From The Islander, 1939
How charming must have been the Jersey countryside in the time of our forefathers, when amid the blossoming orchards might be heard the murmuring swish of water in the sluices of the watermills; while their ponderous wheels churned the tumbling stream into a thousand foam-bells beneath the cool, green shade of over-hanging trees.
Very old and exceedingly beautiful must those mills have seemed, with the willow trees bordering the millpond, and the shadows of clouds dark upon the weir; while against the gold of sunset the flickering leaves dance and whisper, the fairy accompaniment to the bass of the massive and toiling wheels.
For over 800 years have these mills been a character of our landscape hidden away within the peaceful valleys of our flowery Isle; and with their passing there has gone the wonderful craft and skill of the old mill-wright; a craft, in all probability, never to be revived.
How many of these mills there were, at the heyday of their reign, we do not know, but it is practically certain that every valley could boast of one or more. The first half of the last century, which saw the height of the local milling industry, could account for at least 30.
We have no record at all of when the first watermill was erected, nor of where it stood. It is quite within the range of possibility that the situation of many a present mill was also the site of an even earlier type.
Gigoulande, the sole example of the twin-wheel mill to be found in Jersey, is situated in the upper reaches of St Peter's Valley, in the parish of St Mary. This, the most picturesque of all our mills, possesses two over-shot wheels set at different levels. The upper one was put out of commission before the lower, and becoming overgrown with creepers, added charm to usefulness.
The lower wheel was built by a St Helier mill-wright over 65 years ago, but who built the upper one we do not know; it is certainly much older and of smaller size, being of only 15 feet in diameter.
This mill contains a special pair of stones used for the purpose of producing fine flour for domestic use, these being driven by the upper wheel, leaving the lower to drive the oat crusher and coarse grinder.
La Hague Mill
A little further down the valley there stood another watermill, popularly known as La Hague Mill, though in reality its name should be "Moulin Tustin". Probably it came to be called by the first owing to the fact that a manor house of that name stands upon the heights overlooking the valley, but nothing is now left of this mill, for its useful life finished long ago.
Still lower in the vale there stands Gargate Mill. For over six centuries known by this name; and although burnt down about 70 years ago, was rebuilt and is still to be seen at work, though it is seriously hampered by lack of water. This mill is of especial interest because of its fine solid oak axle — once a noble tree growing at Grouville - which at the time of its felling caught the eye of the mill owner, who so fancied it as a future shaft for his wheel that he procured it then and there, and after suitable seasoning, it was fashioned into the axle above mentioned. More than 50 years of hard work proves how correct was his estimation of that tree.
Very little remains of the next mill to record, beyond the fact that until a few years ago the iron rims and a portion, of the sluice gearing were yet to be seen, but even these few fragments have now disappeared. The last and lowest mill in this line is Tesson, also destroyed by fire about 1906, but being re-constructed is even to this day performing its ancient and honoured task, though since 1934 no longer driven by water-power, the inevitable oil-engine having ousted that nature-given gift.
The fire was thought to have originated in the fine silk screening used in those days. This silk is now replaced by extremely fine wire gauge, woven with 50 to 64 strands to the linear inch.
This mill has remained in the same family for very many years, but was previously owned by a Mr Pellier, who also owned a large grain store in town, on or near the site of the Pomme d'Or Hotel.
This Pellier, well known in local milling industry, will long be remembered in connection with the saying "Cheaper Bread or Pellier's Head”. This slogan started during the Bread Riots, in the middle of last century. Bread at this time reached the high figure of 1 shilling per loaf, while labourers' wages were in the vicinity of eight shillings per week.
In the height of the milling days, a really competent stone-dresser could dress a pair of stones in a working day, but towards the close of the milling period it took practically a complete day to dress even one.
These grinding stones are usually made of French burr, Derby peak and composition, French burr being the most favoured.
The horsepower developed by these watermills varied according to the flow of the feed-stream; but it is estimated. that under average working conditions, they would develop around twelve hp, while, when the stream happened to be exceedingly low, no more than 6 hp could be hoped for.
On the other hand, after heavy rains when the water was plentiful, the hp could be raised to 18/20; the wheel at twelve hp would be revolving at the rate of approximately five revolutions per minute.
In addition to these well remembered mills there are also known to have existed the following: At St. Aubin, Gouttes des Pies (Drops of Rain) now completely demolished; crossing the island towards Handois and working down Waterworks Valley, we come to Quetivel Mill, between Handois and Hamptonne; while lower yet, there existed one known as "The Paper Mill", but of this building there appears to be little information to be had.
Still descending, there stood Moulin des Ecoliers, while the lowest level mill was Vicart.
Passing those in St. Peter's Valley already given in some detail we must continue our travels afield, to Queen's Valley, Grouville. Here we discover Moulin de Bas, situated at the foot of this small, but lovely vale; upon the hillside above, Moulin de Haut had its being, while in the wooded slopes betwixt these two, the lesser remembered one of Moulin de la Reine, or Blanche Moulin might be found hidden among the trees.
At St Catherine's there was Perrelle Mill, but ages ago this disappeared from the landscape.
Once again, crossing the country, back towards town, we start our rambles up the Grands Vaux. Proceeding upstream, we arrive at Stephen's Mill on our right; passing this we presently discern the Grand Val Mill, still working, while further up hill at the foot of La Rosiere, Paul Mill, enters the scene. These three are the only ones known to lave worked in this valley.
But away over the cotils towards Blanche Pierre, there was once to be seen Ponterin Mill; and somewhere in the vicinity of Les Vaux, Trinity, there might have been discovered a second Moulin de Bas.
In addition to these comparatively closely packed mills, :here were a few scattered ones; as far away as Le Lecq, Le Rondin, at the seaward end, there stood a watermill. Another, long ago fallen into decay, and now converted to other uses, was to be found at Val de la Mare, St Ouen's Bay, and known as La Mare Mill.
Two others, one at Bouley Bay and one somewhere in St Saviour's Parish are still spoken of, but now their sites are no longer to be traced. These 20-odd mills certainly do not constitute all that have at one time or another worked so peacefully within the shelter of our vales, but they are all of which we have definite evidence.
If the earlier mills of which there now appear to be no trace, were of the same design, we cannot be sure; but apparently watermills did not suffer such diversity in type as the windmills which came after them.
As long ago as AD 555 Brilsarius — the General of Justinian — while beseiged in Rome by the Goths, is credited vith the invention of the first watermill. Pliny also mentions them.
These mills surely belonged to an age when men took life leisurely, when there might still be found time for meditation beside the meandering meadow brook without the ceaseless hurry of our generation. But progress, the inexorable mistress, demands change — and still further change — so that she may fulfil her destiny. But whither that destiny leads us, we do not know. We only know that it demanded the extinction of those once busy and charming structures.