Now the manna was like coriander seed, and the appearance thereof as the appearance of bdellium. The people went about, and gathered it, and ground it in mills, or beat it in mortars, and seethed it in pots, and made cakes of it; and the taste of it was as the taste of a cake baked with oil. - Tanakh, Numbers (11, 7-8)
Given the fact that the mill was transformed in 1775 (see previous chapter), we centre our historical research on the centuries that precede this date. Only archival documents, be it in written form or in the form of a map, can give us an approximate or definite confirmation of the date this mill was built. While searching for the first mention of our water mill, we will try and give some historical background data to put things in perspective.
Written sources from the 16th century
We will first consult a number of written sources from the 16th century, to see if this water mill is mentioned at all.
Our first written source is the « Penningkohieren » (Assessment Rolls), and in particular the « Twintigste Penningkohieren » (20th Assessment Rolls) of 1571 and 1572. The Assessment Rolls were tax registers, established by the administration of the duke of Alva during the Spanish occupation of this part of Belgium.
The duke of Alva, Fernando Álvarez de Toledo y Pimentel (° Piedrahíta, Province of Ávila (Spain), October 29th 1507 - † Lisbon (Portugal), December 11th 1582), was a general and governor of the Netherlands at the beginning of the Eighty Years' War. His regime led to an intensification of the revolt in the Habsburg Netherlands and ultimately to the creation of the Republic of Seven United Netherlands. In the Netherlands he was nicknamed the Iron Duke and in Spain he received the name of Great Duke.
In order to fill the Treasury, the duke of Alva introduced in 1571 an additional tax of 5% on real estate property and on the annual revenu from trade. The Dutch term « penning » designates the original weight unit that was used to weigh precious metals, and consequentely also a coin. The Dutch term « kohier » stems from the French word « cahier » (= a notebook).
These Rolls were established in every village and constitute a wealth of information about rural areas: a list of the inhabitants of the time, the heads of households, the farmers etcetera. Every inhabitant was required to declare his or her property, either exploited directly by the owner or rented out to someone else, as well as any annuities he or she received. Local aldermen went around the villages and made notes, plot after plot, of all property, amongst which were obviously also farms and mills.
Unfortunately, no mention of this water mill can be found in the Assessment Rolls.
A second important written source from the 16th century is the description by Jozef De Brouwer of the mills of the Region of Aalst, which dates from 1575. The Region of Aalst was an area around the city of Aalst and constituted a county from 1046 to 1164. The name of this area was in use during a long time, certainly during the following centuries after the formal dissolution of the county in 1164.
No mention of this water mill can be found amongst the mills of the Region of Aalst.
After consulting these two registers, which are amongst the best sources of 16th century real estate, we can conclude with great certainty that the current Pede's Mill must have been built after the year 1575.
Maps from the 17th century
Apart from written sources, we have also consulted a number of maps, some of which are very detailed. Certain maps dating from the period that interests us were motivated by military and strategic considerations. These maps represent important connection roads, watercourses and buildings, especially those with a certain economic value, such as a mill.
Other maps were motivated by economic considerations. Indeed, very early in history there was a strict legislation on road maintenance. The economy in Flanders was mainy directed towards commerce, locally as well as internationally. Large quantities of goods were transported and traded on a daily basis. As a result, a well maintained road network was essential, as were maps that accurately depicted these roads.
The « Map of the Land of Aalst » by Jacques Horenbout dates from 1612 (see note). The map represents different windmills and water mills in the region, but no mention has been found of the current Pede's Mill.
J. Leclerc was also a land surveyor in Ghent. In 1784, he made a copy of the Map of the Land of Aalst, after a now lost original by Jacques Horenbout, but modernised the original work somewhat. We cannot locate Pede's Mill on this map either.
Written sources from the 17th century
After our initial conclusion that this water mill must date from after 1575 but before 1775 - date confirmed by the anchors in the side wall, showing the renovation date - we consulted other sources in this two-century period.
We find the first mention of our water mill in the patents which are stored in the Royal Archives of Ghent. This document confirms construction date of the water mill in 1664, more than a century before its transformation and expansion in 1775.
We give a transcription of the text, translated from old Dutch (you will find the original text in the note):
« On October 16th 1664, Jan Van Lierde (son of Jan) received the patent from Jacques de Bernaige, Bachelor in Law, Water Master of Flanders, to build in the parish of Hundelgem a water mill to grind all sorts of cereals, for the inhabitants of Hundelgem as well as for those from the surrounding areas. The yearly tribute is 1 hoet of wheat »
1 « hoet » of wheat (according to the measure of Aalst, a local measure for volume) is approximately 166 litres.
Source: Royal Archives of Ghent. With sincere thanks to Mr. Lieven Denewet for the discovery of this extremely important document.
There are some elements in the patent that need further clarification. When a patent was granted, this actually served two purposes. On the one hand, the miller was granted a permission to build a mill and on the other hand, it also served as an exploitation licence. In order to avoid too much competition between millers, the building and exploitation of mills was regulated and was based on the number of inhabitants in a specific village, town or region.
The reference « to grind all sorts of cereals, for the inhabitants of Hundelgem as well as for those from the surrounding areas » contrasts with the numerous compulsory mills that were common during the previous centuries. A compulsory mill was a mill where the neighbouring farmers were obliged to have their cereals milled. Often, these mills were owned by the local lord or by another higher authority, such as a convent or an abbey.
During the past centuries, mills were much more common than they are today. Water mills and especially windmills were a common sight all over the countryside. Bigger cities often had their surroundings literally lined up with mills. It is therefore no surprise that mills often form part of the scenery in older drawings and paintings (see note).
The feudal astriction originated in Western Europe in the twelfth century. The aim of astriction was to be able to collect a part, for instance a tenth, of the cereals as taxes. This could be done by the authority withdrawing a tenth of the cereals in kind, or possibly a monetary payment to this authority of the value of a tenth part of the cereals.
The basis of these feudal regulations rested on a number of rights that were customary in medieval society. There were four different rights that specifically applied to milling.
(1) Mill right is the right to build and exploit a windmill or water mill.
(2) Right of retention is the right to retain water near a water mill up to a certain level and to use it to set the wheel of the water mill in motion.
The right of retention was a necessary accessory of the mill right. The person who was granted authorisation to build a water mill also received the right to retain the water in a watercourse. The right of retention is legally qualified as an irrevocable right to use the water.
The « Vieil Rentier » is a contribution book and was kept in 1284 by the land master of Lord Jan I van Pamele (Pamele is part of the town Oudenaarde in Belgium). It contains all income from real estate that belonged to the Lord of Pamele, such as income from toll on bridges, mills and several land taxes. The document gives a very good picture of the income of a 13th century landlord. Jan I van Pamele's contribution book is a unique medieval manuscript, adorned with remarkable scenes from everyday life. Few accounts are so beautifully illustrated.
The manuscript containing 187 parchment sheets was probably initiated in 1275, commissioned by Jan I, and terminated in 1284, commissioned by his son Arnold V. Especially the region « Vlaamse Ardennen », where the village Maarkedal occupies a central position, and also the « Région des Collines » (= Hill country) in the province Hainaut are extensively covered in this manuscript. It contains a list of all the fiefs Lord Jan I possessed, the correct location and size of the fiefs, the names of the loan holders and the lease payments.
When the property of a water mill was transferred by means of a title, the right of retention was also transferred to the new owner. Any miller who owned a water mill for a uninterrupted period of 30 years became the owner of the water mill by acquisitive prescription and was also granted the right of retention.
Water mills in Belgium built before October 2nd 1765 are still in possession of the old right of retention. Water mills built during the 30-year period preceding the annexation to France (from 1735 to 1765) had to prove the existence of the right of retention by submitting a title, for instance a heritage or a sales agreement. People who had such a right of retention were entitled to compensation if the exercise of their right of retention was rendered impossible or made more difficult, irrespective of whether this right related to navigable or non-navigable watercourses.
(3) The third right, wind right, is the right to use the wind to set the vanes of a windmill in motion.
We can often find representations of windmills in old maps or drawings of cities and villages. They are usually set in the immediate vicinity of the town, sometimes built right on the defensive walls, where they would be able to catch enough wind, or just outside the walls, as is the case in this representation of the city of Abbeville in northern France (Département Somme).
The position of these mills in the vicinity of a town also made them particularly vulnerable during an attack or siege. The mills could be attacked directly, as a means of cutting the flour supply to the inhabitants, or were just casual 'victims' in a large scale attack. We can see a clear example of a deliberate destruction in the following painting by the Flemish painter Pieter Snayers (° Antwerp (Belgium), 1592 - † Brussels (Belgium), 1667).
(4) Finally, astriction is the right of the lord to oblige the inhabitants of a lordship to make exclusive use of his mill, the so-called compulsory mill. The inhabitants who had their cereals milled at another mill had to pay a fine. Moreover, illegally ground cereals could be confiscated. Exportation of cereals that had not been ground at the compulsory mill could also be prohibited.
Astriction also meant that no competitive windmill or water mill could be built within the jurisdiction of the lord. If mills had been built in spite of his astriction, the lord could have them demolished. This meant that it was practically impossible for the inhabitants of a lordship to build and operate a mill by themselves.
We find an example of compulsory mills on this map of the city of Namur, in the southern part of Belgium. The two mills in town, on the river Sambre, just before it reaches the river Meuse, are mentionned as King's Mills (« Moulins du Roy »). As these are the only mills in the vicinity of the town centre, we can deduct that the largest part of cereals were milled at these King's Mills.
A distinction is made between legal and conventional astrictions. An astriction that was imposed by a lord without the participation of the inhabitants of his legal domain, was called a legal astriction. A conventional astriction derived its existence from a loan contract and was based on an agreement between the lord and the inhabitants of the lordship. After a certain amount of time, the conventional astriction came also into the hands of non-suzerains, corporations and municipalities. At times, one could even invoke the acquisitive prescription of an astriction.
Wine presses, ovens, breweries and even some animals were regularly subject of an astriction, but the right of compulsory mills was the most widely used. The lord had the power to abolish the astriction relative to certain people. Sometimes this exemption was granted under certain circumstances, for instance when the mill became unusable, when the roads leading to the mill were unsafe during a local conflict etcetera. The towns of Bruges and Veurne, for instance, have granted such exemptions. On March 3rd 1791, the National Congress announced in an « Avis au Public » (Public Notification) that every private individual was now entitled to set up a windmill or water mill on his land.
By the application of the mill right, in combination with the astriction, private individuals in the feudal society could only build a mill in an area that was not subject to any astriction and on the explicit condition that they had obtained a patent, granting them authorisation to build this particular mill. Most of the time, the landlord and the local lords were not exploiting their mills themselves: these were pawned or rented out for a certain period of time to an individual, who from that moment onwards could act as miller.
The feudal system of compulsory mills was gradually abandoned. It is generally accepted that around 1789, during the Brabant Revolution against Austrian rule, and a few years later with the advent of the French period in the southern Netherlands, the feudal system was abolished and construction of free mills was allowed. We can see that in the case of Pede's Mill, it has been a free mill from its establishment in 1664.
We also see that this water mill has served as a cereal mill from the start and has very likely maintained this function during its whole productive life. This was not always the case. A lot of mills have had several functions during their history, from cereal mill, oil mill, chalk mill etcetera. We will address the different possible functions of a mill in another part of this website.
Every new patent had to be announced publicly and this was done during the past centuries at a place where the local population gathered: the church. There were three compulsory church commandments, which were called over on Sunday after church service, during three consecutive Sundays. If no individual or local authority subjected, the commandments were followed by a positive advice by the President and Members of the Court of Auditors, which is comparable to our current Ministry of Finance.
The owner of the mill, his heirs or the people who exploited the mill together with the owner, had to pay a yearly tribute. The tribute was due as long as the mill would continue its activity. If the mill changed hands through a sale or inheritance, the new owner had to pay a one-off double tribute, plus a fixed amount as registration fee in order to change the owner's name.
The normal yearly tribute was due on the first day the mill started its activity. A genuine copy of the patent had to be handed over to the « Watergravie ». The « Watergravie » was the office of the « Watergraaf » (literally the Water Duke), an officer in medieval Flanders who was responsible for overseeing the use of lakes, rivers and other watercourses, especially with regard to the protection of fishing privileges or the maintenance and use of canals, sluices and bridges.
Finally, we observe the use of local measures and weights in the description « 1 » hoet « of wheat (according to the measure of Aalst) ». We will see other local measures elsewhere in this website.
Since the reign of Emperor Charles V (° Ghent (Belgium), 1500 - † Cuacos de Yuste (Spain), 1558) a mill could not be built without previous official authorisation, a custom that would last until the French Revolution. A patent for the building of a water mill, windmill or animal traction mill is comparable to a building permit and at the same time, the miller was given a milling right. In practice, however, the primary goal was to grant a yearly income to the local authority that granted the patent.
During the reign of Emperor Charles V, we witness the creation in 1547 of the mill notice, which restricted the free establishment of a mill:
« Placcaert verbiedende te erigeren enige Windt- Water ofte Rosmeulens zonder Octroy van de Majesteyt, ofte titel van Vrye Maelderye » (free translation: Notice prohibiting the creation of a Windmill, Water mill or Animal traction mill without a Patent from his Majesty, or title of Free Milling).
Since feudal times, notices were used to communicate legal provisions to the population. They were used by local, provincial and national authorities alike. From the 16th until the beginning of the 19th century, they were published in two forms: as a plano (a sheet of paper printed on one side), destined to be exhibited at the town hall and other suitable places to inform the population, and in the form of booklets (mostly thin quartos), aimed to be consulted by civil servants and to be kept in their librairies and desk drawers.
The mill notice of 1547 was published a second time on July 21st 1628 under the reign of Philippe IV, 36 years before the establishmenent of our water mill.
The feudal system was based on the principle of dependence from a local lord. The vassal was personally linked to a lord and received, in exchange for certain services to the lord, the effective possession of a fief or domain. The mill notice stipulated that no vassal or subject could own or build a windmill or water mill without permission from the Emperor. If somebody did so without permission, he was forced to demolish the mill. Moreover, he had to pay a hefty fine.
When plans existed to build a new mill, often other millers objected, as they obviously did not welcome direct competition. However, most of the time their objection had almost no result, because the competent authority, in charge of taking the final decision, benefited from a new mill and consequently the creation of a new direct income. The authority was both judge and beneficiary.
In the case of Pede's Mill, we will find two cases of competing mills in the direct vicinity: the construction of a windmill about a century after Pede's Mill was built and plans to build a water mill at an ever shorter distance in the 19th century.
The next chapter at a glance:
Where we find the first graphic representations of our mill and the miller's house on maps of the 18th and 19th centuries.