Meaux, an historical past ?
The role of the millstone
During the Tertiary and Quaternary eras, a long period of lakeside and marine sedimentation allowed deposits of millstone, limestone, green clay and siliceous sand to form.
This period was followed by slow erosion, which caused the formation of the Brie plateau.
This limestone formation was very often covered by a layer of cavernous millstone, used for building houses, and whose insulation powers contributed for a long period of time in regulating inside/outside temperatures before the our modern constructions were invented.
The lower layer, which is much more dense, was used for making mills to grind grain. These siliceous rocks, often cavernous, are very widespread in the Paris region. Lacking our current methods of transports, businesses were set up right on the exploitation sites.
This is how the town of La Ferté-sous-Jouarre, only a few kilometres away from Meaux, became a very important centre for the exploitation of these rock formations.
In the fifteenth century, monolithic millstones were already being made with large blocks extracted from the plateau.
These enterprises comprised more than 800 people who worked from the stone quarry up until the transportation of the finished millstones, which became renown throughout the world, and were exported to England and to North America. The millstones from La Ferté-sous-Jouarre were known as the best in Europe.
The millstone workers' job was one of the most unhealthy in the world. The millstone quarries were in the open air, and in most cases, the stones were extracted using hammers, sledgehammers, and crowbars. The atmosphere was infested with millstone dust, which left most of the workers with no more than twenty years professional activity before succumbing to galloping consumption. The workers also drank a lot of alcohol, and bad alcohol at that, which certainly did not help matters.
Once the stone extracted, the work was finished on site, the stone being broken up in the direction of the faults seen in the rockbed. The stone was then set into shape with the help of a sharp-pointed hammer.
At first, the millstones were cut out of one block, then the workers spent weeks cutting them, polishing them, making furrows, but in a fault was discovered in the rock at the end of the process, then it had to be abandoned.
Then work-shop assembled millstones appeared.
Indeed, it became easier and safer to work with several pieces that were assembled in a template, which were then solidified with plaster at first, then later by cement.
At the centre of the millstones was a round hole known as an 'eyehole' allowing the grains to go down into the mill.
Next, the millstones were encircled in iron, then set into shape to make them as smooth as possible.
Then came the final stage before their entry into the active phase, furrows needed to be made going from the centre to words the circumference, while maintaining an entrance near the hole.
Each furrow and line was adapted to the seeds to be crushed. These were obviously different for mustard seeds and for corn. The balancing of the millstone was the final important stage, ensuring there was no unbalance in order to not wear down one side more than the other, and to keep a "supple" rotation.
he maintenance of the furrows of the millstones was done either by the miller himself or by a maintenance worker.
The manufacturing of millstones has completely disappeared since 1880 by conglomerate millstones and cylinders.
At the beginning of the last century, in this region, there were 250 windmills, as well as water mills.
Today, only one windmill which survived this upheaval has been renovated, in Gastins, which is near Rozay-en-Brie.
Its most striking characteristic is in the wooden sails designed by the engineer Berthon. It also has two pairs of millstones fro La-Ferté -Jouarre.
We would like to help the Eco Musée de la Meulière for the documents and information provided.
If you have any questions, or documents to pass on to these mill fans, you can contact them :ECO MUSEE DE LA MEULIERE
Monsieur Jacques BEAUVOIS
Meaux, the other mustard region
Meaux is situated 60km west of Paris. One of the administrative centres of the Seine-et-Marne department (77), it has a population of over 50 000 people (the inhabitants are known as "Meldois").
The history of Meaux has been subject to the whims of the twists and turns of the Marne, river on the banks of which the town is built.
In ancient times, the Ourcq canal and the Marne river formed a vast circle at the north of the town, which is where a Gallic tribe lived. They were known the "Meldis", and gave their name to the town.
From the fourth century onwards, the town became a cathedral town, and later the capital of the Brie region.
The first links between religious orders and mustard date back to Charlemagne's time. This king asked the monks to cultivate mustard in cathedral towns such as Meaux. He also protected the windmills which belonged to the monks, as well as the stone quarries, hence some struggles between different ecclesiastic groups (in particular the priory of Reuil, which held the millstone quarries in the area, and whose competitors were the abbess of St-Benoît [Benedictine], or the nuns of La Ferté-sous-Jouarre with the Chanoines du Chapitre [Canons]).
In the eighteenth century, several mustard mills were to be found, some of the manufacturers owned their own mill and others had become specialised in the flour trade, and sold their flower to craftsmen who made mustards destined partly for human consumption, and partly for medical and pharmaceutical use.
Mustard was consumed in great quantities, as it overpowered the taste of foods, which were not always as fresh as they could be.
As early as 1771, there were mustard makers in Meaux, who had taken over from the Chanoines, at a scale which was rather industrial for that time.
Alongside his mustard company, J.B. Pommery exploited a millstone quarry. The secret of Meaux Mustard had been passed on to him by the Chanoines. In 1890, the Pommery family were the only mustard makers left.
In 1925, the manufacture left the family to go into a modern production era.
Today, Pommery's Meaux Mustard has kept the same recipe as in the past, its ingredients are carefully selected for their different qualities.
This gives the product a quality that many people have tried to copy.
The quality of the stoneware used, the most natural products, but also of its natural non-compressed cork, allow its conservation and help it to cross the planet in all directions.