Milling was a “right of lords”. The miller was subordinate to the territorial lord, and the local farmers were only allowed to have their corn processed in his mills. Although payment was a fixed sum – 1/16th of the milled product – the farmers were constantly concerned that they might be deceived by the miller and often implied that he weighed corn and flour to his own advantage.
The work of the miller was at least as strenuous as that of the farmers. It was noisy and dusty in the mill, and milling could only take place when there was a relatively strong wind – irrespective of the time of day or holidays. It is not surprising that a German folk song has the line “by day and by night, the miller is always awake…” Furthermore, his tasks included maintenance work for the mill and sharpening the heavy millstones.
Because of his unusual working hours, the miller was often seen as a twilight figure. Nevertheless, he participated in daily village life with his mill, even though he usually lived quite a way away from the village. For example, a miller observing customs and traditions would position the mill’s sails to indicate joy for a marriage or mourning for a death. And if the sails were aligned as a cross, the farmers would know that they could not have any flour milled because the mill was under repair.
Besides water mills, which were widespread in Hesse, there were also two types of windmill. The older fixed windmill could be rotated as a whole to face the wind direction, thus making the most of the wind power; in the case of the smock mill, it was just the upper part, the cap that rotates to turn the sails into the wind. You can see all three types of mills in the Hessenpark Open Air Museum. Milling demonstrations are held in the Borsfleth smock mill. The sails are not put into operation as the wind conditions on the museum’s grounds are not strong enough. Instead, the grinding gear is driven by an electric motor as was customary for mills of the same type from around 1900 onwards in calm conditions.