Have you ever heard the French song, Meunier, tu dors, about the miller who fell asleep and whose mill wheel started to turn too quickly? A miller's life was not easy. What did his job involve? And where did he live? It's time to explore the "floury" world of millers.
When the seigneurial system ended in 1854, the Jesuit estates commission could no longer manage the mill as it had done before. The following year, it decided to sell the mill to Étienne Lefebvre, a miller and a descendant of Pierre Lefebvre. All of the land that used to belong to Étienne's ancestors then became part of the Lefebvre family patrimony, and it remained so for over 25 years, i.e. until 1881. Even though Étienne gradually abandoned his rural lifestyle, he continued to operate the old Jesuits' mill in the traditional manner.
How did one become a miller in the 19th century? Future millers first worked as apprentices with either their father or the village miller. The length of apprenticeships varied. Millers were paid in kind, i.e. they kept one-fourteenth of the wheat they milled, as measured in minots.
What did the job of miller involve? Millers had to make sure that the mill was working properly. Specifically, they had to adjust its gear system and machinery, and ensure that there was always enough grain in the hopper to prevent the millstones from overheating. They also had to monitor the speed at which the millstones rotated. If the stones turned too fast, the flour could take on a reddish colour, and if they turned too slowly, the flour could taste like stone. Millers also had to monitor the flour's grind. Lastly, they had to put the flour into bags before giving it to the farmers.
Millers often worked from dawn to dusk. Their working environment was not only full of flour dust but also very noisy because the machinery worked constantly. The weather could be their best friend or their worst enemy. Spring flooding, low water flow and frost could make it impossible for them to work. Therefore, millers were said to excel in the art of forecasting the weather. To find out if the weather was going to be good or bad, people could always ask the miller.
Millers lived at the mill with their wives and children. The family occupied only a small section of the ground floor, the rest being taken up by the mill's machinery. The bedrooms were usually upstairs. While the miller ground the grain, his wife looked after the housework. Since the children spent so much time around the mill wheel and the gear system, they easily learned their father's trade.
Wheat volumes used to be calculated in minots. The minot was a unit of measure used for dry goods such as grain. One minot was equal to approximately 3,9 litres.