The old millstone that you see beside Fullers Hill Farm cottages is not originally from the farm site but from a windmill at nearby Gamlingay that was demolished in 1977. It is one of a pair of stones, which when working together, were used to grind locally grown grain into flour.
As you can see the millstone is constructed from a number of pieces of stone fitted together. These are set in plaster of Paris and held tightly together by an iron band shrunk or clamped around them.
The stone used is known as French burr stone. It is from the Marne valley and much harder wearing than anything available in the UK. As a consequence it needed dressing less frequently. This was reckoned to be a 3 day job for the millwright who would re-cut the repeated patterns of grooves known as “harps” to keep the stones grinding efficiently. He would use a “millbill” or pick of specially hardened steel kept sharp by the skill of the local blacksmith.
The pair of stones consisted of a slightly convex bedstone fixed in place and a slightly concave runner stone rotating less than the width of a wheat grain above it. Driven by the mill shaft at 100 to150 rpm it cut and crushed the corn as it went, spilling the flour out at the edges.
At one time most villages had a windmill or small water mill for grinding local grain into flour for bread making etc. Cambridgshire alone had over 150 windmills of different types. A good example is the post mill that still stands at Little Gransden.
By the early 20th century the needs of an increasingly urban and industrialised nation were being met by large water efficient mills such as Holme Mills run by Jordans at Biggleswade. Sadly millstones like the ones at Fullers Hill ground to a halt in the face of such reliability of power and economies of scale.
So, such stones as the one we see at rest before us will remain as a durable monument to a host of bygone skills, terminology and a whole way of life.
© Julian Malein