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The Grathem mill

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in Grathem

In the middle of the quiet and charming village of Grathem the last watermill that was still regularly in operation lies on the Uffel brook in the northern half of the province of Limburg. From outside this wasn’t noticeable, as the turbine did its work unnoticed under the water surface. Due to wear of the turbine’s wheel, the mill was inoperational for some time.

The church and the watermill are not the only important old buildings. Two castles at the edge of the village, when approaching Napoleonsweg as well as coming from Kelpen-Oler, also give the village a special touch.

The watermill has a rich history as cultural heritage.

Grathem has an age-old, distinctive, mill complex with cultural-historical value that is a distinct feature of the village centre due to its striking location by Uffel brook.

There is first mention of this mill in old archives dating from 1252. On 7 April 1252 one sister Elisabeth from the Thorn monastery bequeathed, among others, the mill to her fellow sister and successors in the abbey.

Even in the 14th century the lord’s mill was situated in the monastery of Thorn. Later the mill came into possession of the noble family De Borchgrave d'Altena that lived in the castle "Groot Buggenum" in Grathem, and subsequently of De Geloes d'Elsloo family through marriage.

In the first half of the 19th century the water, grain and oil mill was owned by Antonia Enestina Francisca, Countess De Borchgrave d'Altena. She had married in 1813 and later became the widow of Charles Emile Marie Maur Servais, count De Geloes d'Elsloo. After her death, the mill with house and yard was inherited in 1861 by Theodore Maur Constantin Charles count De Geloes d'Elsloo of Lauvergnac (Guérande, France) and his sister. After division in 1871 the count became the sole owner. A year later he sold the mill with appurtenances to miller-leaseholder Louis Schreurs, married to Ida Jacobs.

During this time the mill had two sleeper plate cogs that hung in their own ark inclined behind each other. The front wheel, the flour mill’s waterwheel, had a radius of 5.40 m and a width of 0.59 m; the oil mill’s waterwheel’s dimensions were respectively 5.12 and 0.52 m.

When husband and wife Schreurs-Jacobs became the owners, the mill was in a poor condition. They had the mill with the private dwelling restored in 1873, of which a plaque with the following chronogram is a reminder: “Is hernle UWD Door De eChtgenooten L sChreUrs en I. jaCobs. (To calculate the date value of a chronogram, add up all letters that are a Roman numeral: D=500, C=100, L=50, W=10, U=5 and 1 or J=1).

In 1903 the married couple Schreurs-Jacobs sold the mill with house and appurtenances to Mathieu or Johannes Mathias Hubertus Tijssen, wedded to Anna Maria Hubertina Schreurs. Tijssen was a nephew of Ida Jacobs: his wife a niece of Louis Schreurs. Tijssen had the mill with the driving gear renovated in 1915. On 8 August of that year he was granted permission to place a water turbine and adapt the water works. Previously the mill had a built-in waterwheel with a diameter of 6.10 m, a width of 2.08 m and a blade height of 1.25 m. The oak blades of this marvellous waterwheel have been preserved. They served as floorboards of the hayloft.

The vertical turbine could develop 10 HP with an amount of water of 1,300 litres per second and a rotational speed of 70 rotations a minute. The turbine with the new iron driving gear was provided by the Atorf and Propfe Company from Paderborn (Germany). The transmission ratio of the driving gear is 1:1.5.

The heavy driving gear consists of a steel mill axis with a bearing, and is driven through the turbine via a conic cogwheel drive.

In the attic there used to be two couples of “17-er” cast stones next to each other. The long axis of each couple of stones is supported by a rail trestle and is driven by a heavy conic cogwheel drive (transmission ratio 1:1) driven by the mill axis. Using a screw set-up, the horizontal cogwheel on the stone’s axis is lifted from the vertical cogwheel and the couple of stones in question are disengaged.

In 1916 a Stockport suction gas engine was used as an aid in the turbine chamber, which directly drove the mill axis with a belt. This axis constantly drove a dynamo in the turbine chamber that provided part of the village with electric light until the late 1920s. The accumulator battery consisted of 120 elements. Grathem was only connected to the provincial electricity network in 1930. After this, an electric motor was used as an aid.

Tijssen passed away in 1926. The mill then came into the possession of his wife and four children Severinus, Dorothea, Hubertina and Maria. The company continued under the name "The Tijssen heirs", Theo Janssen was the competent manager.
In the mid-1950s the H.P. van Aarsen Company, mill builders from Panheel, placed an electric hammer mill in the front part of the turbine chamber and a mixing pan in the mill. The couple of stones that took front position in the mill were removed and the mill axis was shortened.
There is a breaking roll in the attic that is used as a flatter, and a seed cleaner; both machines are driven by the mill axis. An additional space has a bolter with which buckwheat flour is sieved.

There was a division of the estate in 1958 and Severinus Theodoor Gerard Joseph Tijssen, priest in Ittervoort, and Dorothea Gertrudis Agetha and Maria Hubertina, both unmarried, became the joint owners. In 1977 the Tijssen family sold the mill with private dwelling to Louis or Ludovicus Antonius Marie Gielen, married to Elisabeth Catharina Hubertina Op 't Broek, from Wessem. He was already a miller in the Grathem mill.

© P.W.E.A. van Bussel “De Molens van Limburg”. Publication rights obtained from the author’s son.

(The text below was added later)

He continued to carry out his miller work until December 2007 when he moved to Maasbracht.

In 1994 the municipality of Heythuysen bought the mill from the Gielen family and leased it to the Grathem Mill Foundation. This foundation (legal owner) then rented the mill to the Gielen family (miller).
The residential part of the mill complex remained property of the Gielen family, on condition that they could still live there and operate the mill for at least another decade.
Eventually (in 2006) the municipality bought the residential part with the business accommodation at the back.
The establishment of the Grathem Mill Foundation in 1994 was officially necessary to be eligible for subsidies from State, Province and Municipalities for the execution of a restoration plan.

The expenses of a restoration plan for the mill part was estimated at 1,375.000 guilders. After a financing scheme had been drawn up and the subsidy requests had been accepted, the restauration and renovation could commence in 1994.

The overall project was divided into three sections, namely constructional restoration and maintenance of the various parts of the building, structural restoration of the mill and hydraulic work.

The Limburg Mill Foundation made the drive line of the former mill in Brunssum available. This enabled the interior of the Grathem mill to be altered and extended.

Due to this, the drive line could be driven by a completely new waterwheel that was attached to the outside of the building. This drive line was carefully preserved, restored and completed where necessary.

The turbine (Francis type) was replaced by an entirely new turbine of the Girard type.

Apart from the present original electric drive, the miller can now also let a different couple of stones rotate through a waterwheel or the new turbine engine.

The hydraulic provisions include:

  • Restauration and improvement of the driving provisions;
  • Restauration of the quay wall present in the brook;
  • The construction of a fishway (fish lifting provision) in the brook.
  • Total renovation of the water management (with regard to a new waterwheel).
  • Apart from the existing grinding funnels of the turbine and the waterwheel, two discharge gutters were constructed (with metal grids) for the benefit of the water passage. The fishway was realised alongside the passageway.

The new mill/waterwheel (undershot waterwheel), positioned on the outside of the mill, was designed by Eng. P.W.E.A. van Bussel from Eindhoven. The wheel has a radius of 5.20 m and has 48 blades, each 88 cm. The waterwheel can rotate continuously, also when the grinding seat isn’t in use.

The Francis turbine positioned in 1915, which was used for approximately 70 years, became defective due to the loss of parts of blades on the wheel caused by corrosion.

As the turbine became incomplete, it could no longer be used. During the restoration plans in 1994 there were attempts to renovate this turbine and make is usable again, to no avail.

In 1995 a new Girard turbine was supplied and assembled by Molenbouw Gebrs. Adriaens Weert BV, according to a plan and drawing made by Eng. van Bussel from Eindhoven. A Girard turbine from the watermill of Neeroeteren (B) was used for the construction of this turbine.

The turbine’s rotor can process 1.43 m³ water per second.

From the ground floor in the mill a viewing hole was made in the turbine chamber to show visitor’s how the mill works.

After the restauration in 1994/1995 a special situation occurred: the Grathem mill offers the unique possibility of combining waterwheel and turbine drive, two technological phases alongside each other.

Construction Company Derckx from Wessem offered the Grathem Mill Foundation a so-called “waterpegel” as a present during the reopening of the mill on 6 October 1995. These objects were common in a variety of shapes from the mid/late 19th century in East Brabant and Limburg. The tip was placed at the bottom of the brook and put in the direction of the current at mill level, as was indicated by the Peel and Maas Water Board in Venlo. The tip has to be visible from the bank and accessible via the quay wall.

Since the departure of miller Gielen at the end of 2007 the mill complex is offered for sale by the municipality. Suitable use for the complex is being sought, in which the mill needs to be preserved for the future. Commercial operation possibilities are seriously considered, provided that the natural and cultural-historical value of the complex is preserved (National Monument) in the environment.

When in 2008 a financial and economic crisis started everywhere, a stagnation occurred in the sales plans of the mill complex.

On certain days a voluntary part-time miller is present in the Grathem mill and visitors can make use of the services on offer and see the mill. (2014)

Opening times: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 12:00 to 18:00 clock.

Adress: Brugstraat 13, 6096 AA Grathem, Phone: (+31) (0)475-451291 or (+31) (0)475-572379