History Group Talks April 2018


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                                                           Watermills in Devon Landscape
In April Martin Watts gave a fascinating talk on watermills.  Very apt, as it had just been announced that Devon had been the wettest county in the UK for March.                                                                            Martin started by explaining that Devon had so many mills because it was so wet. Two types of mills: ones with wheels for corn and ones fitted with machinery for manufacturing.  Molinology is the study of mills and Martin certainly fits in that category.  His knowledge and passion came through during his talk and he gave us lots of information on Devon Mills.  They have a shared history with churches and cathedrals and are of the same importance.  Martin had done some research on the internet, searching for engines archives and tithe maps to show where the mills were (www.millsarchives.org ) .    Other sources of information were old newspapers and postcards.  Maps that showed where the mills are, was his main source of information.  If it wasn’t for litigation around land we would not have so many maps showing mills.  Hele Mill at Ilfracombe is open to the public. Rev. John Swete toured Devon looking for mills and published a book of his drawings.  Bidlake Mill c.1565 was the earliest mill in Devon.  Mills were still being built here in the 1870’s when the rest of the country was stopping.  Devon is riddled with leats, meadows, houses, mills and mining.  They used the weirs to raise water levels to feed the leats.  Three main types wheels were used then there was a progression on to water turbines to produce more water. Doomsday Mills shows 5000 mills marked.  96.5 (!) mills in Devon with the concentration being in East Devon.  Only 6 mills in Cornwall.  Mills were first used in the Mediterranean in the 7th and 8th centuries.  Various types of stone were used to grind the corn.  The bottom stone is fixed while the top wheel rotates – grain in and meal out.  The best mill stones came from France.  Using granite mill stones, they would need to be dressed every two weeks because of the tendency to become smooth quickly.  50 tones could be milled before stones needed dressing.  In the late 19th century everything changed to rollers.  The grain, rather than having one grind, went through a series of rollers and the grain was sifted between each roller.  There were also Fulling Mills where material came from weavers to be panned (closer weave) and it was the Fuller who decided when the material was ready.  Coldharbour Mill was designed to work 24/7.  It has been working since 1797 and is one of the oldest  woollen mills in the world.  Castle Drogo had a power house built in 1928 with two turbines to produce hydroelectric.  One of the turbines has been recommissioned.  Their biggest problem is leaves in the turbine.  Buckfastleigh has an Archemedian screw.  Martin finished off by pointing out the four mills in this area: Northway, Jordan, Cockingford and Ponsworthy which has a double wheel but only one running now.

 


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