Journal Volume 2 1995
Horizontal Water Mill at Newcastle (continued/1)
So sadly, on their advice, the remains of the mill were covered in once more. At least those of us privileged to have seen its exposure for a few weeks can confirm its existence with photographs and video, and the parts of it recovered for preservation by the National Museum.
It is also yet another confirmation that around the old medieval town of Newcastle, its ancient castle, old gaol and paved roads, lies a great historic heritage waiting to be explored and uncovered.
The various methods used by man from prehistoric times to the present day for grinding and milling grain, roots, nuts and other hard edible food, is of considerable interest and indeed we have examples of all of them in our own locality. The most primitive of all was the Saddle Quern which as its name suggests was a piece of granite in the shape of a saddle. It was held in the hand and rolled to and fro on the grain on a hollow stone. A number of these have been found around Glendalough and more recently one was found at the Rathdown site outside Greystones made of granite and weighing 10.9 kg. They may also have been used for other grinding purposes besides food.
From around 500 BC Rotary Querns were used extensively and most households would have had one for their own use. Again, as the name suggests, a round piece of granite approximately 18ins in diameter was rotated by hand on top of a similar stone. The grain was poured into a hole in the top stone and the rotary action ground it into flour. Rotary Querns are found extensively throughout Ireland and a few years ago one was dug up in Calary Bog.
From the beginning of the 7th century in Ireland and with the more extensive growing of grain, it was found necessary to find a method that would be more efficient and that would provide for the growing need of the larger community. It was at this period that the automatic horizontal water mill was first introduced from the continent. This new method was as revolutionary as the invention of the steam engine. The principle involved was that water was diverted from the river by a mill race. This water was directed by a chute to hit paddle-like extension fitted to a wheel. An upright spoke from the wheel was attached to a round mill stone which then rotated on a fixed mill stone underneath. Grain was fed through a hopper into a hole in the top mill stone. A sluice gate in the mill race close to the mill itself was operated to turn on or off the flow of water.
A special method was used to alter the distance between the two mill stones. In order to remove the husks from the grain the distance between the two stones was adjusted to just less than the diameter of the grain. The mill was then operated to remove the husks. The second step was to again adjust the distance between the grinding stones so that it would now grind the grain to flour for making bread.