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History of ship-mills

9th December 2010

When we were developing the Flow project our first problem was how to make a floating water wheel that worked with the changing levels of the river Tyne. We decided we had to make a floating structure that moved with the tide. We soon found that the floating mill concept was not new. Floating ‘Ship-mills’ were used in proliferation in medieval times.

 

When we were developing the Flow project our first problem was how to make a floating water wheel that worked with the changing levels of the river Tyne. We decided we had to make a floating structure that moved with the tide. We soon found that the floating mill concept was not new. Floating ‘Ship-mills’ were used in proliferation in medieval times.


http://www.histinst.rwth-aachen.de/ext/tma/tema/muehle/sm.htm

A ship-mill uses a water wheel attached between two interconnected floating platforms, one of which often supported the mill-house. The whole floating structure is tethered to the river bank, while the wheel is moved by the passing current. The advantages of this floating arrangement are that it can be moved into the fast flowing areas of rivers and it can work with the changing levels of tidal rivers. It could also be moved to allow larger boats to pass. It is one of the earliest examples of mobile manufacturing technologies.

http://www.waterhistory.org/histories/waterwheels/

Evidence suggests that the Ship-mill concept was first developed by the Romans. In medieval times the Ship-mill had become a common sight throughout Europe. Notably spreading as far as Bagdad, where large ship-mills of iron and wood, were built on the Tigris. Today a hand full of ship-mills exist, Some painstakingly restored. Four of these ‘schiffmuehle’ are in Germany, with other good examples in Austria and Slovakia.


Recently the Ship-mill concept has been put to good use in Baltiore where a working Ship-mill that uses a special conveyor belt to scoop floating debris from the river.