For much of the world, for much of human history, the local miller occupied a central place in everyday village life. Many people could make their own clothes or tools, or grow some of their own food, but everyone, whether rich or poor, had to take their grain to the local miller to have it ground into flour to make their daily bread - the staple food of almost every society that didn't rely on rice or yams or taro.

The miller had to walk a fine line between taking advantage of his monopoly on a need nearly as universal as air and water to increase his personal profits, and maintaining sufficent goodwill among his customers to avoid being run out of town or driving them to establish a rival mill. Nevertheless, the miller often found himself one of the richer men in town, a clearinghouse for village gossip, and a local power broker of sorts, as this bawdy little English ballad proves.

The Miller and the Lass (traditional)

A pretty little lass so brisk and gay,
Down to the mill she went one day,
A peck of corn she had to grind
But there no miller could she find.

But at last the miller did come in,
And unto him she did begin:
"I've a bag of corn for you to grind
And I can but stay for a little time.”

"Come sit you down my sweet pretty dear,
"For I cannot grind your corn I fear
My stone is high and my water low,
And I cannot grind for the mill won't go."

So she sat down on a sack to chat
They talked of this and they talked of that,
They talked of love, of love proved kind,
And she soon found out that the mill would grind.

"Oh! Now I see, Mister Miller-man,
You grind all flour but grind no bran."
Then an easy up and an easy down -
She could hardly tell that her corn was ground.

"Now I think I will take the fast way home,
And if my mother ask me why I've been so long,
I'll say I've been ground by a score or more
But I've never been ground so well before."