On Saturday 12 and Sunday 13 May it’s National Windmills Weekend. Dozens of Flour Mills, Paper Mills, Woollen Mills and Silk Mills across the UK will open their doors to visitors. You can see many of them working, enabling you to get a real sense of what it was like to work in a mill.
In 1820 there were 5,000 to 10,000 windmills in the UK. These creaking, rotating, food processing towers dotted the landscape in every county across the UK. Today only a handful have survived. Some still work and produce flour, and where’s there’s flour and grain you can rest assured the pests will be lurking close-by if not in the stored food. Today detecting signs of rodents or finding insects in food could close down a factory, but not so in the Victorian era. The flour mite was probably considered a natural additive. Employing a cat or a terrier was a common method of mouse control.
A few weeks ago I visited Dobson’s Windmill in Burgh-le-March, Lincolnshire. The five sail windmill was saved from decay by the fact that its sails turn clockwise, rather than the more usual anti-clockwise. A mill with an even number of sails has the advantage of being able to run with a damaged sail and the one opposite can be removed without resulting in an unbalanced mill. Dobson’s mill was built in 1813 to mill grain harvested from the surrounding fields for flour. But the downside of running a mill is keeping the pests out. Field mice would have a field day inside a mill.
I asked the mill curator how the Victorian’s managed to keep the mice out. His reply was short, “They didn’t. Everything went in and got ground up.” Thank goodness for modern health and safety regulations.