Alain Belmont La pierre à pain. Les carrières de meules de moulins en France, du Moyen Age à la révolution industrielle Grenoble, P U G, 2006 2 vol tome 1, 332 p. ISBN : 2 7061 1305 7 tome 2, 232 p. ISBN : 2 7061 1306 5
Translation of the title : Stone for Bread. Millstone quarries of France from the Middle Ages to the Industrial Revolution
Millstone quarry heritage, the subject of this book, is both strange and spectacular. It includes legends narrating the tales of enchanted stones and of rains of huge loaves of bread. It also includes mountains bearing by thousands of round hollows and underground galleries, more extensive than cathedrals, and open-air excavations extending over the horizon resembling battlefields.
While churches narrate the history of religious beliefs, and the ruins of castles symbolise the power of the elite of former societies, millstone quarries are monuments to both the glory of work and daily life. They maintain alive the saga of a forgotten time when extraordinary efforts were carried out to secure each day an attractive and healthy loaf of bread. It is little known that to produce flour, millers had to acquire stones in quarries located far away - sometimes as far as the other side of the world. To transport these stones, weighing from one to four metric tons, they spent fortunes hiring boats, hiring special convoys, and paying numerous workers. It is also little known that specific quarries brought great wealth to their owners and sustained the economy of whole regions. And without them, how would France have received the reputation for producing the ‘best bread in the world ?'
Ten years of research was necessary to retrieve this forgotten heritage. Nearly 4000 registers were consulted in public archives, and 133 millstone quarries visited throughout 30 departments. Two sites were excavated, and a large group of specialists assembled, namely historians, archaeologists, physicians, chemists, biochemists, geologists, paleo-anthropologists, stone masons, millers - and even a dentist !'
The result is two volumes of a total history, ‘a product of a surprising wealth', according to Jean-Marc Moriceau, and ‘a powerful indicator of the manner in which material culture intervenes in history', according to Daniel Roche.
Volume I relates the history and technical function of mills. It then presents the description, techniques of exploitation, production, and spheres of commercialisation of thousands of millstone quarries in France. It also explores the effects of the different millstones on bread and human health.
Volume II relates the history of the quarry basin of La Ferté-sous-Jouarre, the source of the stones that equipped mills all over the world. It then turns to men of the millstone world : craftsmen, workers, and important merchants.
The author, Alain Belmont, is professor of modern history at the University of Grenoble. He is also a member of the Laboratoire de Recherche Historique Rhône-Alpes (UMR 5190 du CNRS). He campaigns actively for the protection and valorisation of the heritage of rural societies. He received his doctorate at the EHESS (Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales).