Peak District Millstones
Gritstone has been worked into tools to grind grain for at least 2,000 years. The earliest evidence are querns : simple blunt cones and cylinders worked entirely by muscle power can be found at Wharncliffe near Stocksbridge. Querns (that is hand powered stones) with a more familiar wheel design comes from an early medieval dig at Blackwell near Buxton. The millstones which attract the attention of the visitor most often, however, are the stones designed for use by water, wind and steam mills. There are probably 1,500 of these scattered throughout the Peak, although approx 80% are within 2 kilometers of a line drawn from Moscar (map ref.: SK2388) to Fox House (SK264803) and on to Dobb Edge (SK2687150) in the grounds of Chatsworth. A few more are on Stanton Moor or scattered around Ashover.
It is important to distinguish between:
millstones, used in pairs to shear grains fed into a narrow gap between their faces;
grindstones, used to sharpen metal cutting tools etc. pushed against their edges and
edge runners - cylindrical stones mounted on an axle and used to crush a variety of materials and even foodstuffs as they rolled around a pivot.
A special type of grindstone that was quarried in large numbers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries were pulp stones. These were mostly exported to Canada and Scandinavia to be mounted in machines used to pulp timber for paper making. Grindstones were quarried from gritstone in Derbyshire, but such coarse grained material had limited uses; the main source for the grindstones used in the Sheffield cutlery and tool industries in the 18th and 19th centuries were quarries in the Rotherham area, which contained fine grained sandstones. Edge runners crushed materials such as lead ore, paint pigment, glass for recycling, cork (for linoleum) and apples for cider.
Gritstone millstones quarried for milling flour were termed "Peaks" by millers. Up to the 18th century, millers in England used millstones quarried from a single grit block. These were "Peaks", but finer grained stones were also imported from the Cologne (Koln) area in Germany, and these were termed "Cullen" stones. In the 18th century, composite stones, made up from blocks of chert in a cement matrix, were often used to grind the increasingly popular white flour. Composites needed re-cutting less often and were less prone to discolour the flour; they were termed "French" stones, although they were manufactured in England (there are records of the chert blocks being offered for sale in Derby), as well as France. Many popular books claim that "French" stones replaced Derbyshire "Greys" because they were cheaper; in fact chert composites were much more expensive, but produced whiter flour, lasted longer and needed less maintenance.
Although the final dressing of millstones is known in great detail (see web site listing ) the basic quarrying was carried out on a small scale and never fully documented. Masons were typically part-timers, (archaeologists call them "day workers") who farmed and quarried according to season. A man and boy could produce a pair of stones in a month. Many of what appear to be the oldest stones are domed on one side and are well away from the Edges - probably worked boulders. Quarrying of solid rock was carried out in "delphs" - embayments in the natural edge (cliff) 10 -20 metres across, best seen at Burbage (SK985810). Prior to the 19th century, when explosives started to be used, this would have involved hand drilling a hole, inserting long metal plates, and then driving a wedge between the plates to split the rock: the "plug and feathers" technique; the half holes created are still evident see
It is not clear how millstones were sold to millers. Some millers, or their agents, undoubtedly came to Derbyshire and bought stones on the spot. Through the 18th century, however, great numbers of millstones were bought and sold by the corporation of King Lynn, as a means of ensuring the trading position of the port.
How were millstones transported? Even today, getting a block of stone weighing well over a ton from a steep slope is no casual task. When only muscle power was available, it is hard for the modern mind to comprehend how this could be a routine, but clearly it was. Stones were joined in pairs with a short wooden axle (listed in the probate inventory of a Dronfield merchant) and hauled up to the moorland at the top of the Edge. There, they were put on sledges, and hauled to a dock at Bawtry (now built over) on the River Idle, a tributary of the Trent. This enabled stones to then be shipped by water to Hull, and from Hull to Kings Lynn or other ports. Some stones were taken downhill and must have been transported down the Derwent valley.
There is a Flickr group dedicated to millstones
Copyright @ 2006 Stephen N.Wood. All rights reserved.
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