The historic Parc Le Breos mill complex on the Gower peninsula of Wales makes for a fascinating visit. In place are a water powered corn mill, a smithy, a sawmill, a wheelwright’s workshop, and the millpond. New for 2008 is a working woollen mill. There are craft workshops (former stables and barns) and a café as well. Although the mill still operates today, it does not sell flour to the public, but uses what it grinds in its own baking for its café and also grinds corn and barley for feed.
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The Parc le Breos mill has been in operation for more than 800 years. The wheel we see today dates from 1672. Remarkably, in 300 years it has needed only three repairs. The water that powers the mill comes from underground caves all the way from the Brecon Beacons area. The waterwheel is a breast/undershot combination. It drives two pairs of stones. One of these was used for wheat flour, the other for livestock feed. The millstone has a brush on its side that sweeps the sides of the stone container free of flour. Thus the saying “making a clean sweep of it”.
According to Leigh Davies, my tour guide, this place had the first flushing toilet. He explained that a hole in a seat hung out over the leat. After using it, a sluice gate was opened that flushed the water back down to the millstream.
The site has hosted a corn mill since the 13th century, it possibly being a part of the Le Breos family estates, lords of Gower. At the same time there was a 500-acre deer park west of the mill owned by the family. Remains of walls and other structures are still in place. A 19th century hunting lodge is in the grounds.
By 1650 tenants of Parc Le Breos operated the mill. We know this because Oliver Cromwell had a survey done of the Gower peninsula and it reports “two water grist mills. . .“. All the tenants of the land were required to provide building materials for the mill and well as have the grain ground here. Thus the mill was integrated into local life.
William Davies, known as "Will the Mill" (people were often named for their occupations) started the mill we see today in 1672. He built the miller’s cottage the following year. It has one room down and two up (not on show) and still retains its original fireplace. At one time 14 people lived in these three rooms. His descendants, the Davies family, lived in the mill until 1976.
Over time the mill gained a smithy and carpentry where coffins and other woodworking items were made. The Davies family were the leaders in acquiring other trades and by the 18th century the family of millers had become local characters. One, John Davies, built a new blacksmith shop, a sawmill, and a wheel-wright’s workshop, most of which are still in evidence today. The mill was famous for its high quality cart wheels. As soon as the iron was forged to the wheel it could be thrown in the water to cool, thus making a perfect bond between wood and metal. The blacksmith shop on the premises is in use for demonstrations and also makes chisels for farmers to use on drystone walls.
The mill is part of the Gower Heritage Centre attraction. Many of the buildings are listed as historically important by Cadw, Welsh Historic Monuments. A variety of events take place throughout the year.
Park Le Breos mill is located on the A4118 at the Gower Heritage Centre, Park Mill, on the Gower peninsula.
Tel. 01792 371206
Open: daily, 10am-5pm
Website: Gower Heritage Centre
Mumbles Tourist Information Centre
Tel. 01792 361302
Open all year