Thursday 20 April 1989

The English Water Mill


The origin of the English water mill is buried in the mists of time. At the April monthly meeting of the Warminster History Society, Mr. M. Turner gave a talk, in which he said it was possible that the Romans brought the idea to this country although he considered it not very likely.

The Romans knew how to harness water power from 20BC but they did not make use of this knowledge for sociological reasons as they were concerned about how to occupy their slaves if machines did the work.

However, water mills were adopted in the 4th century AD, but whether they reached this outpost of the Roman Empire is uncertain.

Throughout the Dark Ages the mill developed, until by the time of the Domesday Survey there were 5,600 in the country. This figure includes those powered by sources other than water.

Until the 18th century two types of water mill existed: the undershot mill where the water wheel had paddles all the way round, and the overshot mill where the water came over the top of the wheel and there were buckets instead of paddles. The latter was the more efficient method.

With the growth of technology preceding the industrial revolution, many improvements were made, and the miller had in his charge a large amount of complicated machinery, which enabled him to operate on his own.

In the West Country the energy was put to a variety of uses: for paper mills, saw mills, pumping mills, and, most importantly in this area, for fulling mills.

Next month the Warminster History Society will visit Manor Farm at Codford. The following day Danny Howell will lecture at the monthly meeting.