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The mills of Zeeland

Almost every village in Zeeland still has its own (wind) mill. They used to process raw materials such as grain ands rapeseed oil. Now they are more seen as sights than sources, their mill stones and sails turning only on special days. That said, there are a good number of windmills still grinding their wares, and selling the result in the mill shop.

Hand mills, tidal mills

The very first mills were powered by human and animal muscle power. Then we learned to harness water and wind, for power. A tidal mill only ran for two spells every day – when the tide came in and its falling ebb was captured through sluice gates to power a water wheel, usually an undershot type. Such tidal mills were used for milling grain. Two can be viewed in Middelburg and Goes.


Gradually, tidal mills made way for windmills because – except when the wind lay still – they could run longer and more frequently. Thanks to technical progress, a succession of technologies and various windmills took hold. In Zeeland, the mills were used mainly for grain and (oil) seed. Other products were timber and planks in saw mills, chocolate ground from cacao beans and tobacco snuff from mills which chopped and ground tobacco.

Shrinking numbers, 185 to 70

At the end of the 19th century, Zeeland had 185 mills. The advent of mechanical mills put many of the windmills out of business. Some 70 are still standing. Most can be visited on Saturdays and special days such as the annual Open Monument Day. But, hey, if you see a windmill on a windy day spinning its magic power and turning your head, you can probably just walk in.

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