Places to visit

Windmills in the north

A few windmills still survive

Like Kent and other cereal-growing regions of the UK, Nord/Pas-de-Calais once had thousands of traditional mills.
1,200 windmills were counted in this windswept region in the early 19th century.

But towards the end of the 19th century, these naturally-powered stone-grinding mills began to be rapidly abandoned.

Steam powered mills
They were forced out of business by new technology. Massive new mills were powered by coal-fired steam engines, which could run day-and-night.

These new mills were in the industrial cities like Lille, or the ports like Dunkerque - 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, rather than the horse and cart..

Traditional cereal farming
1. Painting: “The Blessing of the Corn in Artois" by Jules Bretton (1827-1906) in 1857.
2. Today: recreating the 19th century corn harvest, using horse-drawn reaper.
3. Today: celebrating the role of the heavy horse, the backbone of farm transport in the 19th century.
Not just flour
Windmills also ground animal feed, and crushed oil-seeds to make the essential lighting oil before petroleum. Waterpower was used to drive machinery in many industries - see

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The typical north French post-mill

Most mills in north France are “post mills”, which have a large body - the “buck” - that can be turned round to make the sails face the wind. The body swivels on a massive pivot fixed in the ground - held steady by a tripod base, called a “trestle”. When the wind direction changes, the miller has to turn the mill round by pushing the tailpole - or he might get a horse to do the work.

Often the base is covered over to protect it from the weather and make an extra store room.

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Windmills were often built on a hilltop - they made an ideal lookout post. So in wartime, mills were often a deliberate target. Few of these flimsy and neglected structures survived.

Fortunately over the last 20 years "A.R.A.M.", the region's organisation of mill enthusiasts, has been able to protect and restore about 40 of the few dozen surviving mills - which you can now visit.

MAP: Wind- and water-mills you can visit in Nord - Pas-de-Calais

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Other types of windmill:

(1) Tower mills
These were built with a fixed body of solid brick or stone. Only the top cap turns round to make the sails face the wind. This can be done with a tail-pole, or taller mills may have an automatic device called a fantail.

Tower mill at Watten, built with stone from the local monastery.

(2) Smock Mill
These also have a fixed body, a timber-framed tower, covered in painted wood planks. Only the top cap turns round to make the sails face the wind.

Smock mills are common in Kent and Holland, but not in Nord Pas-de-Calais. Windmills of this type were used to drain the coastal marshes in the 16th century.

Les Moëres - formerly a marshy lake near
Hondschoote below sea-level. It was drained in the 17th century by Dutch engineers who dug a “ring-dyke” round the edge, then used windmills to pump out the water into the dyke.

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Places to visit:
Mills Museum, Villeneuve d'Ascq - has 2 working post-mills and various collections
Casteel Meulen, working post mill at Cassel
Ondank Meulen, another post mill at Boeschepe - next to an estaminet.
Other Windmills:
Post mills:
Boeschepe, Cassel, Hondeschoote, Steenvoorde and Saint-Maxent.
Tower mill: Terdeghem.

The working post-mill on top of Mont-Cassell.

Related background information
Paper making




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