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Researching and Reporting

Milling in
Northern
Europe
A historical overview
Northern Europe has a unique
place in the history of milling.
Fortunately there are sufficient
remnants of the distant past
to stimulate interest. Although
much is now consigned
to museums and archives
such as the Mills Archive
(www.millsarchive.org),
many European countries
feature active groups of
professionals and amateurs
keeping traditional skills and
techniques alive!

by Mildred Cookson

n 1972 a group of volunteers set up Gilde van


Vrijwillige Molenaars in the Netherlands. This
guild of volunteer millers (http://tinyurl.com/
oe6bx69) runs training courses and provides
proficiency certificates, which are required by most
Dutch mills. In the UK in 1987, I helped to set up
the Traditional Cornmillers Guild for professional
millers operating traditional wind or water-powered
flourmills, and this is still going strong (http://www.
tcmg.org.uk/).
Before the middle of the 19th century such traditional mills
were vital to the rural economies of Europe and the subsequent
roller flour mill revolution has been well described by Rob
Shorland-Ball in previous issues of this magazine. The tide of
technology and economic necessity stimulated by the Industrial
Revolution ensured the rapid adoption of new more efficient
milling techniques across the continent.
In the United Kingdom as well as the rest of Northern Europe,
these changes took place over several decades. Almost all villages
would have had their own wooden post mill supplying the local
community with its flour. With growing populations, villages and
towns expanded and new canals and railway systems appeared,
allowing grain to be brought to the mills instead of relying on
local crops. Soon new mills were built next to rivers and canals
for easy unloading of imported cereals. With these new mills
came the opportunity to install the new roller mills.
As early as 1820 several roller mills were invented, in
Switzerland, Austria and France but none worked well enough to
go into production. An important breakthrough in design came
in 1834 when a Swiss engineer, Sulzberger, used three pairs of

24 | Milling and Grain

steel rollers (two smooth, one fluted) with a speed differential.


Although these were adjustable, they did not give under pressure
and had no feed control. Even so, Mller of Warsaw built several
of these mills in Switzerland, Germany, Italy and Hungary. The
roller mill was still not accepted yet as The Miller journal stated
in 1876 there is a lack of adaptability and intelligence of the
workmen.
The breakthrough came in 1873 when another Swiss, Frederick
Wegman, developed a roller mill with porcelain roller, where the
pressure was kept constant. Together with Ganz & Mechwart
of Budapest the roller mill was improved; now recognisable as
the modern roller mill (see Robs article in the previous issue
of Milling and Grain, page 24), it was soon advertised and used
all over Northern Europe. In 1878 there were 9,000 flour and

F
provender mills recorded,
by 1887 there were
461 roller process mills
and Milling magazine
suggested that in 1901
there were over 1,000
complete roller mills in
the British Isles.
Roller milling
transformed flour
production across
Northern Europe, and
gradually the likes
of Simon, Buhler
etc., with their roller
systems allowing proper
adjustment and requiring
less attention, offered
higher capacity, and
more grades of flour. The
roller flour revolution
had begun and was here
to stay.
In my travels across
Europe during the 1980s
and again in early 2000
I saw that in many villages in Hungary, Germany, France and
Denmark the wooden post mills were still being used, adapted to
roller milling to grind local cereals such as wheat, rye and spelt.
The Mills Archive is intending to set up an archive devoted to
the history of roller flour milling across the world. A heritage
spanning almost 200 years has been sadly neglected and we plan

to offer a safe home to documents and images that cover not only
the transition from traditional to modern flour milling, but also
the stories of the people and firms involved in the drive for more
efficient flour production.
If you can help in any way or would like to know more please
email mills@millsarchive.org

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