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The story of Helnæs Mølle
The Helnæs Peninsula
Today, Helnæs is considered a peninsula with good fixed road connections via Langør and Agernæs into Funen.
It hasn’t always been that way. In earlier times, the conditions for the Næsbos were largely the same as for the islanders on the other small islands in South and West Funen. The small community on Helnæs consisted for hundreds of years of 16 farms and approx. as many houses and boels places. The promontory was crown property and the peoples were under the Hagenskov Estate. In 1546, the Bogården was built, and in 1666 another two full farms and two half farms, and thus the number of farms was largely up to the transition to freehold ownership in 1856. Like other small communities, Helnæs was an almost self-sufficient whole, but like other islanders dependent on the connection to land. Over there on Funen was the main farm, the administration, church, mill, market, etc. Helnæs originally belonged to Dreslette Parish and after the Reformation in 1536 to Sønderby Parish. It was not until 1618 that they got their own chapel on the headland. People from Helnæs thus often had to go to Funen. Of course, you have sailed. Several old stone bridges at ‘Lillestrand’, as the coast towards the Helnæsfjord is called, show that goods and people were transported by boat and ship. But you could also come ‘overland’. The road into Funen went, as it does today, over Langør, which was originally a seawall of stone and gravel formed by the Little Belt’s current and waves. Men walked, rode or drove a horse-drawn carriage over the gravel embankment.
With easterly and south-easterly winds, Langør’s seawall was under water, and if you wanted to cross the road, people and cattle had to wade. It was difficult and not entirely harmless. In the dark and at high tide, the Helnés people had to rely on the horses’ sense of place when they had to cross. The horses reportedly had the ability to find their way when it was under water. On the Fyn side, the road led over Agernæs and then swung north over Fedet to the bridge or ford by the stream. The stone-paved road over the Fedet to the bridge or ford by the stream. The stone-paved road over Fedet is still popularly called ‘Møllevejen’, although it is no longer used, and the name naturally comes from the fact that the road led up to the large water mill at Hagenskov, which the inhabitants of Helnæs were obliged to use, just like all other tenants of the crown estate. At that time, mill operation was mostly reserved for the large manors and it was an important source of income for the landowners.
Mill at Helnæs
For the people of Næs, the mill drive was a trip of 12-15 km each way. The people of Helnæs had the advantage over other farmers in the region that they had to have the grain ground immediately when they arrived at the mill without waiting, but it was still a full day’s journey to drive to the mill. The drive to the mill also often took place between harvest and Christmas. Then the days are short and the autumn storms could put Langør under water. In order to avoid the long and difficult transport, the inhabitants of Helnæs applied in the years 1840 – 41 for permission to build their own mill on the headland. The application was processed in the absolute king’s ‘Rentekammer’, but met with stiff resistance – especially from the estate inspector at Hagenskov, Justice Richter. In May 1842, Crown Prince Frederik (VII) visited Hagenskov. The Helnæs farmers stirred up the town noise, sought to represent the crown prince and presented him with their difficulties with the mill operation and the need for a mill on Helnæs. The prince took kindly to the farmers and reportedly promised them his support with the words: ‘You shall get the mill, people’. It wasn’t quite that easy. Crown Prince Frederik was not particularly well regarded by the magnates of his time, who considered him something of a fillip and skirt hunter. There was probably something about the conversation, too, because although married to the Mecklenburg princess Mariane, he had had a romantic relationship with the dancer Luise Rasmussen since 1828, and folk talk in Vestfyn designates another beautiful little house by Hagenskov as the place where the crown prince stayed for periods with his girlfriend, much to the chagrin of fine people. The prince had the mill case reopened in the Rentekammeret, but estate manager Richter was given the condition for a permit that a mill on Helnæs had to pay 36 barrels of grain in attachment tax in order to be allowed to run. It was an unreasonably high attachment fee that would quickly make the mill unprofitable. The peasants went to the crown prince once more, and he again promised to support their cause. On that occasion, Crown Prince Frederik showed that he already lived up to the popularity with the common people, who later, when he became king as Frederik d. VII, gave him the nickname Frederik Folkekær. Under him as king, we also had people’s government introduced with the June constitution of 1849. The king had then divorced Princess Mariane and in 1850 married Luise Rasmussen, who was given the title of Countess Danner. As a gift in the morning, she got the Hagenskov estate.
After the Helnæs farmers’ second inquiry, Crown Prince Frederik wrote a letter to his father Christian d. VIII in which he spoke for the farmers’ cause, and the result was that the land tax for a mill on Helnæs was reduced to 20 barrels of grain,
Miller Erik Hansen 1843 – 1845
Mill builder Erik Hansen from Ærø was allowed to build the mill in February 1843. It was a large straw-roofed so-called ‘Dutch mill’ that was built on a small triangular plot of 3 bushels of land, which was separated from Holmegård. Erik Hansen did not keep the mill. Partly he was perhaps more of a mill-builder than a mill-builder, and partly his wife died in childbirth, and the mill was put up for sale.
Miller Christen Jørgensen 1845 – 1873
In the year 1845, farmer Christian Jørgensen bought the mill from Erik Hansen. From the old promissory notes, we can see that it is the Helnæsgårdmen who support the purchase by lending Christen Jørgensen money. It is clear that after all the trouble of getting permission to build the mill, they now have to back the person who will run it. Christen Jørgensen held the neighboring property towards the city. He bought that property freehold in 1856 from Frederiksgave and the land was laid out for the mill, while his sister and brother-in-law took over the buildings. In 1868, approx. 6 tdr. land from Holmegård. This land lies adjacent to the mill to the north-west. Christen Jørgensen raised money, partly by borrowing from his neighbors and townsmen and partly by going into debt to the king, Frederik d. VII. The mill operation must have paid well so that the debt could be reduced. The miller received his payment in the form of grain. With his ‘toll cup’ he took so and so much of each barrel to be ground. It was a good time for the Norwegians. Now you had your own church and mill and from 1856 freehold. The mill is open and well exposed to the wind on the northern outskirts of the city, almost like a landmark of the new era. Gone were compulsory driving, towing and towing charges. Now you were self-owned and self-reliant on the headland. There are many old customs associated with the work as millers. The blacksmith and the miller were both treasured and highly regarded craftsmen in their town. As it was said of the blacksmith that ‘he could do more than his Lord’s Prayer’, he who could handle embers, sparks and pliers, pull out bad teeth and hide happiness in that horseshoe, so also the miller had his place in folk beliefs and religious ideas.
In Vestfyn, it was believed that when the mill was stationary, the blades must not be crossed. Partly it was said that a crossed wing called for lightning, and partly crossed wings were reserved for the miller’s last greeting to a deceased person. If a hearse passed by on the road, it was good custom for the miller to stop work and cross his wings. Every evening, when the work was finished, the wings had to be stopped diagonally, put in ‘scissors’. And if a bridal party passed by on the road, the miller could show his greeting by stopping the wings with scissors. If the blades were halfway between the cross and the scissors, it meant that the mill was out of order. It could, for example, be it because you had to repair a damage or build a millstone. At Helnæs they had a special wedding custom. If the bride or groom was ‘from outside the parish’, the church bell was rung on the wedding day from the moment the guests stepped ashore on the headland. If the party came by boat, the bell was rung when the boat landed and while walking or driving up to the church. When the convoy came over Langør, the call was made when the wagons drove over Bobanken. You can’t see that far from the church tower, but you can from the mill. The miller kept an eye on the road, and when he saw the entourage appear, he set the blades of the mill in scissors as a signal for the church bells to start ringing. It is said that Christen Jørgensen once kept the bell ringer working for an entire morning with his signal. When a bridal party drove up the Bobanken early, he set the windmill in motion as agreed, and the bell ringer immediately started ringing. However, the wedding party did not come to church right away, and the bell ringer had to toil and sweat for a very long time at his rope. It turned out that the bridal party had stopped on the way into town to enjoy a bite of bread and a dram. But it wasn’t the miller’s fault.
Miller Jørgen Christensen 1873 – 1927
In 1873, the miller’s son, Jørgen Christensen, took over the operation of the mill and agriculture. The mill was going well and the farm was busy. Jørgens Christensen’s son tells from his boyhood; ’ We were especially busy in the autumn. At Christmas time, everyone had to bake. Among other things, we made flour from the wheat. Sieve bread was also popular at the time. I myself went around with a horse-drawn cart to collect the grain. We never got to bed before midnight, and the rooster had hardly crowed before we had to get up again. But even though it was hard at times, it was a lovely job’. To become a miller, you usually had to be apprenticed for three years and then work as a journeyman for three years. For the sons at Helnæs Mølle, it was no longer a problem. It was a matter of course that the children took part in the work on the farm, and as they grew up, they also got to know the mill.
Miller Hans Jørgen Christensen 1927 – 1964
Hans Jørgen Christensen took over the mill from his father in 1927. At that time, the thatched roof was very worn and he let it rip off, and had the mill roofed with wood shavings. 21,000 shavings were used for the work. After a few years, one set of wings was worn out and was taken down. The operation was continued with only one wing, but it went well. They had three mills running. Rye flour was ground for the baker and groats for the farm animals. Since electricity continued to make its way around the farms, electric grinders were obtained for grinding the fodder grain, and there was less and less to do at the mill. However, operations were kept going until the end of the war. Then the mill stopped completely and the last wing was taken down.
Miller Jørgen Møller Christensen 1964 – 1988
In 1964, Jørgen Møller Christensen took over the mill and farming after his father. The old mill was then badly in disrepair, but in the same year it was possible to raise private funds as well as funds from the National Museum’s mill preservation fund for a restoration of the mill’s weathered and leaky clapboard roofing. The chipboard roof was taken down, and the mill was roofed with roof pipes as originally. At the same time, a conservation declaration was registered to safeguard the cultural-historical and landscape value that Helnæs Mølle represents. In 1988, the mill farm’s ownership and mode of operation changed significantly. Jørgen Møller Christensen entered into a collaboration with local school and outdoor people. The goal was to create an open-air farm and nature school combined with continued agricultural operations.
Helnæs Mølle Outdoor Park and Nature School 1988 – 2019
Helnæs Mølle Friluftsgård and Naturskole, as the place came to be called, was to function as a support and starting point for the outdoor life that unfolded in the West Funen area, especially on Helnæs and around Helnæs Fjord. By running outdoor activities on and from an agricultural property in operation, the aim was to increase the visitor’s insight into the interaction between nature and people and the understanding of the importance of both natural and cultural historical values. This happened through courses, camps and events held throughout the year. Guides were attached to the site who could advise on staying and traveling in nature. Friluftsgården received groups and individuals on shorter or longer stays. All outdoor activities at Helnæs Mølles were run by the association Helnæs Mølle Friluftsgård, which leased the areas and buildings used for outdoor purposes. In the summer it was possible to ride Icelandic horses, and on the fjord you travel in traditional Funen vessels such as smakkejolls or fjord barges. In periods there were courses in building and using kayaks, as the Greenlandic kayaks proved to be particularly good vessels for the fjord and belt. After a long period with many visitors, Friluftsgården gradually began to lose ground. The buildings, including the mill, and the area as such, quietly fell into disrepair, as the economy was not able to carry out maintenance and renovation – or new measures. In 2019, Helnæs Mølle Outdoor Farm and Nature School were put up for sale.
Helnæs Mølle Outdoor Life and Holiday Homes 2019 – Present
Stig Nør Larsen and Hanne Plechinger, who are neighbors of Helnæs Mølle, acquired the outdoor garden in 2019. After a thorough clean-up of the area, planning/design of a new outdoor center on the site began. After the necessary permits from the Coastal Directorate and Assens Municipality were in place, construction began in March 2020. The mill house and barn, both of which were in poor condition, were demolished, and two new large oak buildings were erected in their place. These buildings were ready at the end of 2020, when construction of two new holiday homes also began.
Ib Ivar Dahl
We are very pleased that Ib Ivar Dahl, who has been a resident of Helnæs for many years and who helped start Helnæs Mølle Outdoor Park and Nature School, has given permission to reproduce the story of Helnæs Mølle on our website. In the 1980s, Ib Ivar Dahl published the pamphlet ‘Helnæs Mølle’, Forlaget Kysten.