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Friday, November 14, 2014

EE Carter and harnessing the power of water...

It is a family joke that any holiday I go on with my engineer husband, it has to involve rotating machinery of some description (it also involves trying to kill me... but that's another story). It fact FINDING the token rotating machinery has become a fun part of our travels together. There is nothing he likes more than waterwheels... the sight of any fast moving body of water inevitably prompts the remark "They should put a wheel in there to power the electricity". 

So thank you to my guest today, historical romance writer,  Elizabeth Ellen Carter, for perpetuating my husband's water wheel fascination with a fabulous post on... water wheels and sluice gates. I love seeing how my guests use the research in their stories, don't you?

EE Carter's latest book (HAPPY LAUNCH WEEK), WARRIOR'S SURRENDER is set in the years immediately after the Norman invasion. 

WATER WHEELS and SLUICE GATESin the Medieval Period

A huge thank you to Alison Stuart for inviting me to share some fascinating research I uncovered while writing Warrior's Surrender.

Warrior's Surrender is set in the High Medieval period, specifically 1077AD - 11 years after the Norman Conquest of England. I became fascinated by how inventive medieval engineers were. England's waterways have always been vital for the nation's trade, but it was for the the security and early-industrial development that waterways were strongly harnessed.

Sluices and waterwheels were used by the Romans but they were more extensively employed in the Medieval period, both on rivers and also in estuaries where tides provided the kinetic energy to power mills and furnaces that allowed greater production of milled grain and, in the case of furnaces, the consistent heat required for refining ore.

From the 10th century on there was steady progress in land reclamation. Areas in northern and western Europe, once sparsely populated, came under cultivation. Grain was an important crop, and most of it was ground by water mills The Domesday Book, a survey prepared in England in 1086 AD for William The Conqueror, lists 5,624 water mills. A century earlier, fewer than 100 mills were counted.

One of the main innovators of that period were monks who worked to become self-sufficient. 
The Cistercians monks were a strict branch of the Benedictine Order. By the middle of the 12th century were are the forefront of the cutting edge of hydro-power and agriculture. A typical Cistercian monastery straddled a millrace (artificial stream). This stream ran near the monastery shops, living quarters, and refectories, providing power for milling, wood cutting, forging, and olive crushing. It also provided running water for cooking, washing and bathing, and finally sewage disposal.

"Tide and time wait for no man", the saying goes and that was recognised in medieval times as well.

A tide mill was a specific Medieval invention - a mill driven by tidal rise and fall. A dam with a sluice is created across a suitable tidal inlet, or a section of river estuary is made into a reservoir. As the tide comes in, it enters the mill pond through a one way gate, and this gate closes automatically when the tide begins to fall.

When the tide is low enough, the stored water can be released to turn a water wheel. The earliest excavated tide mill, dating from 787, is the Nendrum Monastery mill on an island in Strangford Lough in Northern Ireland. Its millstones are 830mm in diameter and the horizontal wheel is estimated to have developed 7/8HP at its peak.

And how did she use this research?

Waterwheels and Sluice Gates in Warrior's Surrender
Background: Sebastian, Baron of Tyrswick and his wife Alfreya are about to visit neighbouring villages that have been damaged as a result of torrential spring rains. The village of Tyrswick has fared well. Sebastian explains why.
She said a silent prayer for her father, hoping he might have found the peace in the next life that he never found in this one, as she urged her horse into a trot to catch up with Sebastian. He’d stopped on the other side of the drawbridge. As she crossed, she looked down to see the first of the Keep’s defenses, a deep ditch filled with water.
“I didn’t think we had that much rain,” she said.
“We haven’t,” he answered. “Let me show you something.”
They broke away from the main party and rode several hundred yards to where the boundary of the Keep met Tyrswick River.
A structure like a low stone gate stood parallel to the river and straddled the channel that skirted the walls of the Keep. Instead of a door, a series of heavy wooden planks strapped with iron were suspended over the water. 
“It’s a sluice gate,” he said. He pointed downstream to where the river flowed by the village. “We couldn’t risk the wheel on the mill being damaged by flood water, so we had the gate built at the same time,” Sebastian explained. “When the river rises above a certain level, we raise the gate to divert water. Not only does it protect the mill and the village, but it also gives the Keep another defense.
Thanks to Sebastian’s forethought, Tyrswick village had weathered the rains well. The mill was in perfect order and would be ready to start grinding the grain immediately. That meant fresh bread. Large quantities would be required to feed the starving if there had been significant damage done to other areas.
A shared secret from their past could destroy their future…

Northumbria, 1077. In the years following William the Conqueror’s harrying of the North, Lady Alfreya of Tyrswick returns to her family home after seven years in exile. But instead of returning victorious as her dead father had promised, she returns defeated by Baron Sebastian de la Croix, the Norman who rules her lands.

To save her gravely ill brother's life, Alfreya offers herself hostage to her enemy. As Alfreya gets to know her new husband, she finds he’s not the monster she feared, and their marriage of convenience soon becomes a bond of passion. But Sebastian is a man with a secret—one that could destroy him.

As a series of brutal murders haunt their nights, the man who betrayed Alfreya’s father returns claiming to be her betrothed. He has learned Sebastian’s secret and will use it to further his own ambition—using Sebastian’s own family—which will destroy Sebastian and mark him a traitor, and plunge an unprepared England into war with the Scots…


A future with words was always on the book for Elizabeth Ellen Carter who started writing her own stories when she ran out of Nancy Drew mysteries to read when she was 10.
Using her mother’s Olivetti type writer with the italic keyboard, she spent endless school holidays making up her own stories and then using the Dewey Decimal System to arrange and categories her bookshelf.
Somewhere around the age of 13 she determined to become a journalist and at 17 was awarded a cadetship to the Gold Coast Bulletin.
She covered news, council, education, health but had the most fun as the paper’s entertainment and features reporter covering film, TV and music.
Best of all she met her husband there and together they started a small award-winning media, marketing and advertising agency and now she works as marketing manager for an international organic skin care company.
In 2012, Elizabeth also returned to the keyboard to write stories (and laptops are so much better than manual typewriters).

Contact the author

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