If you wander beneath many edges you will see large Peak District millstones abandoned on the ground. These circles chiselled from gritstone are synonymous with the area. Infact, they feature as the logo for the Peak District National Park.
The production of Peak District millstones have a long and important history. The Peak District National Park website says the first reference to millstone production in the area is as early as the 13th century. This referred to Alderwasley near Wirskworth. Records are also said to exist of millstones been quarried in Hathersage and Baslow in the 14th and 15th centuries.
Below Froggatt Edge there are examples of the mushroom shaped millstones that are an earlier design. In other places, like the millstones at Stanage Edge pictured above, the shape is the more recognisable wheel shape. The earlier style is said to date back as far as medieval times. The later shape was produced in the 18th and 19th centuries.
These millstones were predominantly used for grinding grains and on average measured just under 2 metres in diameter. Larger and smaller stones have also been found. Millstones typically weighed around 2.5 tonnes. Millstones used in the milling industry were used in pairs with the base stone staying stationary while the top stone rotated. In the centre of the stones sits a hole known as the ‘eye’. Grain was fed into this hole to then be crushed between the two gritstone plates.
Stone disks were also produced for use as grindstones for sharpening steel and some were used in industries to crush materials. There is a good example of one of these, known as an ‘edge runner’, at Odin Mine near Castleton. The Peak District became very well known for millstone production and during the main production period stones were being exported to several countries worldwide.
Millstones were hand chiselled from boulders at the base of crags or by splitting pieces of gritstone from the main crag faces. Once shaped, it must have been very difficult to move the stones. It is thought that the stones might have rolled from the crags using a wooden axle or craned onto carts.
The reason you see so many abandoned peak district millstones is because the changing trends affected demand. In the 18th century white bread became very popular. The coarse gritstone millstones left tiny stone flakes in the flour and this didn’t make the grade for the fashionable fine white flour. A preferred stone was a type of quartz called chert. A final factor was the move to mechanisation. Machinery allowed higher speed grinding which wore the millstones more quickly. Chert was again found to be a better alternative.
Please do look out for these famous features of the national park on your adventures. If you are new to the Peak District our Hope Valley Guide will provide some useful visitor information.