I couldn't help having a look at the millpond as I was passing. The mill house reminded me of my grandmother and a visit we made to this spot about twenty-five years ago. We sat pretty much where the above photo was taken, "I've been here before, haven't I ", she said. I confessed that I hadn't a clue but she went on to explain that when she was a little girl she had come here, on top of a cart, with her father. That must have been just after 1900. There had been no real wind for weeks so the windmill at Bourn, which usually ground their wheat, had not been able to operate and they had to take the grain to Grantchester watermill. She had waited in that very spot till it was time to return home.
She also recalled that the mill was much larger then. That was because the old mill had burned down in 1929 and only the miller's house was able to be saved, the rest of the mill, a wooden structure, was burned down. The mill had been owned by the Nutter family and as a result my mother now lives at the unfortunate address of "Nutters Close".
The windmill at Cley
Windmills and watermills were for centuries the backbone of the farming economy of Britain. Without mills to grind the wheat and barley there would be no bread and, just as importantly, no beer. The two types of mill complemented each other in the way described; if there was no wind you used water power and equally when the streams were low people turned to windmills. On the coast the wind is more reliable and many mills like the one at Cley still remain though most are converted to rather idiosyncratic holiday homes.
The Mill at Cambridge
Other mills have all but disappeared though often the evidence is still there for those who care to look. How many people, I wonder have sat drinking a pint on the bridge outside The Mill pub in Cambridge without realising that they are sitting on the foundations of the old King's Mill. If you peer closely at the brickwork in the photo above you can see the mark made by the rotation of the water-wheel.
But on the Fens many of the windmills aren't mills at all, but, like the one at Wicken Fen, pumps to drain the land, . This building still retains its internal workings even though it's no longer in use.
I hope that in a future blog I'll be able to show the inside of a working grain mill; there are a number still in existence. I'm also trying to find out the truth or otherwise of a snippet of information which I have in a very dusty and little visited part of my mind. From somewhere I have the idea that all the terms in the children's rhyme "The Cat And The Fiddle" relate to parts of the machinery involved in milling. All I've found so far is that there are several pubs called The Cat And Fiddle near the sites of windmills, but no one else seems to have heard the rumour which I dimly recollect.