Watermills were once a given in the landscape, but over the years many have been stripped of their wheels and machinery and converted to private homes, shops, and other uses. Each mill depended on its own water supply for grinding grain and pumping water. Later water was used to drive machinery for textile mills, ironworking, and other industries.
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The history and development of these mills is addressed in the book. Roman army sites, dating from 43AD, were the first places in Britain to construct watermills. Locations where some of these have been uncovered range from Hadrianís wall to Ickham, Kent. They disappeared after the Romans left until the 8th century when they again were made use of. The Domesday book, compiled in 1086, lists over 6000 mills. The mill at Fountains abbey in Yorkshire is one of the oldest surviving buildings.
The author discusses the effect of a watermill on its immediate surroundings: it often provided a location for a bridge or ford over a river and the construction of leats and mill ponds altered the course of the water. A chapter on the types of waterwheels is well illustrated with photographs of the various types explained, including vertical, overshot, breastshot, and undershot. A chapter on mill machinery covers the details of how the waterwheels and machinery worked together to produce power.
Mill buildings often changed over the years of use, and the size could be determined by the machinery needed. Larger buildings came into use in the early 17th century. Most of the buildings used local materials and styles in their construction, at least until the late 18th century. Corn-mills usually had three or four floors after the middle of this century. As industry, such as textile manufacturing expanded, so did mill buildings.
A helpful glossary of watermill terms is included in the book as is a list for further reading. An extensive list of watermills to visit will inspire the reader to investigate further. Full details include location by county, phone numbers and websites to check for opening times. The photographs in the book are especially appealing and motivating for further exploration.
Author Martin Watts is well qualified to write about mills, having studied them since the 1960s. He has a background in architecture and design and was curator of Worsbrough mill museum in south Yorkshire. Following this, he repaired a watermill in Devon over a seven year period and set up a stone-ground flour business. Since 1988 he has worked as a millwright and consultant for historic mills and their machinery. Watts is a former chairman of the mills section of the society for the protection of ancient buildings and a founder member of the traditional corn millers guild. He has visited mills in many parts of Britain and Europe. He has authored a number of books and articles including two other Shire books: Water and Wind Power and Windmills
Publisher: Shire Publications Ltd, Cromwell House, Church Street, Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire, HP27 9AA
ISBN: 0 7478 0654 3; Shire Album
Published July 2006
64 pages, 96 colour photographs and 14 b/w illustrations.
Available from booksellers or from Shire Publications
See also Windmills