The Hammer mill

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in Neer

The Hammer mill was a water, grain and saw mill. It lay near the centre of the village and was the first of the three watermills that lay on the Neer river, as the final part of the Tungelroy riv-er, the former Jungeroy river, was called.

The original mill buildings probably date from 1792, as indicated by the tablet with the in-scriptions J.G.H. and G.D.G. In the 18th century and before this the mill was one of the properties of the castle of Ghoor, which was demolished in 1796.

It was originally a grain and oil mill. The oil mill lay on the left bank of the river, the grain mill on the right bank. Every mill building had its own watermill. There were five discharge sluices between the grinding sluices of the two mills, because of which the excess water of the sometimes unruly river was discharged. There used to be a small turn on the left bank, but it was closed with an earthen dam and was only crossed in emergencies. When the provincial water board recorded the mill and water works in 1856 the grain mill’s waterwheel had a diameter of 6.12 m and a width of 0.67 m.; the oil mill’s wheel had a diameter of 5.32 m and a width of 0.56 m. Wooden waterwheels had a very limited lifespan and had to be regularly renewed. Permission was required from the Provincial Government for the renewal of the cogs and the sluices. When the work had finished, the Provincial Water Board checked its position and dimensions and the levels and benchmarks were re-established and a report was drawn up. In between the recordings there were time differences of 25 years and longer and were often done wrongfully. Upon inspection, the new water cogs and sluices sometimes turned out to have other dimensions than previously. For water cogs this was, for instance, the result of attaching a new ark, which lay on a different level or head. During a recording in 1892 the dimensions of the grain mill’s waterwheel were respectively 5.94 m and 0.80 m; of the oil mill 5 m and 0.6 m.

Almost the whole 19th century the mill with the house, which was built onto the left mill, was the property of the Geenen family, farmers in Neer.
Originally, Theodorus Geenen had been the owner, followed by the heirs Johannes and Sophia. Af-ter the division of the inheritance in 1849 Willem, Theodorus and Wilhelmina Geenen became the owners. After the division in 1859 Anna Maria, wife of Mathijs Peters Timmerman in Neer, and Anna Elisabeth, who was unmarried, each got 1/6th part; the remaining part belonged to Theodorus and Wilhelmina. A new division followed a year later, where Theodorus and Wilhelmina Geenen, both farmers in Neer, and Mathijs Peeters, each became 1/3rd own-er. After the passing of Peeters this part went to his widow Maria Peeters-Geenen and son Jan Willem, teacher at the Roermond Episcopal College. In 1894 Jacob or Jacobus van Esser, who was the miller of the Uffel mill in Hunsel, purchased the mill. He moved to Neer in 1896 and leased the Uffel watermill. The Hammer mill was easy to grind, but the location of the grain mill on the right bank wasn’t very practical. In the beginning of this century there was also a decrease of the growing of rapeseed, from which the oil was extracted. For the oil mills this company was at one point no longer profitable. The use of rapeseed oil, which was mainly used for cooking, began to decline.

Van Esser decided to demolish the grain mill on the right bank and furnish the oil mill on the left bank with new grinding gear and a turbine. A turbine chamber was built against the former oil mill, whose pent roof connected to the existing roof. Permission for the changes was granted by the Provincial Government in 1905. Further extensions were added in 1907 and 1908, including a saw mill, which lay behind the grain mill.

In 1916 the heirs of Van Esser had a generator placed in the turbine chamber for generating electricity, which was driven with a belt in the mill’s axis. The generator at first only provided a small part of Neer with electric light and also provided electricity for motors of the saw mill. The grinding setup consisted of a couple of blue German stones and a couple of artificial stones. The two long stone axes were driven using conic gears through the mill’s axis that was connected to the ground floor with bearings. The mill’s axis also drove a transmission axis with a belt that was situated in the (stone) loft. A grain cleaner, oilcake breaker, oat crusher and mixer were connected to this axis with a belt transmission. In its day it was a fully furnished village mill. After the death of Jacob van Esser the mill with appurtenances was inherited by the children: Jan or Johannes Cornelis, who was a wood trader in Neer; Peter Nicolaas, missionary in Kan Su in China, and Bertha Aldegonda, who lived in Neer. Under the management of Jan van Esser, who had inherited the Hammer mill with house in 1917, mainly the wood business gradually expanded.

In 1926 Van Esser sold the company to Henri or Renier Henri Hubertus Nijs, miller and grain seller in Leveroy. In the said year he had bought the bankrupt factory "Het Steel" plc with the steam waterpower station in Roermond and moved his wood business to the Steel complex. Nijs sold his windmill "De Volharding'' in Leveroy to L. Vossen in Nederweert and moved to Neer, where he used to have a thriving business and was counted among the leading millers of Middle Limburg. Although many mills in Limburg played a major role in the provision of food for the local population during the war months of 1944-1945, it was possible for some watermills to offer a special contribution. Watermills didn’t have striking buildings that formed a target for artillery. The German Sprengkommandos, which blew up windmills, church towers, bridges and other objects that could be of use to opponents, usually didn’t touch the water works and the bridge near the watermills, which didn’t lay by an important road. One of the watermills, which provided a major contribution in food provision in the turbulent times before and after the liberation, was the Hammer mill.

From October 1944 to 1 March 1945 Neer was also deprived of electricity. The turbine with the generator still turned out to provide electric lighting to the houses in the village centre and the offices of the Allies, which were accommodated in a number of buildings. Even in the local brewery "De Lindeboom" the brewing process could continue, so the raw produce, which were subject to rot; could be processed. In the months after the liberation, when Neer came under fire of the German cannons behind the eastern Meuse bank and part of the village was evacuated, Henri Nijs and several members of his family stayed behind to arrange the provision of electricity. This was greatly appreciated by the local military authorities, and to protect the generator with drive against shrapnel, they had the installation surrounded by sandbags, which were heaped up two metres high. The bakers also moved part of their activities to the mill, because the dough machines could no longer be used. A solution was found by transferring a machine to the mill and connecting it to the driving gear. The prepared dough was then taken to the bakery in crates to be baked. This emergency situation ended in the spring of 1945. In 1956 the grinding setup was extended with an electric hammer mill for grinding feed, which was provided by the Van Aarsen Machine factory in Panheel.
Due to the sale of the barrage right to the Middle Limburg water board in 1955, the watermill had officially ceased to exist. Grinding could more or less be done for several years with waterpower if necessary, but just before 1960 this was no longer possible. There was also little need at the time for stoneground flour; grinding for money had practically disappeared. Henri Nijs, the last water miller, died in 1960. The grain and wood business were continued by his son Johannes Joseph, married to Elisabeth Spierts. The next year a company was established under the name “Firma Henri Nijs", situated in Neer.

The milling business was discontinued in 1963; the saw mill followed in 1968. The Neer river had meanwhile been quarried and the mill was dry. Some time later the miller’s house was occupied by a painter who established his studio there. The area around the old mill is now a residential area and only the street name is a reminder of the Hammer mill. For centuries, the course of the Neer river and the Tungelroy river had traversed the attractive Middle Limburg landscape in a whimsical pattern. Trees and other high growing foliage decorated the riverbanks.

The original river valley was characterised by an extremely varied structure. In times of high water the discharge of the river could stagnate, but it was known that the inconvenience was first and foremost caused by the Meuse and was accepted out of sheer necessity. Plans were made for land consolidation, and it was believed that to improve drainage, the Neer river had to be cana-lised and widened. Obstacles in arranged drainage were not only the bends, but traditionally also the two still existing watermills. In spite of heavy protest of the inhabitants of Neer and some organisations against the plans of the former mayor of Neer and the water board about the method of exe-cution, canalising became a fact. The charming landscape and the original river valley were violated. The result was a bare, wide, shallow watercourse with a few large bends.

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

This private home is not open to visitors.

Adress: Hammermolen 27, 6086 BE Neer