UNESCO – English

Millers’ craft on UNESCO Intangible Heritage list

On 5 December 2017 it was celebration time for the Dutch millers. The old craft of miller has been recognised by UNESCO as Cultural Intangible Heritage. A recognition for an old craft with a bright future.

“Intangible heritage is ‘living heritage’. It includes social customs, representations, rituals, traditions, expressions, special knowledge or skills that communities and groups (and sometimes even individuals) recognise as a form of cultural heritage. A special feature is that it is transmitted from generation to generation and is important for a common identity.”

UNESCO The Netherlands

Stichting Beheer Noordmolen Twickel (Noordmolen Management Foundation)

The foundation is responsible for passing on the heritage of De Noordmolen and the volunteer millers play that important role, which has now been designated by UNESCO as cultural heritage. The craft of miller is that cultural intangible heritage. And it is the first time that a Dutch cultural heritage has received this recognition.

A little History

About 5000 years ago, man switched from hunting/gathering to agriculture. The grain was (mostly) milled by hard-working women, such as this Egyptian woman with a grinding stone.


Limestone figurine from a tomb in Egypt of the 5th Dynasty of the Old Kingdom, 2465-2323 BC.

Around 6,000 B.C. the grains were crushed between two stones. One stone was hollowed out, on top of which another stone was placed, and thus the grains were crushed into powder. This is how the hand mill came into being at the beginning of our era. The hand mill (queerne) or rotary mill consisted of two stones, round in shape. In these, the grain was ground between a fixed (lower) and a rotating (upper) millstone of about 30 cm diameter. These stones are also called the beam and the runner. The Roman invention of this dates back to the 1st century BC.

The development of wind and water mills gave rise to a new profession as early as Roman times: that of mulder or miller. Mills were operated by slaves or animals. If a horse or donkey was used, we speak of horse mills. In the Roman Empire, the water mill came into use and, of course, labour became much lighter.

The Romans helped to spread the Roman Empire, which had its northern border, the Limes, as far as the Rhine. It took several years before water grain mills were able to gain a foothold alongside mills operated by slaves or animals. The less rapid spread of waterwheel mills is to a large extent due to the fact that hand and horse mills could be placed anywhere, whereas – as far as watermills were concerned – one was always dependent on the presence of running water. In England, near Hadrian’s Wall, which was constructed by the Romans, fragments of underdrains as well as complete grinding stones have been discovered from three watermills dating from the 3rd century, possibly from the end of the 2nd century.

After the water-driven grain mill had made its appearance, in the course of the centuries various techniques were developed, both in terms of drive and in terms of products to be processed. Water mills, which we now know as tidal mills, ship’s mills, upper and lower mills, were developed. Water-driven mills were developed for all kinds of products, such as sawmills, paper mills and oil mills; the same drive system for completely different processes. Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), for example, also designed a wheel dredger, a picture of which is shown below.


For the spread of watermills to the eastern Netherlands, the Merovingians and Carolingians should be considered. We often talk about the Dark Ages, the time after the Romans from 400 to 700 AD. Recent research shows that that period was a relatively prosperous one, in which Roman technology was not only used but also improved. One can imagine that itinerant mill builders were hired by castle lords and monasteries. Owning a mill was a profitable business and required a relatively large investment, which often only lords of castles and monastic orders were able to make.

We do not know exactly when the Noordmolen was built, nor by whom. What we do know is that the mill appears in the Bishop’s register of the Bishop of Utrecht from 1325-1336 and that the Noordmolen is mentioned in the deed of sale of Huis Eijsinc in 1347, called Twickel by the buyer Hermannus van Twicklo. This deed is kept at Twickel Castle.

The Noordmolens, the oil mill on the left and the grain mill on the right, viewed from downstream, remained in use for centuries. The grain mill until the beginning of the 19th century and was demolished around 1825 when grinding was no longer profitable due to industrial developments.


The oil mill also fell into disrepair. There was a complete dismantling in 1830, but the Noordmolen did not serve for long afterwards due to competition. The mill could produce approximately 40 litres of oil in one day, whereas a factory process in those years could produce 10,000 litres.

The outer work was removed in 1917, while the mill building and the weir itself were refurbished to preserve it as a monument. A quay stone with the inscription “Renovatum 1917” reminds of this.

The inner workings have always remained in place, even when they were used by the Germans as ammunition storage during the Second World War. A stroke of luck, because when Twickel decided in 1976 to make the mill suitable for windmilling again, they did not have to think up all kinds of constructions because the inner mechanism (almost completely decayed) had remained in place. In 1984 a new water shaft and wheel were installed. With the help of financial support from the government, the Friends of Twickel and service clubs, the interior was restored in 1989/’90 and the mill was able to run again in 1990.

Handing over the craft

Every Sunday and in holiday periods Wednesday to Saturday, the volunteers exercise the craft of miller and the oil mill is freely accessible to the public. New volunteers can follow the training for water miller at the Guild of Volunteer Millers or get an internal training. After some time as a ‘journeyman’ they are employed independently as miller..

A special form of transfer is heritage education for pupils of primary schools. After a preparatory lesson on mills in general and the oil mill in particular, a visit to the mill follows. During this visit, the children learn more about the details of the mill with the help of photo assignments and the craft is practised. In a third lesson, the knowledge gained is deepened at school by having the pupils answer questions about the visit and working on a construction board of the mill. In addition, groups including pupils from the Coornhert College in Haarlem are welcomed throughout the year.

The craftsmen of the Noordmolen are also happy to share their knowledge with you. See you in the mill.