The Welsh Mills Society (originally known as the Welsh Mills Group) can trace its origins to the growing public awareness, during the late 1970s and early 1980s, that something needed to be done to save and record mills in Wales, which were then closing and being converted or demolished at an alarming rate. In early 1984 a small working party was formed, which looked at the possibility of establishing some sort of formal grouping which would bring together individuals and organisations interested in studying, restoring and promoting mills.
The existence of the Mills Section of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (S.P.A.B.) was not overlooked, but it was felt that the remoteness of a London-based organisation was a barrier to campaigning and recruiting at grass-roots level.
By the summer of 1984 a draft constitution had been drawn up, and plans were in hand for the first public meeting. The inaugural meeting was held on 20 October 1984 at the Powys College of Further Education, Newtown. Sixty-five people were present, the meeting being chaired by Dr. Eurwyn Wiliam from the Museum of Welsh Life. The aims of the proposed Group were outlined and a constitution was discussed and agreed, the Objects being:
‘…to study, record, interpret and publicise the wind and water mills of Wales; to encourage general interest; to advise on their preservation and use, and to encourage working millers…’.
Because of the large geographical area covered by the society, and to be fair to members in all parts of Wales it was agreed that two meetings should be held each year: the Annual General Meeting in October, and a Spring Meeting in April; and that the venues should vary between north, mid and south Wales. This arrangement has worked well, and attendances are generally between fifty and seventy at each meeting.
Within seven months of the launch, membership had reached 97, and this growth has continued so that today the society can boast over two hundred members. At the 5th AGM in 1989, a proposal to change its title from Welsh Mills Group to Welsh Mills Society was approved unanimously; it being felt that this more accurately reflected the standing of the organisation within Wales.
In line with the Society’s aim of promoting working mills, a leaflet was produced in 1986 to publicise mills which were open to the public. 14,000 leaflets were printed, with 60% of the cost being met by the Wales Tourist Board under a joint marketing venture. The success of this initial venture led to a new leaflet being produced every year, with 40-50,000 being printed annually, often without any outside financial assistance. However, it was felt, in recent years, that this was not a particularly effective way of targeting visitors and potential new members. So, in 2001, a decision was taken to establish a web-site and to concentrate publicity on the internet.
The Society produced the first issue of its journal MELIN in 1985. Originally intended as an occasional journal, this has become an annual publication. Most issues contain three or more articles on subjects relating to mills and milling in Wales. Vol. 1 is now out of print, as is Vol. 5, which was a special issue devoted entirely to the late Professor Gordon Tucker’s survey of the mills of Radnorshire. In addition to the Journal, the Society’s subscription of £18 entitles members to four Newsletters per year.
Since the launch of the Society in 1984 more than 15 mills have been restored, and members are currently helping with the restoration of others in the country.
The Welsh Mills Society is now established as the main mouthpiece for mills and millers in Wales. In 1993 it played host to the 8th Symposium of the International Molinological Society (T.I.M.S.) in Aberystwyth, and in 2000 it hosted the S.P.A.B. Mills Section’s weekend meeting – MOLICON 2000 – based at Trinity College, Carmarthen. Such events have helped place Wales and the Welsh Mills Society firmly on the international molinological map.
And what of the future? The Welsh Mills Society is committed to ensuring a future for as many of the traditional mills as possible, in Wales. An active membership, in all parts of Wales, and beyond, will ensure that its voice can be heard at local, regional and government level.
Gerallt D Nash
Chairman, Welsh Mills Society