A history of county’s milling industry

The newly published book by Hugh Howes
The newly published book by Hugh Howes

A newly published book recounts the history of Hertfordshire’s milling industry.

In Wind, Water, Steam: The Story of Hertfordshire’s Mills, local historian Hugh Howes has compiled comprehensive research about the county’s unusually rich and diverse milling heritage.

Wadesmill in the 1960s

Wadesmill in the 1960s

As well as its long tradition of corn milling, Hertfordshire once enjoyed a reputation for the milling of a variety of other products, including pioneering papermaking in the west of the county, gunpowder and small arms in the east, and also silk and cotton.

There are records of 110 watermills and 71 windmills in Hertfordshire, although little physical evidence of most of them remains today. Of the few that do survive, eight are accessible to the public.

Heavily illustrated with historic and contemporary photographs, the book acts as a guide to these mills and provides a gazetteer of all known Herts mills, whether extant, in ruins or demolished.

Many of the watermill sites pre-date Domesday Book, and for many centuries milling continued more or less unchanged. Then, in the 19th and 20th centuries, radical changes took place that altered and finally destroyed whole sectors of the milling industry.

Howes focuses on key advances in technology and the opportunities brought about by improved transport.

While proximity to London helped the Hertfordshire mills to thrive, it also undermined them, when the major corn exchanges were established in the City of London and when vast quantities of imported grain began to arrive at the capital’s docks.

The success with which individual millers were able to meet these challenges determined whether or not they survived.

Wind, Water, Steam: The Story of Hertfordshire’s Mills is published by the University of Hertfordshire Press.