For this year’s Heritage Week event, and specifically Water Heritage Day I wanted to showcase a unique water-related site at the popular bar and restaurant known now as Jack Meades, but previously more commonly called Halfway House. This page was created over several days during Heritage Week 2021 which explored some of the aspects of the site in the context of the historic role of the stream, Ballycanvan Pill, and the River Suir. The posts culminated in this page to celebrate Water Heritage Day 2021 on Sunday August 22nd.
Water plays a crucial role in all our lives. However, in previous generations, it had an added importance related to transport. Ships plied the ocean waves carrying freight and passengers around the globe, the rivers were a vital infrastructure allowing goods to be carried from and to inland locations that could take many days and significant expense to journey by poor and limited roadway. I believe it was in this era that the placename “Halfway House” was born and the location originated; a halfway point from Waterford City to the busy shipping stop-off point that was Passage East and later Cheekpoint. Around Halfway House a very remarkable early agrarian/industrial site developed, all connected to the water and still very much in evidence to this day.
Geography of the site
Halfway House is situated at a crossing point of Ballycanvan stream and Pill. A Pill is a common enough word locally, originating in Norman times I understand and generally referring to a tidal stream. The Pill is tidal (ie the river rises and falls to that point) up to the bridge, a fresh water stream lies above this and it must have been an ancient fording point of the stream.
The main road between Cheekpoint and Waterford comes through the site, but in the past it was also a roadway from Passage and Crooke to the city, joining the main road at Carraiglea and what we locally call Strongbows Bridge. The current Passage and Crooke Road crosses over the bridge now at the site but that’s a more recent development,
The site also marks three distinctive administrative boundaries. As you cross the stream towards the city you leave the county boundary and enter the city. It also marks the meeting of three District Electoral Divisions (DED’s) Faithlegg, Ballymaclode and Woodstown. Within this it is also subdivided into six townlands, all of which converge at the crossing; Ballycanvan, Ballynaboola, Ballyvoreen, Ballymaclode, Ballygunnertemple, and Cross. It was/is also surrounded by several large houses including Ballycanvan, Woodlands, Brooke Lodge, Mount Druid, and a number of houses at Blenheim.
In terms of ownership of the land, historically we know that the Aylwards owned from Cheekpoint to Ballytruckle after the Norman conquest (some 4000 acres) and within which Halfway House sits. Aylwards Castle was at Faitlegg. The nearby Ballycanvan had a castle built by the Powers, who also had a site at Ballymaclode. After the Cromwellian settlement, the name Bolton came to the fore. They initially remained at Faithlegg before moving to Ballycanvan. Others owned properties or leased land in the areas, particularly from the 19th century on. I will try to connect the dots to these as we go through the site
Irelands only Flyover Pub!
Before we leave the geographic description, it is worth explaining the bridge that currently stands as a means of travelling towards Passage East. You see the bridge is a relatively new construct (circa 1860) and it was built at a time when a local business family, the Malcomsons (of Portlaw milling and Waterford ship owning and shipbuilding fame), were trying to gather investors to build a railway line to Passage East to take time off the journey from the city to Milford Haven. The plan failed, although the bridge was built, although the use of rail was later successfully implemented when in 1906 the SW Wexford rail line was built to connect the city with Rosslare and via ferry to Fishguard.
Passage East – Days of Sail and Cheekpoint and the Mail Packet
The place name of Halfway House is a common enough one. According to my Oxford Dictionary, the term Halfway House has four meanings in the modern sense but perhaps the oldest and more historical based is a midpoint between two towns. In this case, it’s a mid-point between Waterford city and initially the busy stop off point for shipping at Passage East and later Cheekpoint.
Passage East was historically and administratively part of Waterford city, primarily in my opinion, because it was central to shipping. Passage was the point where ships could relatively easily sail to; beyond Passage the river narrows, sailing was more difficult and so before the coming of steam power Passage was a much more accessible spot to anchor.
Ships entering port could anchor relatively safely between Passage and Ballyhack. There the customs could check on cargo and ensure the appropriate rates were applied. Ships could be emptied by the Lighters and a myriad number of trades could be employed in looking after the ship’s needs. Horse-drawn traffic would have abounded including carriages, carts, joulters, jarveys and so many other horse-driven transports. Passengers and goods would have been transported both to and from the area. At a later point when the official Mail Packet Service was established at Cheekpoint in 1787, trade would have flourished to the village.
As a consequence, these horse-drawn transports would have required a stop-off point. The freshwater stream would have looked after the horses needs. The pub would have catered for the men! On Redmond’s Hill, a forge operated by a family of the same name operated within living memory and it must have had a good market given the level of trade that would have passed the door. The site also had a shop, a post office and there were a great number of homes for those employed either in the big houses, the farms or in the businesses around the area.
Jack Meades Pub/ Halfway House
Over the door, on the way into the old bar at Jack Meades it states that the pub was founded in 1705. It was recorded in November 1710, that one Jenkin Richards leased the Inn from William Harrison who lived at the time at Ballycanvan House. Richards was said to lease “the house commonly called or known by the name of “Halfway House”
James Guest, (how’s that for a landlords name) and his son John were running the pub in 1721 and the family lived on the premises. The last of the family recorded were the brothers Robert and James Guest who dropped their lease in the 1770’s. In the mid 19th Century, 1857 to be exact, the landlord of the pub was John Curtain. When Curtain died, his daughter Elizabeth Meade took over. Her son Thomas Meade was next to inherit, passing it on in turn to his son John, commonly called Jack. Jack ran it up to the 1970s at which point it passed to his own daughter Carmel. Carmel and her husband Willie Hartley run it still, although it has grown in size in the intervening period, and their son Liam runs the busy food part of the business.
It’s had a difficult time over the last two years as they have tried to survive financially during the Covid 19 pandemic, but it’s interesting to think that it survived the earlier Cholera outbreaks, the famine, and the Spanish flu.
Ballycanavan Tidal Mill site
Near the mouth of the Pill, far beyond where the eye can see is an intriguing mill site. It worked by harnessing the power of the river, but in an intriguing way. It literally held the tidal stream back, by using a lock gate, similar to a canal. When the tide was rising the gate was opened, and at High Water the gate was closed, impounding the river water in a mill pond or reservoir. When the tide had ebbed away below the gate, the water was released back under the vertical mill wheel, which turned the wheels to grind the corn. The water passed under the wheel (undershot wheel) and would disappear down a “tailrace” to return to the stream downriver of the site.
According to Wikipedia “Tide mills are usually situated in river estuaries, away from the effects of waves but close enough to the sea to have a reasonable tidal range. Cultures that built such mills have existed since the Middle Ages”. Another name associated with it is a Salt Mill – hence the placename of which I know of two locally. The nearest is at Dunbrody Abbey where it is known that the Cistercians ran two such mills, the other close to Tintern.
Now visiting the mill is problematic for two reasons. Firstly, its in an extremely bad state of repair, with a lot of fallen stone. Secondly it’s currently overgrown and on private property, the site being owned by Dr Robin Kane. I was lucky enough to see it from the river, and subsequently get a tour from the owner.
The mill itself is a fabulous old building, whatever it’s state of decline. Some sections are actually built on bedrock which rises to over 6 feet overground in parts. In the main mill building there are three floors and perhaps a loft space makes it four. These floors were traditionally called from the ground up; Meal floor, Stone floor, Bin floor & Loft. The windows are falling in so counting the floors requires looking at the spaces for rafters in the walls. Getting the corn into the mill was probably helped by the roadway that ran to the rear of the building, which is effectively two floors at least above the ground floor.
There were several other parts to the mill site, the two sections beside the mill were obviously built at different stages as the stone work is different and none are keyed into the other. Beside the mill is what looks like a kiln area for drying corn and beside that was another large building perhaps a store and/or office space. Another two storey two roomed building was built less than 50 yards from the mill further up the stream on the roadway that used in the past stretch to Half Way House. Another structure apparently hewn from rock was to the rear, now overgrown and which was possibly another storage area. It may have stored coal as fuel in the kiln.
According to the Civil Survey of Ireland 1654-56 the mill was then in operation, described as a ‘water-grist mill’. A grist mill “grinds cereal grain into flour and middlings. The term can refer to either the grinding mechanism or the building that holds it. Grist is grain that has been separated from its chaff in preparation for grinding”.
Our National Monuments Service states that the site dates to that era, 17th Century, and at least we can be sure that it was built during the era of the Aylward family in Faithlegg although I guess it may be possible it was built by the then owner of Ballycanvan Castle; the Power family of Curraghmore. Either way it would be hard to imagine that the Aylwards had no interest. I would think it more likely they had the controlling interest given their extensive landholdings and the fact that it would be largely their tenants who would have corn to grind in the locality. It would have later fallen into the hands of the Bolton family following the Cromwellian conquest.
Closure of the Mill
Previously, Robin Kean told me that he understood that the mill was abandoned due to river mud or silt clogging up the wheel. John Stephens was leasing the property from Miss Elizabeth Bolton (Ballycanvan) during Griffiths Valuation (1848-51) – the total net annual value at the time was £80. (Stephens was subletting a lot of houses, but I’m not clear if he was running the mill) The mill continued operating in the 1850s. However, it was then being used to grind clothes; these were shredded by the mill wheel action and the threads re-spun into balls of wool to be reused again. A later article in 1864 stated that a man named Browne was operating the mill, which had burned down in a case of suspected arson. The mill was being used at that point to grind animal bones to make fertiliser and recycle clothing for export to England. I daresay, this might mark the end date of the buildings commercial use.
Just off the main Waterford to Cheekpoint road is a derelict building that is often mistaken as a castle. It’s actually a water-driven corn mill. I have no information on the date of the building, although I speculated before that it may be mid 19th century, really that is only a guesstimate. Looking at the old historic maps gives a bit more of an insight.
Names of the mill
One of the earliest (6 inch drawn between 1829-1841) gives us the name Newport corn mill, presumably of the family associated with banking and politics in the area. At the time of the Griffiths Valuation (1847-64), Thomas and William Manning were leasing a house and extensive mill property from Newport valued at £31. A later map (25″ drawn between 1897-1913) gives us Brook Lodge Mill, after the nearby house. I also read accounts in the contemporary newspapers of the late 19th and early 20th Century calling it Halfway House Mill. When I was growing up, I only heard it referred to as Delahunty’s, the last operator of the mil.
It always seems to evoke the quintessential image of a mill site in the era of the horse-drawn carriage, bringing crops to be milled on the site via the small country lanes. The walled boundary, gates, the related buildings which included living accommodation, a piggery and one of the maps shows the Post Office on the site.
Unique design of the mill
I mentioned already that some think the ruins are of an old castle. Another common misconception is that the stream that flows between the mill and the Ballyvoreen Road is the water source of the mills power. Strictly speaking, it is not. You see the mill was built at a time when greater engineering enhancements were being employed in the design and construction. In order to maximise the productivity of the mill, a water source was drawn from a man-made pond about 300 yards upstream on the Brook Lodge estate.
To get the water to the mill a “leat” or “headrace” was constructed by embanking stone and clay in a winding channel. Builders preferred to cut into an existing incline which automatically created one boundary, the other constructed out of the clay and stone that was excavated. The present stream we see is fed by a spillway of the dam, to release the excess water.
Once ahead of water was built up, and there was corn to be milled, the water was released into the headrace and it coursed down to the mill and was directed over the wheel (overshot)to drive the gears and belts that milled the corn. Wheels which were fed by water from atop were much more economical to run, perhaps 3 times more efficient than undershot wheels. Another particular feature of the mill was that the mill wheel was actually contained within the Mill, not on the side. The water then ebbed away down the tailrace where it disappears under the main road through a second arch in the bridge.
Despite searching and asking locally I could find very little about the actual operation at the site.
1900 tragedy at the site
Previously when conducting a guided tour, a gentleman related a sad account of the loss of a relative who was drowned in the pond at Brook Lodge. If I recollect it accurately it was the son of the mill operator at the time, Delahunty, and two other teenage boys from the locality. I found a few accounts in the local papers subsequently. The three young men were Edward Delahunty (18) of Brook Lodge and brothers David (20) and Thomas (18) Murphy of Brook Lodge. They had gone swimming at 7.30 pm on Wednesday 13th June 1900 and from the accounts, it would appear that Edward got into difficulties, and each of the Murphy brothers who tried to assist suffered a similar fate. Their bodies were recovered at 1 am on Thursday after the pond was drained. A public fund was later set up for the widow Murphy whose “means of support have now been taken from her”
Endgame for milling in the locality
I found a very interesting piece on the mills of Waterford in 1903, which records that Delahuntys Mill was still in operation then, although milling oats only. (I am including the whole piece at the end to the curious reader, of which I know there will be many ). At about the time that the article was written a new grain silo had been built on Waterford’s North Quays, harnessing water again; this time a deep water location allowing for the importation of grain. The large industrial mill (Waterford Flour Mills) at RH Halls on Waterford North Quays came into operation in the 1930s and I would imagine that Delahunty’s became commercially non-viable not long after. Again for the curious reader, an excerpt from David Carroll is included below on this operation.
The late Eddie Delahunty of Kilcullen told me previously that he could recall as a youngster being at the mill and remembered the clanking of the machinery and the hauling away of bags of milled oats by horse and cart. Eddie thought at the time, that this was during the “Emergency Era” or Second World War and that the mill had been closed but reactivated.
The reality of almost all technology is that it has a finite lifespan. The salt mill became redundant due as much to silt as the slowness and unproductive nature of tidal power on the Pill. Delahunty’s despite its advancements was outstripped by newer designs and enhancements and a need for economies of scale.
We will have two blogs next week. On Thursday David Carroll will guest blog on a rescue off the Waterford coast by the Dunmore East RNLI in an On This Day slot. On Friday I will complete the Halfway House segment with some new research on the Ice House and the Limekilns on the site.
Mills of Waterford and South Kilkenny
The following article from the Waterford Standard – Wednesday 14 October 1903; page 4 is included here in full for the interest of readers who would like to know more detail on the mills in operation in the area at the time. “A number of mills, which at one time ground flour, now only work in maize or Indian corn and oats, which are ground into meal. My return is based on information derived from the best possible sources, and I have done all I could to ensure its accuracy. There are besides those mentioned number of ruined mills scattered through district. White Brothers’ mill was one of the largest flour mills in Ireland, and the premises which are dismantled and used as stores are now the possession of Messer’s R and H Hall, Limited. Brown’s, Farrell’s, and Pouldrew Mills do a very extensive trade, and are fitted with the most up-to-date machinery. The following is a detailed list Waterford City—White Bros.’ Mill, O’Connell street, closed about 15 years ago; Finn’s Mill, O’Connell-street, closed ; Finn’s Mill, Johnstown, at present meal only. Waterford County Delahunty’s Mill, Brook Lodge, Cowes Mill, Old Tramore Road ; Cowes Mill, New Tramore Road; Walshe’s Mill, Kilmacthomas; Flahavan’s Mill, Kilmacthomas—these five at present grind oats only. Corrig Castle Mills, closed; Pouldrew Mill, Kilmeaden, extensive steam and water power, flour and meal. Kilkenny County—Kelly’s, Copeland’s, Strange’s, Loughrea’s, Freeman’s, and Duggan’s, all Kilmacow, the first three closed, remainder grinding oats only ; Kennedy’s, Glasshouse, grinding oats only; Brown’s. Kilmacow, extensive flour and meal. Farrell’s. Kilmacow, flour and meal; Cronin’s, Kilmacow, flour and meal; Gaul’s Mills, flour and meal”
A reflection on R&H Hall site on Waterford’s North Quays
I’m indebted to David Carroll for the following details on Halls. One of the final remnants of Waterford’s proud shipping heritage was the R & H Hall grain store on the city’s North Quays. Built in 1905, the building was built by William Friel, the Waterford Harbour Commissioners engineer, whose remarkable career extended from the 1890s to the 1960s. The building was designed by French engineer Francois Hennebique, using steel-reinforced concrete. R & H Hall was founded in Cork as far back as 1839 and quickly became one of the leading suppliers of animal feed in the country. In 1935 Waterford Flour Mills (WFM) was built. Government policy at the time was crucial. They wanted imports of flour eliminated and huge incentives were given to grow the native milling industry which consisted mainly of small rural units. WFM was part of this regeneration and was a fine modern complex completely new and fitted out with latest technology. Being next to R& H Hall was crucial as foreign wheat could be drawn across on a conveyor system. No road transport required. This was a major advantage. The inclusion of Canadian wheat ( from the Manitoba Province) was essential to mill flour for breadmaking as the protein content of native wheat was insufficient. Native wheat, on its own, was fine for flour for cakes and biscuits but not for bread so a blended mix of imported / native wheats were used, known as the ‘grist’. IAWS, who at this stage were the owners of R & H Hall sold the property in 2005, the final piece was sadly demolished in 2018.
Lime Kilns – a silent killer
Halfway House has one of the most densely populated sites of Lime Kilns that I know of. Its location on the tidal Pill was crucial. Kilns were built to produce quicklime which had a variety of uses in agriculture and rural living in the 18th & 19th centuries. The operation of the kilns was a tough, physical task, but it could also be deadly as one young woman found to her cost at Halfway House.
What is a Lime Kiln?
A lime kiln is a structure used to break down limestone rock using heat, to create quicklime powder. Or for the calcination of limestone (calcium carbonate) to produce calcium oxide. The chemical equation for this reaction is CaCO3 + heat → CaO + CO2. The kilns sites we have remaining in the harbour are based on a similar design and probably date from the mid 18th century. Each kiln is of a relatively uniform size 25-30 ton capacity. The type we have can be described as “Draw Kilns”. There are a number of single burning kilns, but at Half Way House double kilns are in evidence, ie two separate fire chambers, which assisted the burning process, as the heat from the first burn was retained by the brick and stone, which aided a more efficient burn in the next chamber. There is also a triple nearby that I am aware of.
Why site them close to water?
The kilns are sited close to water, as the limestone which was burned, was generally ferried by the river. The lime was quarried from Grannagh in South Kilkenny and from there it would journey around the harbour and along the rivers and tributaries on the Suir and Barrow. The boats used to carry the stone were termed Lighters. These had a three-man crew; one held the tiller and two pushed the flat bottomed craft along using poles or used large oars called sweeps. The crew also loaded and unloaded the craft and were paid by the ton load, back-breaking work it must be said.
As we saw previously, the Pill is tidal up to the Bridge and could also be dammed by the sluice gate on the old salt water mill. Once above the sluice, the Lighters would have been able to navigate with their loads (30 tons was an average load from what I have read) beaching them as close to the kilns as possible.
Dating the kilns
One of the earliest maps I have of the area, the Richards & Scales map of 1764 shows the Salt Mill but very little else on the Pill or stream. I can’t say that it is 100% accurate, but with such a large number of kilns, it is perhaps strange that they were omitted if they were then on the Pill. I also reread the account of the visit of Arthur Young. A Tour in Ireland, with general observations on the present state of that kingdom in 1776–78. Young only mentions kilns in an offhand manner, and then to say the Waterford is producing slat in pans placed over the lime kilns. What it suggests to me is that the kilns were commonplace, but frustratingly there is no clue of where these kilns are located.
My hunch is that the kilns date from this era. Young stayed with the Boltons at Ballycanvan during his stay, landlords of the area. Cornelius Bolton Jnr showed him around the estate and Young is complimentary of their tenure seeing them as progressive landlords, open to scientific methods and productive land management. The lands are mixed with cattle, dairy, and arable including barley, corn, and oats. Cornelius would later go on to build a new house at Faithlegg (now the hotel) and use his influence as MP to draw further investment to the area. What I can say for certain is that the kilns were shown on the first of our historic map series, and elsewhere in this account you will see an advert highlighting that the kilns were in operation (or at least some of them were) in 1824.
Operation of the Kilns
A kiln to all intents and purposes is an oven. The oven is within the overall structure and is called a chamber, basically egg shaped, with the top cut off. The chamber was loaded with a charge initially – something flammable such as furze or very dry timber which would get the fire going. Onto this, the layers of limestone were added (generally fist-sized to allow the fire and heat to rise, but not so big that it would not be heated through) with an extra layer of firing material to keep the chamber burning (three to five layers of stone to one layer of firing material). The fuel could be more timber but coal or coal slack (Calum) was also used – another material transported by water.
The fire was lit from the base through an eye or draw hole. The draw holes also allowed more air in if required or could be blocked to slow the burning down. Once lit the fire had to be monitored and controlled, A burn could take two or three days and the lime had to cool before being drawn off.
The burnt lime was drawn out of the chamber and if required some stone could be broken up before being barrelled or loaded into carts to be delivered to farms or homes.
Although there are several single kilns in the area the visible kilns at Halfway House are double Kilns. Doubles were more efficient as the heat from one burn, stayed in the stone building, A second chamber was thus already heated up which meant that the process was more efficient. As one burned a second could be prepared. There is also a triple kiln on the Pill, more efficient again.
Uses of Lime
Although quick lime has a variety of uses, I think we can assume that the principal use of the kilns at Halfway House was as an agricultural fertiliser. It was(is) used for acidic soils and can improve the root system of grass and plants. It has a good benefit in milk production and also allows arable crops to absorb more nutrients.
That said, lime had a variety of other uses in the past, and growing up the use of limewash on buildings gave Irish dwelling houses, outbuildings, and walls their traditional white appearance. Lime has been used in buildings since the time of the Egyptians, and lime mortar and lime plastering were used up to relatively modern times in the building trade. Indeed it still is used in traditional building renovations and enhancements and apparently is making a comeback for example in eco-building and sustainable construction, along with the advent of new materials such as hempcrete walling
I remember my grandmother’s brother Paddy Moran using lime to clean a well on the strand close to Moran’s Poles. Whenever it got tainted by saltwater Paddy would clean it out (usually it happened on high tides and leaves, seaweed, etc would get into it) and then put lime atop the water which was left until it had settled into the bottom and the water was crystal clear again.
My grandmother used it as a way of neutralising the smell when she emptied the dry toilet in the dung heap. I also heard of it being spread of corpses after mass burials – for example as a way of controlling plague. Although I was surprised to read, that the quicklime doesn’t actually help in the decaying process, rather it neutralises the smell, which is obviously a plus when you consider the smell of rotting and decomposing bodies!
Dangers associated with the kilns
Now speaking of bodies, Lime Kilns were decidedly dangerous to be around. While burning, the structures emitted noxious fumes which were prone to overcoming the inattentive. Another issue was that the sides of the chamber were of necessity smooth, in order that the burned lime would drop down to the base. If you were unfortunate to fall in, there was no way to extricate yourself.
A casual look at the local newspapers of the early 19th Century reveals a catalogue of countrywide accidents associated with them. For example in May 1824 a stranger was found dead beside a burning kiln at Carlow, having been drawn to the heat at night. While asleep he inhaled the fumes and was suffocated. Three children were burnt to a cinder when they fell into a kiln in Kilgarvan Co Kerry in September 1829. Earlier that year two Tipperary farmers (a father and son) died in a kiln after they tried to rescue a pig that had fallen in. The father tried and became overcome, his son leaped into his aid. The incidents were so common it was chilling. Tramps tried to heat themselves at night, others tried to cook potatoes beside them, while for others it was just an attempt to dry themselves or find shelter. And unfortunately, the kilns at Jack Meades proved fatal too.
The Waterford Mail of Saturday 10 April 1830; page 4 had this account: “Wednesday evening, an inquest was held at Halfway-house (midway between this city and Passage) Mr. Sherin, coroner. The body of Catherine Colbert which was found on the preceding morning in a lime kiln, a verdict returned of ‘ died by suffocation’ It supposed that she was intoxicated on Monday and had fallen into a small river adjoining and that she went on the kiln for the purpose of drying her clothes (her petticoat being found on the top of the kiln) and by some accident fell in, and the kiln being only partly filled and partially lighted, she was suffocated by the noxious steam. No marks of violence were found on the body” A very sad account, and I have not heard of the surname in the area.
Kilns caused death in other ways too. The Waterford Mail of 1825 for example related that at the Carlow Azzies Michael Forrester was found guilty of murder and sentenced to execution after he had thrown John Carey into a burning lime kiln.
Perhaps not surprisingly people were cautious about the location of kilns. For example at the Waterford City Sessions in July 1828 a case was taken by several inhabitants of William Street and surrounding neighbourhoods against a newly erected lime kiln worked by Nicholas Devereux. They argued that it should be removed because it was within 100 feet of the centre of the road, contrary to the express words of and act governing such buildings (71st section of the 31st Geo. HI. chap. 71) The court found that their case was just, but judgement was held over. I don’t know their exact concerns but the court later ruled that the act was not a deterrent to these particular lime kilns.
And of course, for others, the kilns were a positive as this ad for the Halfway House area highlights.
The Ice House
Concluding our examination of the placename Halfway House today, we showcase another wonderful building on the site, the commercial Ice House- the fridge freezer of the 19th Century. It utilised frozen water as a cooler area and a preservative for foodstuff – and my own theory is that the building was part of an operation in the proliferation of scotch weirs in nearby King’s Channel.
The commercial Ice House is a circular build, approximately 20 ft in diameter on the inside and over 30 feet high. I asked my good pal Andrew Lloyd aka fellow blogger (Bob the scientist) for a back of an envelop calculation on the capacity based on my measurements. Volume = πr2h =π×32×10 =90π = 280 cu.m. 280 tonnes of water or 260 tonnes of ice. That’s a lot of ice. ( I may have overestimated the size, but even half of that is a lot of ice!)
In design terms, the wall to the South, which would have taken the most sun was six feet wide in the past and was of cavity construction. Most designs have a preference for thatched roof and the entrance to the tower was a door near the roof and accessed from the present garden of the Kenny family home on the Passage Road. This entranceway is north facing and would have had some protecting cover too, and possibly a number of feet back from the door to keep the air out. I’m only speculating on this point having read of the design of other buildings. I examined the area there some years back with Mrs Kenny and I could find nothing of a permanent nature like stone or brick, so if there was protection, it must have been timber. (Mrs Kenny told me that she didn’t know much of the operation, except that the ice came by boat via the Pill)
Ice pits are often referred to in describing such facilities, but I think this may refer to such houses buried into the ground. The Halfway house example is built into the hill which gives a certain amount of insulation. The crucial part of such buildings was drainage, any melted ice had to be free to drain away, as ice sitting in water melted faster. The better compacted the ice was the slower it melted (think of a snowman and how slowly it melts away, even after the snow has gone from the ground) I’ve read that ice properly stored in such chambers could last years.
Dating the tower
No one seems to know the date it was built. I find it interesting that when travel writer and social commentator Arthur Young visited in 1796 and again in 1798 that he failed to mention it, suggesting it is a later build. This is also suggested by the Richard and Scales map, but the building does show up on the later historic maps. I can find no written mention of the building or newspaper reference, so as unsatisfactory as it is we can only speculate that it was between the dates of Youngs visits and the historic maps series. My own personal opinion is that is sometime between 1810-1825. According to the information board at Jack Meades, the only known documentation associated with it was that a J Crawford was leasing the Ice House in 1853 at £2 per annum. Two John Crawfords were listed in Griffiths Valuations as running stores in the city at High St. Possibly relations or one in the same.
Purpose of the Ice House
Some have suggested it served a similar function to its smaller neighbour in Faithlegg, providing for the several big houses in the locality such as Ballycanvan, Mount Druid, Brook Lodge, the Blenheim houses, etc. I find this doubtful because of the quantity of ice that could potentially be stored. If full it would have been many multiples the capacity of the Faithlegg House building. My own theory has always been, that the Ice House was to assist with the Scotch Weir Fishery, in much the same way that the commercial ice houses at Lismore were used to preserve salmon from the Blackwater.
Although Ice as a means of preservation had been in practice for centuries, in the western world it had its limits. This was because if fish was placed on a block of ice it would fuse with it and become damaged and worthless. As a result, the ice was used to cool an area in ice houses, basements, or other areas, and indirectly kept the fish fresh. That was until the 1780s when a hydrographer of the East India Company returned to London with a technique he had “discovered”. Alexander Dalrymple was traveling in China when he spotted a perfectly fresh sea fish hundreds of miles from the coast. Puzzled he asked how this could be. He was introduced to a technique of fish preservation – chopped-up ice which could be used to cover fish, but which did not fuse with the flesh. Harvested in winter, the ice was stored in “snow houses” and had been used throughout China for centuries.
Salmon fishing had a long history, but pressure on stocks was minimal, as it could only be consumed fresh in local areas. This new preserving technique, coupled with the development of rail transport, led to a big demand for fresh salmon particularly in the new urban towns and cities of England’s Industrial Revolution. It created an explosion in salmon fishing in Scotland initially which quickly spread to Ireland. The fishing technique employed became known as the scotch weir method or stake net and it also enhanced (or corrupted) a traditional weir fishing practice allowing for much more fish to be trapped.
Where did the ice come from
Ice was originally sourced from local streams or such streams were diverted into low-lying fields or marshes where it froze on frosty nights and was harvested the following morning. In Waterford, we have two placenames associated with this practice – Ice Fields. I have speculated before that the local marshes with the low-lying level ground would have been ideal.
An ice trade developed from America in the 1840s and from Norway in the 1850s. This Block Ice was cut from natural sources in wintertime and exported directly or stored until summer when prices might be higher.
From newspaper sources, it’s clear that the ice coming into Waterford was imported directly on what was commonly called Norwegian Ice Ships. But it was also transhipped and there are many mentions in the later 19th Century of part cargos of ice aboard many of the steamers operating regularly to Waterford such as the SS Dunbrody and from ports which included Milford, Bristol, London, and Liverpool.
In May of 1875, Mr. Stephen’s monthly engineers report to the Harbour Board mentioned that the progress with the 2nd section of cutting (dredging) from the bridge had been impeded because of large ice ships discharging where the dredger was at work.
Apart from my own knowledge of the icebox on the Barrow and a similar-sized Ice House in New Ross (Kelly’s Wood), the newspapers also mention one on the Manor in the city and two associated with pig production. One at Williams St and the other in Upper Morgan St, where the Hyper Market is now located. Both of these latter sites were of a different design and were built above the pig curing facility in the plants. The ice was placed on iron-clad floors above these subterranean chambers and the cold penetrated the floor. It was only required in summer but kept the meat cool as it hung for several weeks.
A description of the Queens Bacon Factory in Upper Morgan St is given here in brief “a huge assemblage of buildings, perched on an airy height where cabbages grew until two enterprising northerners – the late Messers Richardson- covered it eleven years ago with their killing and curing houses…2000 swine bask in the disused sawdust in pens in the yard, the sawdust is used to insulate the ice in the ice house from the heat of the roof slates…700 tons of Norweigan block ice is housed in a loft over the curing floors of the factory. They are laid out on a floor of iron and insulated by sawdust from the heat of the slates. The ice diffuses through the floor to the cooling houses below an even temperature of about 40 degrees. The pigs are there cooled and pickled from 10 to 20 days, according to the temperature of the season. The final stage of the process is that the meat is packed before being exported either by the GWR Co to Milford or via the Waterford Companys Liverpool trade…” Waterford Standard – Wednesday 24 January 1877; page 3
I also found an account of one accident associated with the ice ships – “On Tuesday morning a man named Lannigan, employed board the Seagull, ice ship, unloading at the Market House Quay, fell into the hold and sustained injuries. It appears Lannigan, assisted by another man, was carrying a large block of ice, weighing over 400 pounds, when, as he was about laying it down catch a better grip, he toppled from the plank into the hold. His left temple is much cut, and one of his thighs broken. He was immediately taken to the Workhouse Hospital, where now lies in a precarious condition.” The Munster Express – Saturday 29 April 1871; page 2
End of the ice Trade
The Ice Trade as it was known lasted up to the first world war when the dangers associated with ships crossing the North Sea brought it to a close. Already plant ice (artificially manufactured ice) was replacing the natural cut block ice from about the 1870’s and eventually we would have fridges and freezers in our own homes. Exactly when the ice house at Halfway House ceased operation I cannot say, but it is likely to have been in the early 20th Century. Whenever it ended the building stands as a reminder of a very interesting and unique period of trade in our maritime history.
The site at Halfway House is one of the most remarkable sites in heritage terms in Waterford, which is saying something. The historic location, the breadth of its history, and the scale of built heritage surrounding the site mean that much of Ireland’s story from conquest, trade, agricultural improvements, and fishery can be interpreted through the site. Free to explore (within the limits mentioned above) the site offers a unique opportunity for anyone interested in history and heritage. That and a good pint and lovely food at a great value. The tradition of catering for the weary traveler is still a feature, if not the danger of noxious fumes from the kilns, the clanking, and whirring of mill wheels and millstones, the calls of the lightermen working the tidal Pill. A site truly worth exploring.
To complete the Water Heritage Day activities for this year we finished off with a guided walk of the site from 11am – 1pm. Assisted by my wife Deena we had a small but select group to explore the features that were covered in the blog, and we also provided a booklet that participants could enjoy at their leisure. It was our first time using eventbrite for bookings so there was a bit of learning in it. Obviously much less effective that facebook etc in terms of promotion, but as Covid considerations were foremost in our minds, the smaller group suited us perfectly. Also made contact tracing much easier.