This trip to England has been full of little day trips as well as a very nice handful of wanderings on local footpaths. One of these took us not too far down the road to a place called Daniel's Mill. Located just on the outskirts of Bridgnorth and almost directly under one of the trestle's for the Severn Valley Railway, the white building housing the equipment and accompanying water wheel make for a picturesque view at the very least and a bag of lovely freshly ground whole wheat flour at the most.
Managed by the George family for more than 240 years (a fraction of the history of a site where a mill has operated since the 13th century), our tour inevitably combined family history with that of the mill and its workings. Peter George, our guide and a current operator/owner, brought his ancestors to life for us - vividly describing personalities and appearances - while walking us through the building and teaching us how grain gets made into flour. George drew us into the tale not just with his family portraits, but by turning each of us into the ancestor or illustrating one of their characteristics via us.
"She was about your height," George would say pointing to one of our group, "but your build," pointing to another, "which meant she was the right height for moving about down below and sturdy enough to haul the bags."
It was easy then to imagine the people working the mill floor as it gently shook with the turning of the wheel and stone with ears ever attuned to the subtle changes in sound that signaled too much or too little grain, a need for oil on a gear, or some other warning sign requiring attention. Working the wheel was woman's work - moving the grains and managing their flow - while the fixing and adjusting of equipment was men's work. Not always, but often, and it was easy to see, too, how a whole family would be absorbed into the labor. It would have been dark, dusty work filled with a certain amount of personal danger - fingers and arms tangled in heavy moving machinery - and a constant wariness of flame. A single spark from a metal on stone would mean an explosion and an end of life and livelihood.
"Marry a miller's daughter, and you marry hard work," was the saying George repeated as he guided us along. Marrying into the family meant becoming an extension of the wheel and millstone, being absorbed into the workings and traditions as soon as rings slipped over fingers. It meant maintaining a dam to fill the pond with water that fed the wheel that turned the stone while minding children, customers, accounts, and changing times and technologies. I may never look at a bag of flour in the same way again.
The mill still operates, but not on any fantastically large scale. Early days would have seen an assortment of grain turned into flour and cattle feed for local and regional use, but now it's mainly wheat passing over the grindstone to be sold at the mill itself and a handful of local shops. We sampled its possibilities in the hearty scones served with the usual slab of butter and steaming cups of tea in the nearby shop, and a bag now sits downstairs waiting to help with the fruit crumble for our evening dessert.
Shropshire, WV16 5JL