Mills in the Medieval Economy: England, 1300-1540

Mills in the Medieval Economy: England, 1300-1540

Mills in the Medieval Economy: England, 1300-1540

Mills in the Medieval Economy: England, 1300-1540

Synopsis

The late medieval English milling industry epitomizes one of the most important technical achievements of early societies: the exploitation of wind, water and muscle power for augmenting human endeavours. Through a computerized analysis of the number and variety of mills in England from 1300 to 1540, as well as the technology, practices and personnel sustaining them, Langdon reveals the structural evolution of the milling industry, highlighting both its accomplishments and its limitations. Although it focuses on England during the later middle ages, the book's innovative methodologies and original findings will furnish useful comparative material for all scholars investigating pre-industrial societies. It also offers a challenging new perspective on the later middle ages as a time of change, in addition to providing enthusiasts of old technologies generally with a wealth of detail about one of the most recognizable and enduring features of medieval society.

Excerpt

It is common for researchers to feel ambivalent about the end result of a project, and I am no exception. Although this study has been twenty years in the making, there are a whole host of avenues which I freely confess have remained largely unexplored and could themselves have formed the basis of major projects, such as a more intensive look at the archaeological and iconographic evidence for milling, or, perhaps most urgently needed, a stronger topographical analysis of the subject by trying to examine on the ground the remains of those mills so richly documented in the archives. Although I have certainly incorporated a lot of this type of material by way of the published literature, it is fair to say that the study is predominantly, some might say obsessively, reliant upon documents as the main source of evidence.

But perhaps all this is simply a way of saying that this study is not comprehensive, but instead microscopic, in nature. It attempts to examine minutely, through documents, one type of economic and technological activity over a period of 240 years and over one country. Although this certainly seems broad enough, in terms of making larger comments on medieval society as a whole it is prudent to recognize its limitations. It might certainly be possible to see milling as only one species of economic activity, which, with its own singularities and peculiarities, may be representative of nothing but itself. Fortunately for my own peace of mind I do not believe this to be the case. Milling was an intensely human activity. It was as natural a part of medieval life as the car or television industries are today. It was not a preserve of the eccentric (as clocks might have been then) or even class-specific, since virtually all sectors of society participated in it, both at the production and at the consumption ends. Like the car industry today, it was a very large industry with a very high level of capital investment. It created a sort of technological excitement. And like cars, mills were commonplace yet highly regarded. And, just as the study of the automobile industry will tell us much about modern (particularly Western) society, so too will the milling industry tell us much about medieval society.

As suggested above, the study also has its own particular methodological orientation. It relies heavily upon quantitative analysis, most of it flowing out of a creation of a mill database for 333 manors across England, the details of which are discussed in Chapter 2. The creation of this base took far more time than I had ever anticipated, but in addition to providing profiles of mill numbers for the study, much incidental material was gathered along the way in creating an . . .

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