heads:

“Them that asks no questions isn’t told a lie –
Watch the wall my darling as the gentlemen go by!”

Langstone Windmill

Stories of the smuggling days are particularly rife around the Hampshire and Sussex coastline, and I was delighted to find in The Mills of Man a tale about Langstone Mill, very near to where I grew up. George Long even calls it the “Smuggler’s Windmill”, as “This district was for some years the head-quarters of the celebrated Langstone Gang, whose exploits are worth of a book to themselves, and their favourite rendezvous was the Royal Oak Inn, close to the windmill.”

There is an old tradition that an underground passage once connected the two inns of the village, the “Royal Oak” and the “Ship”.” It is also said that yet another tunnel ran from the Royal Oak to Langstone Windmill, just next door – and now we see how the smugglers ‘land crew’ would get the contraband to the miller, right under the noses of the customs men. When I stand on the Langstone shore and look over at the old, black tower mill which gives the feeling of having seen many an escapade over the years, I am inclined to agree with George Long when he says “I think we are safe in surmising that the Langstone Windmill, like its neighbour at Bedhampton, had its full share of illegal activities.”

Smuggling in its heyday was common across the whole of the southern coast of England, from Falmouth to Folkestone and anywhere in between. Down on the rugged west coast, we can read an account of “The resourceful smugglers of Crantock” in the book An Introduction to Cornish Watermills by D. E. Benney.

Treago Mill. Photo Martin Bodman

“Treago Farm [in Crantock near Newquay] is situated behind a sand dune ridge in a hollow, secluded and isolated from the outside world, and at the back of the hollow against the open rock face is Treago Mill. [The smugglers] ran cargoes of spirits, tobacco and tea into Porth Joke and concealed their contraband in the Mill at frequent intervals, until it could be removed to safer hiding places or distributed.”

It makes sense that a mill, a large structure with plenty of space to store a cargo that could perhaps easily be disguised as bags of flour or grain, would be the perfect smugglers’ hiding place. One place, according to the newspaper cutting below (from the West Sussex County Times, 1936), was even too good – so much so that the smugglers forgot it was there!

Smugglers chose their hiding places well, and often mills just happened to be ideally suited to their requirements – for example Ewhurst Mill on Hurtwood Common, Surrey. The windmill’s neighbourhood is very solitary so unlikely to attract attention, but near enough to London. Around the mill are numerous grassy tracks, soft roads along the downs which were well-suited to the smugglers’ pack horses, but useless for the wheeled traffic of police and customs men. At the summit of the hill, near the mill, a number of the tracks converge, whilst 10 minutes to the west in Puttenham, are vast underground store houses where the smugglers would keep their cargoes.

Staplecross Mill, Ewhurst

At the other end of the south coast we find the village of Rottingdean, near Brighton, where a gang of smugglers made their disreputable business for two hundred years. Up high upon the hill, the aptly named Beacon Mill (also known as Rottingdean Mill), a grade II-listed smock mill, still stands. The fact that it is now used as a navigational mark for ships out at sea indicates how useful the windmill’s situation on the hill would have been for smugglers, who apparently used its sails to signal that the coast was clear, a message or warning being conveyed by the angle at which the sails were set.

(Many mills seem to have used this signalling method, almost like semaphore – I wonder how long it was until the customs men caught on!)

This mill’s infamous adventures have been immortalised by Rudyard Kipling (who seemed to have had as much of a love for smugglers tales as I do) in his poem “Rottingdean Mill”:

“The smugglers used her dusty lofts
And dozed there through the day,
Or waited signals from the sea
To bring “moonshine” away.”

Rottingdean Windmill

This shows us that even when millers weren’t directly involved in the smuggling mission, it seems that they were able to take full advantage of the free trading by allowing smugglers to use their mills and turning a blind eye to whatever else went on.

It’s no wonder millers throughout the ages frequently had bad reputations; these stories of smugglers’ mills, and many more to be found, confirm that millers could be men of low (or at least opportunistic) morals. It’s strange to think that these smugglers’ daring deeds actually happened in real life, not just in the pages of storybooks or folksongs round a fire!

However, it’s curious to see that instead of casting condemnation on millers and smugglers and imparting counsel not to take up their wicked ways, each tale instead glorifies their misdeeds, painting them as loveable rogues; which I think actually is how smugglers were often seen in those days, as Robin Hood-type figures who robbed from the rich (by refusing to pay extortionate government taxes on imported goods) and gave to the poor (by trading with the general public at pre-tax prices).

Whatever questionable morals they promote, these tales really do conjure up evocative images of times past. They certainly give extra fuel to our imagination when we’re looking at an old windmill or watermill which has lasted for one, two or three hundred years or more, and wondering what epic adventures it’s seen: excitement, tragedy, bravery, romance, and the enduring, steady beat of day-to-day life. Yet again, Kipling describes it best:

“And yet she braves the centuries
And the wrath of storm and flood;
But the corn she ground, the corn she ground
Has passed into our blood.”

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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.

MAPS OF REX’S JOURNEY

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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Help save the Rex Wailes Collection

Today we are launching our campaign to raise funds to help preserve and make available the Rex Wailes Collection. Read on to find out more about this significant collection and how you can help to conserve and make the gems in his collection publicly accessible.

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We received the Rex Wailes Collection after long-term talks with the Science Museum, who had housed the material since Rex’s death in 1986.

We are so thrilled to have this collection in our safekeeping, and we are passionate about making inroads into the material so that researchers can learn more from its unique records. Now we need your help to turn our dream into a reality sooner rather than later.

There is much to do before we can make the contents of the collection publicly available. The collection is vast, its items must be inspected, recorded, repackaged and assessed for potential repair, before being digitised so that people around the world can learn from and enjoy the history of mills and milling that this collection represents.

Much material relates to Rex’s work to document the state of mills during the 1920s, and initial inspection is already turning up some fascinating threads to some of the other mill stalwarts of the 20th century – more to follow on this in future blogs!

We have committed to housing the collection, which has been made possible by the support of Perendale Publishers, who produce the monthly “Milling & Grain” magazine (its predecessor was the journal known as “Milling”). We have also applied for a small grant to help us make some emergency repairs to several of the large drawings.

However, to be able to make the collection available to the public as soon as possible, we need your support. Any donation will make a difference.

To find out more about the collection, how you can help, and how to make a donation, please visit millsarchive.org/appeals/rex

If you have any questions, please do get in touch with us.

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Volunteer Spotlight: Albury Park Paper Mill and its Forged Assignats

When I’m looking through articles in the Archive, I’m always fascinated in discovering how mills played a part in a wider, often unrelated area of history and their potential political impacts worldwide.

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One example can be seen in the records of Albury Park Paper Mill, in Surrey. In 1790, Charles Ball, a papermaker from Guildford took out a lease on a former corn mill in Albury Park and built a bank note paper mill. Mysteriously, he received many orders from an unknown client, who requested the watermarks to be modified on several occasions. Eventually Charles Ball discovered that his mysterious patron was in fact the Count of Artois, who became Charles X, the King of France and Navarre in 1824!

Charles X struggled greatly with crises in the monarchy. He fully realised the kingdom was bankrupt from previous military events, particularly the Seven Years’ War and the American War of Independence. He supported the removal of the aristocracy’s financial privileges, but not social privileges, which were enjoyed by the Church and nobility. He believed that it was “a time for repair, not demolition” of the monarchy, so focused efforts on creating more money for France.

It turns out that the paper manufactured at Albury Park Paper Mill, with the special and often-changing watermarks, was for false assignats: a form of paper currency issued by the French Republic from 1789-1797. Assignants were abandoned when the public eventually refused to accept them, and inflation was beginning to run high.

Frequent changes to the watermarks were necessary because when officers of the Republic discovered the forgeries, they then altered the form of the assignats to continue circulation and production. Charles Ball therefore played a role in the attempt of the French royal family to undermine the Revolution by forgery. It is not known who engraved and printed the assignats on the paper, but Charles Ball accepted and processed the orders, unknowingly making a big impact on an important aspect of European history.

Unfortunately for Charles X, strained political allegiances meant he was forced into exile following the storm of the Bastille prison on 14th July 1789, one of the significant turning points of the French Revolution.

Charles Ball and his sons, Charles and Edmund Richard continued to work at the mill until 1809, when a lease of 61 years was taken out on two newly-built paper mills at Postford (2.5km from Albury Park mill.) By 1810 Albury Park mill was closed, though was later used as a laundry for a few years.

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The Mills Archive receives a nationally important collection from the Science Museum

The Mills Archive Trust is pleased to announce that it has received one of the most important mill collections of the 20th century from the Science Museum. The material was assembled over decades by the late Rex Wailes OBE, who was an engineer and the leading consultant for the repair of windmills. Rex’s passion took him on adventures around the world, and his records offer an unusual insight into people’s lives, engineering ingenuity and environmental changes.

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The collection is a time capsule full of photographs, glass plates, large technical drawings, notes and correspondence that immortalise the fascinating structures of mills, the people involved and the landscape that they shaped.

Following negotiations with the Science Museum, Rex’s records have now been entrusted to the Mills Archive. The collection is being kept safe in archival storage that has been made possible by the support of Perendale Publishers, who are sponsoring ‘The Milling & Grain Room’. This Room is named after the successful monthly magazine that is produced by Perendale for the milling industry.

We are delighted to have received this collection from the Science Museum, which has been made possible by the continuing support of our Friends and donors, as well as by Perendale. As the national repository for the history of milling, Rex’s material forms a vital part of the story of how the world has been fed and fuelled by mills. This is only the start of the journey, as it will take time and further funding to help us preserve and open up the collection to the public.

The next stage is for the Archivist to examine the collection and assess conservation, digitisation and packaging needs, and to launch a public funding appeal in the autumn that will help open up the collection for the public to learn from and enjoy.

While the collection is not yet ready to be used for research, the Trust welcomes those with a specific interest or who have memories of Rex to get in touch to arrange a visit and get a glimpse of the work that goes into caring for our collections and making them available.

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Visiting our Heritage Partner, Wimbledon Windmill!

Last Friday, Liz, Mildred and I had a delightful visit to Wimbledon Windmill, one of the Mills Archive’s Heritage Partners.

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On our arrival we were greeted by a friendly bunch of trustees and volunteers who help to look after the mill, headed by their Chairman, Asif Malik, and their curator Norman Plastow, a mill enthusiast and former architect and conservationist who has been a leading figure in the restoration and conservation of the mill for decades.

We were very lucky to be given a guided tour by Norman himself, who is an extremely knowledgeable and modest gentleman with a playful sense of humour, who began by telling us a bit about the history of the windmill.

Situated right on Wimbledon Common, the mill was built in 1817 by a carpenter named Charles March, permitted by the Manor Court as ‘a public Corn Mill for the advantage and convenience of the neighbourhood’. It was built as a hollow post mill, with the post and the machinery enclosed by an octagonal, two-storey structure; the ground floor made of brick and the first floor of wood.

It had a relatively short running life, ceasing operation in 1864 and then being renovated into flats for six families. The wooden slatted walls of the first storey were replaced with brick, and fireplaces and chimneys were added, making it warmer and less draughty for the residents. This gives the mill its unusual look of being a windmill on top of a house!

Unlike some mills that have undergone residential renovation, Wimbledon is extremely lucky to have kept its features that keep it looking like a windmill, including the conical tower supporting the cap, and the sails, which were restored to working order with the help of a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Today the sails are able to rotate, and the view of the mill is iconic to Wimbledon residents and visitors alike.

First of all the team showed us around the downstairs gallery of model windmills, each one tiny representation of a real-life British mill. Every single model was astoundingly accurate, with attention to detail that really brought the mills to life: varying from slight colour changes in the brickwork due to weathering, to a figuring of a cat inside the mill, keeping an eye out for any pesky mice! We were enthralled by these incredibly realistic models – the sails even rotated at the push of a button.

The museum on the first floor of the mill is home to several milling artefacts, such as tools and machinery from Wimbledon Mill and from others, and to a display of Scouting artefacts (as the plaque on the front of the mill declares, in 1908 Robert Baden-Powell, Chief Scout of the World, wrote parts of Scouting for Boys in the adjacent millhouse.) You can see the original millstones, with labels pointing out the different parts such as the hopper, horse, damsel, crook and willow (very handy for non-mill experts like me!). One section of the first floor has been kept as what it would have looked like when it was the residence of a local seamstress, to give you an idea of the living conditions in the old mill – cramped but cosy was my conclusion!

I was specially allowed to climb the steep ladder into the tower of the mill, which supports the cap. This was very exciting as visitors aren’t usually allowed! Dark and atmospheric, the tower is hugely different from the relatively light and airy first floor. You go from being in a once-residential space to suddenly feeling very much inside a traditional mill, where you can see all the wooden timbers which comprise the tower’s structure. I got a tingle down my spine reading the names of millwrights and long passed who had written their names and the jobs they undertook on the mill – a long list of names that went back possibly to the 1800s!

Liz’s favourite bit was having a go at grinding corn on the ancient saddle quern – a historical artefact that we were told was brought over from Mexico in hand luggage! (Must have been a rather heavy journey!) We were surprised at how difficult it was to grind the corn – the people who once used it must have been much stronger and more used to hard physical labour than we are!

Norman explained each aspect to us as we went around, all of which was fascinating. One thing I learnt which I’ve wondered at in the past was why millstones have different patterned grooves in them: they funnel the flour out sideways rather than letting it collect between the stones. Different regions and countries had their own ideas about which groove pattern was best, hence the variation of designs. I think I almost learnt as much about mills that day than I have in the past year! It was great to be able to see the artefacts in the flesh – it’s much easier to understand how they work than by reading about them in books or looking at photos.

Upstairs there is also another small-scale windmill model, this one of Wimbledon Windmill itself, made by none other than our guide, Norman. It’s strange to be inside the windmill, looking at another version of the building you’re standing in – you almost expect to look inside and see a little figurine of yourself, gazing at an even tinier windmill model! This one was cut in half so that you could see all the workings of the inside of the mill – each tiny part accurate, and all of it moving and working at the press of a button.

I was incredibly impressed by this, and even more so at Norman’s next revelation, which instantly became my favourite thing in the museum. He asked us if we’d like to see the tools he used to build the model; eagerly turning around, I was looking for a box of modelling tools in one of the display cases, so was surprised when he produced out of his pocket a tiny wooden tool box, only a couple of inches long.

Inside was a whole selection of absolutely miniature millwrighting tools, the biggest only a few centimetres long, and each one as accurate and intricate as they are in real life – perfect, delicate versions of their larger versions. Saws, hammers, chisels, files; and a tiny little set square and pencil (with real led in it) which was smaller than my fingernail! I was speechless at the detail and work that Norman must have put in to them.

The whole visit was fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable, and it’s wonderful to see the passion and commitment of the team shining through, and their love for the mill they look after. A massive thank you to Asif, Norman and the team for showing us round and making it such an interesting visit – we’ll certainly be back in the future.

Oh, and just in case you’re wondering – yes, there were a couple of sightings of Wombles; Mildred even took one away with her from the Museum shop!

Wimbledon Windmill Museum is free to visit and is open to visitors on Saturdays, Sundays and Bank holidays until October – more information about visiting, events and its history is available on their website: https://www.wimbledonwindmill.org.uk/.

You can view photos and documents on Wimbledon Windmill in the Mills Archive catalogue here: https://catalogue.millsarchive.org/post-mill-wimbledon-common.

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National Mills Weekend 2019 – report and pictures!

The sun was shining and the weather was warm last weekend: the perfect weather to celebrate National Mills Weekend!

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A festival of open-house mills that takes place across the UK every May, National Mills Weekend is run by the SPAB Mills Section, the UK’s national organisation devoted to protecting and promoting traditional windmills and watermills.

As their former Chairman (and owner of Fosters Mill in Cambridgeshire) Jonathan Cook described it, the weekend is “a fantastic opportunity for everyone to get inside their local windmill or watermill and explore their local industrial history. For mill owners it is also a chance to share our enthusiasm for these buildings and for traditional flour milling.”

This year the theme was ‘Our Mill – its history in pictures”, which saw the 300+ participating mills putting on colourful exhibitions of pictorial records made of their mill throughout its lifetime, showing the lives and work of the many people connected to their mill over the years.

The artwork, dating from any era from centuries old to the present day, included photographs, paintings, sketches, embroideries, collages, film or video, and even old maps, postcards, posters and puzzles!

As Mildred, who is Chairman of the SPAB Mills Section as well as being our Founder and volunteer, said, “Mills have always been a focal point for communities and, over the years, they have been recorded in many ways.” Many an artist has been inspired by windmills and watermills; in truth, the silhouette of a windmill’s sails standing to attention on a hilltop horizon, or the hidden gem of a tranquil watermill pond on a summers’ day are images as integral to the British countryside than any of the modern landmarks and ostentatious buildings. Mills have the ability to conjure up fond memories and deep sentimentality: they are often used as mascots by their communities to represent their belonging to, and affection of the local area.

In Cambridgeshire, Impington Mill, owned by Steve Temple, had a very successful event with over 200 visitors. You can see some of them in the photo above admiring the sails on the ground – they look so much bigger close-up!

Upminster Windmill (left), one of our Heritage Partners, were able to show off the newest renovation works to the mill to their guests, with the very exciting event of the scaffolding being removed to show the new smock – a huge milestone for them. Well done Upminster!

Heron Corn Mill, another Heritage Partner, ran a drop-in flax beetling workshop (the process of pounding fabric to give it a flat, lustrous effect… not every day you can try your hand at that!) as part of National Mills Weekend as well as their ‘1220 – 2010: 800 Years of Milling!’ project, celebrating the work that’s gone on at the mill over the last eight centuries. They even had some medieval living history reenactors (right) on site to show how it traditionally would have been done!

Sarehole Mill (which featured in our last blog – read it here) shared these great photos (below and title photo) on Twitter, which show their fantastic display of ‘our mill – its history in pictures’. We particularly like the comparison of the modern-day photo to one much older – it hasn’t changed much!

We hope all the participating mills had a very fun and successful weekend – and if you didn’t visit this time, make sure you put the date in your calendar for next year’s event!

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Gems of the Archive: The Women Who Mill Alone

In recognition of International Women’s Day on 8th March, in this week’s blog we are showing our appreciation for women in milling by featuring two formidable female millers.

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Milling: a man’s job in a man’s world, or so it certainly was in the first half of the 20th century. As a profession dating back thousands of years to a time long before women were allowed to vote, much less expected to work, it is hardly surprising that with all its hard physical labour and long hours, milling was a job strictly reserved for men.

That is, apart from a brave few: the resilient and determined women who surpassed social expectations to become millers in their own rights. Rare, but not unheard of, were the hardy female millers who summoned all the physical and mental strength they had, not just to do the difficult jobs of lugging around bags of grain and flour and fixing their mill, but to stand strong against their communities who all-too-frequently viewed them with distaste and suspicion, believing that a woman’s place was in the home – or at least, anywhere but a mill.

Two of our Gems feature woman millers. In A Lonely Fight for Survival, a newspaper cutting from 1978 tells a tale three quarters of a century old: of Mrs Emma Weeks’ struggle to raise nine children on her own whilst operating Upper Calbourne watermill on the Isle of Wight, following her husband’s death in 1903.

The article describes the difficult situation she was thrown into: without the income from operating the mill and selling flour and grain, she and her family could not survive. But taking on the business herself was regarded with suspicion, if not seriously frowned upon, in the traditional rural community in which she lived. Caught between a rock and a hard place, Mrs Weeks made the only choice she could: to risk being ostracised by the very community which she needed to support her, in the hope that they would buy her produce so that she could afford to feed her family.

Luckily, it seems that all worked out for Mrs Weeks in the end; the article tells that she continued to mill into her old age, shortly before her death in 1943. We can only hope that her career as a miller didn’t make life too difficult and isolating for her in this time.

The second article paints women millers in a rather more positive (although equally uncommon) light. This tells of a certain Mrs Dickinson, who after her husband’s death in 1936, took over the running of his mill in Thunderbridge, West Yorkshire. With no children and only herself and her dog to support, Mrs Dickinson’s life was somewhat easier than Mrs Weeks’. Not only that, but it seems that by the 1930s, women millers were more easily accepted than in Mrs Weeks’ day: the romanticised tone of the article paints Mrs Dickinson as a quirky but likeable old lady, and rather than being suspicious and dismissive of her career, people were merely impressed that such a job could be done by a woman “all alone”. 

Indeed, the article focuses on how much Mrs Dickinson loves working in the mill, giving her the name ‘the Jolly Miller’ and quoting her as saying “I always feel happy when I am at work here.” It also implies that she is more than capable of the job: ‘But when Mrs Dickinson’s trained ears hear a pause in the rhythmic rumble of her mill she runs up the steps two at a time with her dog Don, who is her only companion, at her heels’.

Patronising as the article may now sound to contemporary readers from a very different social construct, in its day it would actually have done an important part in reinforcing the fact that women were capable of doing traditionally male jobs: that they could be strong, intelligent and independent. A fantastic video of Mrs Dickinson, from British Pathé, can be viewed on YouTube here.

In the context of their time, these women were extraordinary: before the Second World War, a respectable woman doing physical labour was rare. Before the First World War, it was virtually unheard of. You can tell how unusual women in these roles were even as late as the 1970s, purely from the fact that Mrs Weeks’ story made it to the paper in 1978: a story about a male miller would have been complete non-news.

These stories help us to appreciate the hardships that women of the past went through in order to pave the way for the women of today, who continue to fight for respect and equality in whatever profession they choose to go into. You can read our Gem on Emma Weeks here, and the Gem on Mrs Dickinson here.

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Heage Windmill Goes to Bed for the Winter

With the onset of November, some chilly frosty mornings and the dark nights creeping in, a lot of us are starting to feel like hedgehogs have been getting it right all along: it really is time to curl up somewhere warm and dry and hibernate until spring!

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Heage Windmill Society in Derbyshire agrees, and last weekend nearly 100 people gathered to help put the mill to bed for the winter. Forty-eight keen volunteers and fifty more spectators turned up to join in with Heage’s traditional cobweb-weaving, wrapped up in woolly scarves and hats, stoically unperturbed by the cold, northerly wind.

The assembled group of all ages were organised into a circle on the mill apron, armed with an extremely long, single strand of narrow elastic tape. Then, guided by “master spider” Lynn Allen and helped by Attila Tilldogg Csorba, ring after ring was woven between the volunteers, forming a giant cobweb through a series of clever moves and crafty passes.

Once finished, the cobweb was gently laid down and pegged to the grass in the paddock, bringing to a close the regular openings of the windmill for another season. The visitors were then treated to the last guided tours around the mill of the season.

Heage Windmill is now formally closed for regular openings until Easter 2019, when it will resume its programme of weekend opening. More information is available on their website, http://www.heagewindmill.org.uk.

Heage Windmill is a Mills Archive Heritage Partner. Why not visit their featured mill page to find out more about the mill’s history?