Except for mills and the villages that surround them, there were no other buildings on the riverbanks. People very sensibly didn't build too close, in case of inundation. Mills, on the other hand, have their feet in the water, by necessity. Over time, mills became not just the focus of habitation, but the focus of industry too. The Sauveget, a tiny stream emerging from the Forêt de Preuilly and emptying into the Claise near Bossay is an extreme case in point. Suddenly, in the 17th century, the mill at the confluence was converted to an iron working facility, with smoking furnaces, the noise of hammers and the arrival of a new population with convoys of mules to transport this new production. There were endless disputes between the muleteers and the local peasants.
In the 18th century significant works were published, showing how one could calculate the power of a mill based on a set of variables such as the position of the wheel, the flow of water and the drop in water level from one side of the mill to the other. At the same time, the law changed to allow the re-milling of grain to produce fine white flour, which had previously been banned. Up till then, water mills only produced coarse wholemeal flour. Even so, it was another hundred years before the first mill on the Claise modernised in response.
(Musée National des Arts et Métiers, Paris)
In the second half of the 19th century and first half of the 20th the smaller, less powerful mills ceased operation. In contrast, the bigger mills were enlarged and modernised with sieves, rollers and auxiliary motors. But it was their swan song. After the Second World War, in only a few years, virtually all had stopped, and the valley slumbered.
Not on the Claise, this mill (below) in le Blanc was converted to steam power in 1838, possibly because the Creuse did not provide enough hydraulic power for modern industrial processes (it was at this time a flax spinning mill). It has been restored since this photo was taken and is now a cultural centre.
By 1960 it was clear the river was in desperate need of maintenance. All of a sudden the banks swarmed with engineers, surveyors, managers, machines, bulldozers, cranes, diggers everywhere, to stabilise the banks, dig, rectify, redress past neglect, install new weirs. It took 15 years to put everything right. Now peaceful and regulated the river attracted a new group of people, motivated by the idea of returning to nature. The number of anglers increased, but at the same time, farmers began installing pumping stations, becoming ever more numerous and powerful. Leisure and irrigation had become the new role of the Claise and its tributaries.
such as the one in Preuilly (Musée National des Arts et Métiers).
The Claise and its Mills in the Middle Ages can be read here.
Source: L'aménagement hydraulique de la Claise tourangelle et de ses affluents du Moyen-Age à nos jours, and thanks to Jim McNeill for bringing this document to our attention.