Watermills and windmills welcome visitors for National Mills Weekend - Hampshire

As many of our watermills and windmills welcome visitors for National Mills Weekend on May 8 and 9, don't miss the chance to see how enthusiasts are preserving our industrial heritage. Carole Varley highlights some of the best to visit

One of the pilgrims in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales was a miller, a good strong fellow, we are told, with a hairy wart on his nose and a man quite partial to the odd tipple. The tale that he went on to tell, of  the adulterous goings-on in his mill between his pretty young wife and her amorous suitor, are best not dwelt on here, but the story does serve to show how much the mill was woven into the fabric of medieval life. Even as early as 1086, the Domesday Book reveals that there were some 5,624 watermills in England, which is about one mill for every 50 households.As the proportion of windmills to watermills is dependent on the number of rivers of sufficient strength to move the wheel, Hampshire has more than twice as many watermills (300 sites) as windmills (180 sites). Of the former, 10 or so are paper mills, some are for making rope, sacking and silk, but of the rest that “haven’t been converted into desirable residences” to use the words of Hampshire Mills Group honorary archivist Tony Yoward, most are for grinding wheat to make flour. The county also has five tide mills, of which one is still working (one of very few in the world), and a rare example of a prairie-type wind engine.

Mill members Hampshire Mills Group which, says industrial archaeologist Mr Yoward, “is one of the best supported in the country” was formed some 30 years ago by both millers and those interested in milling and now has more than 100 members, some of whom repair and do maintenance work on the mills, while others are involved in writing and research for the quarterly newsletter and (currently) a series of books on watermills in Hampshire. The group also grinds flour every month at Longbridge Mill. The wheel it seems, whether it be water, wind or tide, may be coming full circle.

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