The history of the Subirós mill dates back to 977, when the Count of Besalú, Miró Bonfill, endowed the monastery of Sant Pere with properties, rights and income, and continued until October 1963, when the mill was abandoned definitively.
Throughout all these years, the complex underwent various changes from the actual construction, such as the reformation in 1755 – following the destruction caused by the flood of 1746 – which led to the construction of a new home for the miller, to interventions for the industrial use of mills and water energy, such as that of the late nineteenth century, in which one of the water outlet channels was used to install a turbine which produced the electricity that fed the factories that were upstream
When we talk about a mill we refer mainly to a machine for grinding grain, such as flour mills, rice mills and oil mills, but it can also refer to other machines that are used to break up materials by means of hammers, such as cloth mills and paper mills.
If we want to classify them, we can do so from the energy that makes them move, and so we have mills driven by wind, fire, animals and water. But we can also classify them according to their use, oil, flour, paper, cloth…
Flour mills traditionally used the force of water from rivers as a source of energy. Often these watercourses were of low flow and did not provide enough energy to ensure the proper functioning of the mill. The solution was to build ponds next to the mills. The larger and deeper the pond, the more guaranteed the production of the mill.
Basically, the process of making flour was very simple. Grain was poured into a funnel-shaped hopper, passing through a tube and a rotating mechanism to prevent it jamming, and dropped steadily onto the centre and down between the two millstones. The upper millstone rotated on top of the lower one, driven by the force of water falling from the millpond on to the waterwheel located in the vaulted channel below. The grain was ground by friction until it became flour which was expelled from the sides of the millstones. The two stones were etched with grooves to facilitate the grinding and expulsion of the flour. From time to time, the miller had to re-cut the grooves to ensure that the process continued to work properly. The miller could raise or lower the upper millstone using a lever so as to produce more finely-ground flour or just to break the
grain, according to his needs.
Before this, however, the miller examined the grain to see if it was a strong or weak grain, and thus determined how long it needed to soak and how it was to be ground. This was called “understanding the grain”, and it was important to know this in order to obtain an optimal yield, both in terms of the quality and the quantity of the flour.
The grain, moreover, had to be washed before soaking, as it used to be dirty from the dust and earth it caught in the rudimentary threshing process.
The mills also had to be as close as possible to a village or group of farmhouses so that the transport of grain and flour from the producing farmhouse to the mill was no further than three-quarters or an hour away.
The farmer who owned the production was in charge of the transport, and it was done with mules or donkeys when the roads were not prepared for the passage of carts. For each quarter ground (about 60 kg) the miller charged one measure (2.5 kg), and charged another if he had to go to get the grain and return the flour to the producer farm.
Generally, each house would mill grain once a week, and when they left the grain to mill, they would pick up what they had left the week before. Sometimes, however, the farmer was lucky that it was not long before his turn came, and then he would wait to have the flour. This was called “arribar i moldre” (arrive and mill), an expression in Catalan that is still very much alive today and means something similar to “there and then.”
There are other sayings and phrases connected to the flour mills, perhaps not so well known, for example “qui primer és al molí, fa farina” which means “the first to the mill, makes flour”, or “de moliner mudaràs, que de lladre no podràs” (the miller may move, but the thief, no), reflecting the bad reputation of the millers, the result of suspicions about the extent to which the miller charged for his work. In the process of a lot there was a decrease between the volume and weight of the grain and that of the flour obtained. This decrease was not only the result of the measure charged by the miller, but was also due to inadequate procedures.