Some Jersey watermills and their machinery

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Some Jersey watermills
and their machinery

This article, written by G S Knocker, was published in the Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise in 1934

Soon to disappear

It is fairly safe to predict that the present generation will witness the entire disappearance of the Water Mills of Jersey, which for eight centuries or more have formed such a feature of the landscape, and which have entered so intimately into the social and domestic life of the Islanders.

Another regrettable disappearance will be that of the art and craftmanship of the old millwrights; for when we come to consider, it is the versatile and resourceful craftsmen of this time-honoured occupation who were the progenitors of the present-day mechanical engineer on whom we "modems" depend for nearly all the comforts, conveniences and luxuries of this civilized age.

I have been requested, before these things finally fade away, to offer a few notes on the mechanical aspect of this subject, and for the purpose of convenience and to avoid discursiveness, propose to take under consideration the group of mills in St Peter's Valley, not only because they are typical of the whole subject, but because they were all visited by the members of the Sociétéin the summer of 1933. Furthermore, we shall find in this valley three out of the four water mills that still remain active in the whole of Jersey.

A 21st century architect's vision for a restored Gigoulande Mill

It will be well to note at once that the group of five mills in this valley represent but a small proportion of the total number, for old wWater mills, or the remains of old mills, are to be found in every valley in the Island, and in every spot where a sufficient trickle of water could be harnessed to their need. At the present time there is no difficulty in naming some 30 existing or extinct water mills and it is said that at one time no less than 60 mills were at work in Jersey; but no doubt this latter number included the various windmills and others of minor importance.

This would be in the first half of the last century when the milling industry must have been of prime importance to Jersey. Being free from a Com Tax, whole cargoes of wheat were imported in Jersey vessels direct from Russia and unloaded into stores around the harbour; the grain was then ground into flour, packed into barrels and exported to Canada and the United States, providing still more employment for local shipping. This trade appears to have died out about 1860.

It will be recalled that in St Peter's Valley were five water mills; starting at the upper level we had Gigoulande, just within the boundary of St. Mary's Parish, Tostin and Gargate in St Peter, and Quetivel and Tesson in St Lawrence. All these received their motive power from that tiny stream, only some six feet wide at its best, which rising under the shadow of St John's Church, finally discharges its water into the sea at Beaumont at the end of the Perquage path, after dropping some 340 feet in its course of 4 ¾ miles.

Water for reservoirs

The water of the main stream is now being collected by the Jersey Waterworks Company just below Gigoulande Mill, to be pumped into the reservoirs in St Lawrence Valley, and thus the lower mills will be deprived of the bulk of the water. The useful fall of the stream, from the collecting pond above Gigoulande to the tail race below Tesson, is about 200 feet and the distance is 2 ¼ miles.

Particular interest attaches to Gigoulande Mill, situated in one of the most pic¬turesque spots in the whole Island, as it has two overshot wheels, one above the other. The water after driving the upper wheel fell on to the lower one and turned that, before fmally falling into the tail race, the total fall being 36 feet. The photograph was taken by Stanley Guiton.

Both wheels were working until 1928 and then,owing to lack of orders, the upper wheel was put out of commission, but it remains in position today although overgrown with creeping plants. The lower wheel still works when required and when the flow of water permits, which during the present exceptionally dry cycle is only a few hours per day.

The lower wheel is 18ft in diameter and has eight spokes, and it was built by Philip Hobart, a millwright of St Helier 54 years ago. The upper wheel is 15ft in diameter, and has six spokes. It is much older than the lower one, but both have the same width of 3ft 11in.

The machinery in the mill consists of a special pair of Stones, which were used solely for the grinding of fine flour, and this pair was worked from the upper wheel by means of overhead gearing, driving downwards. On the same floor are also two other pairs of stones, a smutter, which cleans the wheat before it is ground, a flour machine which separates the flour, pollard and bran, and an oat crusher, all of these being actuated by the lower water wheel through gearing situated below the floor and driving upwards.

Half a mile below Gigoulande is the site of a water mill called on the Ordnance map La Hague Mill, although its proper designation is Moulin Tostin. Only part of the building is now left and the mill ceased operations towards the end of the last century. The name La Hague is no doubt derived from its proximity to, and connection with La Hague Manor.

Gargate Mill (this name and others go back unaltered into the 13th century and probably even earlier) was burnt down and rebuilt 60 years ago. It is now being operated by Mr E C Gilley, but he is sorely hampered at present by lack of water. It has the great advantage of being situated right on the main road and has the reputation of being an easy mill to run.

Its wheel is 15ft in diameter and 4ft 6in wide, and it runs on a solid axle 20 inches in diameter ,cut from a specially selected Jersey grown oak tree. This fine piece of timber, when being felled at Grouville, happened to catch the eye of the late Mr Raffray, so he acquired it and after the requisite seasoning, fashioned it into this shaft 50 years ago. Its present perfect condition after half a century of work, wet and dry, is a standing testimonial to his judgment.

Tesson Mill on the left

Le Cornu family

Quetivel Mill was formerly owned by the Le Cornu family of La Hague Manor, and in the late ‘90s of the last century was worked by a Frenchman who, unable to make a living there, left the Island and the mill machinery fell into ruin. His difficulties may have arisen in consequence of the low power available at this spot. The fall of water did not exceed 12 feet, the wheel being just under this diameter and only 3ft wide. The iron rims of the wheel and some of the sluice gearing still remain.

This brings us to Tesson Mill, the lowest of the group, and as this one is still in full working order and is typical of others we may with advantage look more closely into some of its mechanical details.

The mill building consists of three floors. It was rebuilt after the fire of 1906, which started among the silk, which in those days was used for screening the flour, but which material is now replaced by a very fine steel wire gauze, woven with 50 to 64 strands to the linear inch. The present owner is Mr Edwin Gilley, who succeeded his father, the late Samuel Gilley, and the owner's son Harold Ernest is now qualifying to carry on the succession into the third generation, while the occupation of miller has been followed by members of the family much further back.

A previous owner ofTesson, who had it as recently as 1875 was Mr Pellier ,who also had a great grain store on the site of the present Pomme d'Or Hotel. His name is still familiar among the milling fraternity and has been handed down to posterity in a ribald couplet which was coined during the Bread Riots in the middle of the last century. At this period bread reached the abnormal figure of 1s per loaf and with the labourer's wage in the neighbourhood of 8s a week it is not surprising that the rioters paraded the streets demanding “Cheaper bread or Pellier's head".

On the first floor will be found three pair of stones and an edge runner grinder, by Blackstone, the latter having a pair of vertical stones 30in in diameter. The stones which run horizontally are of the greatest interest, but they unfortunately are now generally idle as there is so little demand for their product, stone ground flour. The lower fixed, and upper revolving stones, are composed of eight segments called harps, bound together inside iron bands, the whole measuring 46 inches in diameter.

The normal speed of the upper revolving stone is 125 revolutions per minute. The surface of both upper and lower stones is cut to a peculiar pattern by a skilled operator called a dresser, who works with a heavy silver steel tool called a peeker, held in a wooden handle of the shape of a mallet. When the stones are working full time one dressing will last about a week.

Stone dressing

It is said that in the past a really good dresser would dress a pair of stones in a day, but now it takes the best part of a day to do one stone. It is to be feared that this is one of the ancient crafts the days of which are numbered. The grain is fed into the centre of the upper stone through a hopper which is continually shaken and which is called a damsel. The stones are of Derby Peak, French Burr, or Composition; the French Burr being the material most favoured.

On the upper floor is a centrifugal flour machine, whose duty is to separate the flour, bran and pollard in a revolving drum of the fine steel wire gauze already mentioned, a smutter which extracts foreign substances from the grain before it is fed to the stones, and an oat crusher, and it is this last machine that does nearly all the work nowadays.

The water wheel itself is naturally the chief item of attraction and it is here that we see the skill of the millwright displayed to the best advantage. This wheel is of the overshot type and is 15ft in diameter and 8ft wide. The axle or shaft is a solid baulk of French oak fitted in 1894 and some 15ft long with a diameter 22 to 24 inches. Affixed to each end of this wooden shaft are iron gudgeons which form the bearings on which the whole wheel revolves.

There are three cast iron bosses on the shaft, centred and trued by means of hard wood wedges, and from each of these branch out eight oak spokes or arms which carry the three outside cast iron rims. To these rims are bolted the pitch pine planks which form the belly of the wheel, and which, of course, must be made quite watertight, for any water falling through it, without doing work by turning the buckets, would be wasted.

The buckets are also made of pitch pine, and on this particular wheel there are two rows of them, making it the largest in the Island. The water is led to the top of the wheel by a big wooden trough or spout called the cistern, which contains two outlets, each 3ft wide and 4 inches high, but it is very seldom that there is sufficient water to fill both these apertures to their full depth. The supply of water from the main channel to the cistern is regulated by a sluice valve, and to stop the mill this valve is shut, and another opened which diverts the water into the by-pass to the tail race.

Tesson Mill is fed from three storage ponds, which in dry periods collect the water at night, at meal times, and when the wheel is stopped. Mr Gilley says that for many years before 1932, except in the height of the summers, there was always sufficient water in the stream to drive the mill all day without using the collecting ponds, but these last two years of drought have now made this course impossible.

Latterly he has only been able to run the mill for 2 to 2 ½ hours in the morning and a similar period in the afternoon. With a full flow of water, during the wet cycle of years, 12 hours a day could be worked and the mill, under such circumstances, was capable of crushing up to 10 tons of oats in this time, which output it actually reached in 1920.

Quetivel Mill, St Lawrence


The horsepower developed by the wheel, of course depends entirely on the flow of water available, but it may be estimated to average about 12. At the present time when the stream is exceptionally low, not more than 6 to 8 hp. can be expected, but with plenty of water running, and plenty of orders for grinding coming in, the hp might possibly be pushed up to 18/20. By actual count, when the stream was fairly full after a few showers of rain, the wheel was making 5 revolutions a minute and the horsepower then being developed was about 12.

On the shaft of the water wheel is mounted a cast iron wheel fitted with wooden teeth, which drives a smaller wheel entirely of cast iron, fixed to the main shaft leading into the mill, and this gearing doubles the revolutions of the wheel. The teeth in the former wheel are made of hornbeam, which is, of course, an imported wood, but until recent times apple tree wood, a native product, was largely favoured.

Apple tree timber, however, takes so long to mature (the planks having to season for not less than 10 years) and has become so scarce that the more expensive hornbeam now easily competes with it. The blank for a hornbeam tooth costs 1s 5d. The heavy initial cost of wooden toothed gearing is, however, amply compensated by its smooth and comparatively noiseless operation.

Tesson Mill has now (1/8/34) been fitted with a 20 HP Blackstone oil engine to replace the power lost by the water deflected to the Waterworks and I fear the death warrant of the water power mill in Jersey is written out and that this generation will witness its execution.

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