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Romanticising the past | A case study of a Tide Mill

“Twice a day the mill takes a gulp of the incoming tide”, is a popular lyrical description of the ancient technology of the Woodbridge Tide Mill in Suffolk as it harnesses the physics of the natural world. The human exploitation of the rhythm of the tide cycle demonstrates to an energy challenged modern world a sustainable method to power a food-processing machine. It encapsulates the fundamental dependence of humankind upon natural physics and demonstrates an example of how to decouple ourselves from contemporary dependence on fossil fuels and globalised food systems, and reduce our ecological footprint.

The miller utilises the tide timetable as it ebbs and flows with the gravitational pull from the moon, and has an intimate knowledge of the tidal river and the workings of mill machinery powered by centrifugal and gravitational forces. Twice a day the millpond fills with high tide water through a non-return pipe, this water is then saved until low tide. At low tide, sluice gates holding back the millpond water open and the force of the escaping water is sufficient to turn a five-metre diameter oak wheel at up to five revolutions per minute. This force then powers the millstones via a system of cogs to produce a regulated five tonnes per annum of locally grown high protein flour.