It is an astonishing concept to the modern mind that medieval man was surrounded by machines. The fact is, machines were not something foreign or remote to the townsman or to the peasant in his fields. The most common was the mill, converting the power of water or wind into work; grinding grain, crushing olives, fulling cloth, tanning leather, making paper… In the towns and villages the citizen could stand on a bridge over a river or canal and observe the different kinds of water mill: mills built along the banks, others floating midstream or moored to the banks, and, if he cared to look under the bridge, he might find the same machines built between the arches. If he walked upstream he would find the river dammed to provide a sufficient fall of water to drive the mills’ machinery.
– Exerpted from ‘The Medieval Machine: The Industrial Revolution of the Middles Ages’ by Jean Gimpel.