ANGELA BIRD'S

  

Mont des Alouettes

Moulin à Elise

Moulin de Rairé


WINDMILLS AND WATERMILLS OF THE VENDEE

Mills - especially windmills - have played an important part in the history
of this area of western France, and their role as
part of the rural "patrimoine", or heritage, has now been recognised.

By Angela Bird

As you might guess from the amount of village names containing the word "moulin", or by the dilapidated towers that dot the countryside, the Vendée's fenland, plains, hills and rivers provided excellent conditions for stone-built windmills and watermills. During the 19th century they numbered around 2,000; today only 17 of them still produce flour. Strangely, although vast drainage programmes were carried out in the 12th and 16th centuries (first by monks and then by Dutch engineers) the mills in this fertile landscape never seem to have been used for pumping water but always for grinding corn.

The watermills functioned best, of course, in winter when the rain-swollen rivers turned wooden wheels and granite millstones more briskly. Some 140 of them powered a series of tanneries, fulling machinery and other industrial functions on the river Sèvre on the eastern limit of the département. However, the Vendée's warm climate often reduced waters to a trickle by summer, so for flour-making windmills became even more vital to continue production. These cylindrical stone towers have conical roofs, often covered in wooden shingles; the caps can be moved to enable to sails to face the wind using a long pole called a "guivre". The sails were originally like four wooden ladders onto which the miller could clamber to thread the desired amount of canvas according to the wind speed. Mills that converted to the new articulated Berton system from 1848, which could be operated from inside the mill, often had extra storeys added so that they could pick up the wind more easily.

 

I'm going to take you on a roughly clockwise tour of some of the best, following the same direction as the chapters of my book. However, as any mill enthusiast will realise, I am not an expert in the subject. Correction of any howlers would be appreciated (see link to webmaster at bottom of page)...

 

CLICK BELOW TO VISIT THE VENDEE'S MILLS

  1. Noirmoutier, Challans and St Gilles area

   4. Fontenay, Nieul, Pouzauges area

   2. Les Sables and La Roche-sur-Yon area

   5. Les Herbiers and Les Epesses area

   3. La Tranche area

   6. Pays de Retz - sorry, none here yet!

 

LINKS TO MILL-RELATED SITES

Eole: interesting French site, showing several different types of windmill.
Mills Section of the UK's Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB).
UK Mills a site devoted to wind- and water-powered machinery in the U.K. 
The Society for the Preservation of Old Mills, in the United States (SPOOM).

and
International Windmill Ring



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