Places to visit

Water-power in north France

Watermill in the Avenois nature park, in the east of the region.

Steam replaced water-power
Nord/Pas-de-Calais once had thousands of watermills, and the region's early industries were powered by waterwheels in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

Towards the end of the 19th century, this widespread use of naturally-powered machinery began to be rapidly abandoned - replaced by the steam-engine using the north's plentiful supplies of coal - see coal-mining.

These new mills were in the industrial cities or the ports - where they could get cheap coal and supplies of imported grain from newly opened farming regions like America and Russia.
They could deliver their flour all over France using the network of railways and canals.

Changes in flour-milling
1. OLD: flour was stone-ground for centuries, as in this medieval watermill at Maintenay - a typical small country mill on the river Authie.
2. NEW: from the 1870's, roller mills invented in Austria for making white flour made the old stone-grinding processes obsolete - Mill Museum at Wissant.

Industrial uses
1. Paper: water-powered pulpmill at Esquerdes nr. Saint-Omer
2. 18th century water-powered loom for weaving wool cloth - Centre for Local History, Tourcoing

Water and wind
Much of the north is too flat for water-power - windmills are typical of the windswept flat coastal plain. There were not so many sites for water-power in the chalk hills of the Calais-Boulogne-Arras area, since water sinks into the porous chalk. But clean water pouring from underground springs in the chalk feed the river Aa, and make it good for paper-makers. The Avenois hills in the east had many sites for waterpower.

MAP: Water-power and wind-power in Nord - Pas-de-Calais

Places to visit:
Mills Museum, Villeneuve d'Ascq - has a watermill (not working), 2 working post-mills and various collections
Ecomusée de la Region Fourmies-Trélon: Moulin Delmotte, Sars-Poteries nr. Avesnes
Moulin de Maintenay (south of Montreuil)
Wissant - roller mill museum near Calais
Maison du Papier - paper-mill at Esquerdes on the river Aa, near St-Omer.

Related background information




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