View Full Version : Looking for book on what it is like to work in a historic watermill and live on site

11-15-2018, 06:35 PM
I'm fancying having a watermill with its own millpond as the setting for some of the scenes in my latest book. I can see lots online about restoring watermills and about historic watermills - which is all good so far as it goes. I've visited several different watermills down the years.
What I am looking for is a book by someone who has lived in a watermill, kept it running - the personal account. The same sort of thing as books about turning a derelict house into a home in Spain and the like.
I am looking for a feel of what it sounds like, feels like, smells like and what you'd enjoy and what you'd worry about and what can go wrong at 2am. Also things like does the mill pond have to be dredged or can you get it ecologically balanced so it looks after itself. So thought that a book written by someone who has lived in one would be the ideal, rather than a text book.

If there are folks on here with that kind of experience who have the time to share, that would be great.

Edited to add - I've visited several watermills in the UK and they had the mill and the millers house either as joined or adjacent buildings - so to me a watermill is a house plus mill, but as people have pointed out, you can't live in a watermill. So thought I'd better improve my question.

I'm looking for any sort from a corn grinding mill to a factory type or workshop using the water power to drive looms or workshop machinery rather than grindstones.

11-17-2018, 06:48 PM
Nobody lives in a watermill, they live in the building next to it, maybe on top of it. I've stayed in a B&B that is an old grist mill, but all that's remaining is the water wheel, no inner workings. Outside of having a pretty yard and hearing trickling water, no different than living anywhere else.

Working mills smell. They have rats. Spiders are in every corner. And they're dusty as hell. Decent trout fishing at the base of the dam and spillway though, other fish above in the mill pond.


11-19-2018, 09:25 PM
Thanks WF - I was wondering about fish.

I've read books on folks going off to farm, changing from an office job to a smallholding and I was hoping there was the same sort of book out there for a water mill - so all the jobs you have to do, repairing the sluice gate, dredging the mill pond - not the dry engineering description, but the personal experience in the same way you get with James Herriott's books about being a vet - cowpats, kicks to the ribs and all.

So what I am looking for is a book on what it is like to run a historic watermill.

11-19-2018, 09:59 PM
One wouldn't live in a functioning water mill. Spiders, dust, et al aside, it would be incredibly noisy and the vibrations from the wheel and grinding mechanisms would be rough on personal belongings.

Have you tried looking for websites about restored/functioning gristmills? My sister volunteers with the Yates Mill Associates (http://www.yatesmill.org/), which has restored and operates an historic water mill in Raleigh, North Carolina, and I have certainly heard chapter and verse from her about the difficulties and expense of repairing/maintaining the place (and have visited it and other operating gristmills, so I can personally vouch for the noise).

I see you're in the UK, so why not start researching restored mills near you? See if you can arrange to view a grinding demonstration and/or talk to someone at the mill about their experiences there?

11-19-2018, 10:21 PM
OK, thanks folks - my original post was not clear enough - the watermills I've visited in the UK have a millers house plus the watermill as one complex of buildings so I generically referred to that as a watermill.
I just really want a book on working at water mill while living in the millers house next door. I've been past some UK websites, but they've been very heavy on engineering details and a bit dry. I'll try the grist mills ones thanks. While I have visited mills and will again, the trouble with a visit is that it a snapshot - a book that covers years in the life of the mill and the miller is much more in depth.

Edited to add - Been to look at the Yates Mill website thank you. The entirely timber construction was unexpected.
The kinds of mills I've seen in the UK were like this:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sadler%27s_Mill or https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flatford_Mill

Timely warning to me to be clear in my descriptions when I write the book. :)

11-20-2018, 12:22 AM
US, UK and other mills do differ. In the US, there are no working water mills left other than historic preservation. It's inefficient compared to current milling technology. Beyond that, a water mill is ridiculously expensive to buy now. If your book is set in the UK, or is set in the past, pre-industrial revolution, things could be different.


11-20-2018, 11:03 AM
It is set in the contemporary UK.
This is one I saw years ago - http://www.mapledurhamwatermill.co.uk/ which is still milling wheat. It is really a nostalgia/tourist thing these days, but they are milling wheat and selling flour.

11-20-2018, 01:02 PM
You can go and talk to the miller, I'm sure most of them will be happy to share experiences for that type of book. Or just have a chat ;)Some mills do tours for tourists as well.

11-20-2018, 06:50 PM
I've done tours, I'll talk to millers too, but I really wanted a book that covers not just the fun bits of the mill grinding and rumbling away, but when you are struggling with whatever, have just banged your cold fingers and the temperature is heading for freezing. Having a book like the James Herriot vet ones for example, or a year on a farm - except a year at a watermill - gives you far more than you could ever have in a conversation. It also gives you the kind of stuff that you don't even know to ask about in the first place. It is the kind of thing you can then take with you and say "does xxx apply to this mill?"

12-01-2018, 06:55 PM
"the young millwright and miller's guide"