1400’s - Norse Mill

The simple water wheel, without gears, provides the power to drive a millstone for grinding the corn from which flour is made. Watermills were sited close to a stream or river, whose flow could be controlled by building a dam to hold back the water. It could then be released at the required rate. Why would mills very like this still be built even in the 1800s?

Until the Steam Age, all industry was dependent on natural power — from water, wind or muscles. The remains of Roman watermills have been found along Hadrian's Wall, but the earliest surviving type ofwatermillin this country is the Norse or click mill of the Northern Isles and Western Highlands. Such mills, ruggedly built of stone with turf roofs, were used for grinding com - pumping, drainage and cloth-fulling were other tasks for which water power was often used. Watermills to this ancient pattern were still being built here in the early 19th century, meeting the modest needs of the local community long after bigger, more powerful designs had evolved further south. The water supply could have come from a fast-flowing stream but it was more efficient to store it in a millpond or dam, controlling the flow by means of a sluice. The machinery inside was simple. Water was channelled into the lower chamber of the building where it powered a horizontally-mounted wheel. The revolving spindle or drive shaft passed up through the floor and through the 'eye' of the lower grindstone — which remained stationary-to the rotating top stone above it. Meal, fed from the hopper, was ground between the stones and collected in the flour box beneath. A fascinating feature is the 'wind door' at the far end, facing the entrance. When both doors were opened together, the wind blew through and separated the chaff from the grain. There are fine preserved Norse mills at Dounby in Orkney and at Southvoe, Shetland.


1600’s – Windmill