Ballycanvan tidal “salt” Mill

Last summer whilst out kayaking on the river I chanced a trip up the Ballycanvan stream, which leads up to the ever-popular Jack Meades at Halfway House.  I made the trip in an effort to track the route of the Lighters that would have supplied the Kilns at Jack Meades with limestone rock to burn.
Ballycanavan mill site
Not long into the trip, however, I came across a curious narrowing of the stream which was obviously man-made as it was achieved with cut stone.  On getting out to investigate I realised I was looking at an elaborate structure, with, at its centre, an old watermill.  What I found most intriguing was that it was in design, very similar to the Saltmills at Dunbrody, as described briefly in last week’s introduction to the mills of the area.
The sluice and the mill pond bottom rt
I’ve sketched the scene in an effort to try explain it better, and hopefully the photos, above and below, may assist too.  Essentially at the high water, two sluice gates were closed to effectively dam the stream and hold the water back. But here is a video I later shot of the site.
1 the Mill, 2 Kiln, 3 Store/office, 4 store? 5 uncovered storage area
Ballycanavan Stream on old OSI map
close up of a remaining wooden pillar on the sluice
The stream was held back or “impounded” until the tide had ebbed away below the dam, and then the water was released 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.  You might note a smaller sluice or “spillway” about 2 1/2 feet wide on the sketch which was in place to safely release the water if required, for example in times of spate/flooding or when repair works were taking place.
Now visiting the mill is problematic for two reasons.  One its in an extremely bad state of repair, with a lot of fallen stone.  Secondly its currently overgrown and on private property, the site being owned by Dr Robin Kane.  I met Robin recently and he happily showed me round the site.  Not alone was I thankful for access, but I was also thankful for the mine of information he had about the mill.
Arch from kiln area into the mill
Kiln area
The mill itself is a fabulous old building, whatever it’s state of decline.  Some sections were actually built on bedrock which rises to over 6 feet in parts.  We could count three floors and we speculated that a loft space possibly made it four floors.  The floors were traditionally called from the ground; Meal floor, Stone floor, Bin floor & loft.  The windows are falling in so counting the floors required 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 was 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 Halfway House.  Another structure apparently hewn from rock was to the rear, now overgrown and which we thought another storage area, perhaps for coal as fuel in the kiln.
Robin showing me round the mill site – Mill wheel was on the outside,
the wheelshaft and gearing , belts would have beenin front of where
we were standing. The milling stones were on the floor above
Robin understood that the three sections had been built at different times, confirmed really when looking at the construction from the stream side.  His information suggested dating from Cromwellian times.  Although Captain William Bolton took the area from the Aylwards he did not have a reputation for investment in the property, although that certainly changed with his Grandson Cornelius Bolton, the elder, who I would suspect may have been the builder, but perhaps I am wrong.
Three stages of building
Having never actually heard of the mill previously, I speculated that it must have been abandoned many years ago. Again Robin’s information was that due to siltation from the river, note the mud is some photos, that it was abandoned in the mid to late 19th Century as it continually clogged up the wheel.*  Interestingly, there was no sign of a “tailrace” where the used water flowed back to the stream below.  It’s hard to say if there was a pipe now buried with silt or whether it was an open cut which over time was backfilled, but I tend towards the former.
Robin had also heard that when corn was plentiful, or perhaps if the mill wasn’t operational, corn was taken upriver to be milled elsewhere in Waterford and indeed up the Barrow.  I could imagine that at times of neap tides, sufficient water might be hard to store up in the mill pond. Perhaps another reason for it’s early demise.
A final negative factor was that undershot water wheels were notoriously less efficient to run than overshot wheels (where the water was fed over the top of the wheel).  And there was an overshot fed wheel in the area.  It was just upstream from Ballycanavan and we will pay a visit to this next week.
Thanks to Robin Kane for allowing me visit the site and for the information he supplied to me in writing the piece
Information on mills taken from Watts M.  Watermills.  2012.  Shire publications.  Oxford.

* More recently I discovered a new article from the 1850s describing how the former mill was being used to recycle rags.  Apparently the mill wheel was used to crush and rip material, the strands of which was subsequently rolled into  balls and sold on.

The 18th Century visits of Arthur Young

In the late 1700’s an English man visited the Faithlegg and Cheekpoint area and recorded all that he was shown in great detail. It was a chance visit however.  He had travelled from Curraghmore to Passage East with the intention of sailing via the Mail Packet Station to Bristol.  The captain made all manner of excuse not to sail though, and realising the delay was to build up a passenger manifest, the traveller decided to invite himself to Ballycanavan (Woodlands), then seat of the Bolton estate.

The travellers name was Arthur Young.  Young was an English farmer, adventurer and travel writer.  He actually visited the area twice; in 1776 and again in 1778.  He had a fascination for farm enhancement and enterprises and as he travelled the countryside he stayed as a guest with the landlords of an area and detailed all that he saw.  Of course he also provided observations and tips to his hosts, sharing his wisdom and suggesting improvements.  Although he was a guest he not averse to pointing out wrongdoing and his observations were highly regarded and are to this day an important social and historical record of the time.  He recorded and published this as “A Tour in Ireland 1776-1779” in 1780.  Various formats of the account here.

His visits coincided with the tenure of Cornelius Bolton the Elder and his son, and heir Cornelius the younger, who was his guide around the Bolton estate.  His
record is detailed in many matters including his visit to the Minaun from
whence he lists the main sights including 20 sailing ships in the estuary by
Passage East. 

Arthur in his prime

The only fishery he mentions for the
harbour is driftnetting for Herring. 
This is carried out in various sized boats with a crew of between 5 and
6 men.  Amongst the poor people, the
Fishermen we are told “…are in much the best circumstances”  He also lists as exports Turbot, Sole,
Lobster, Oyster, Cod and Salmon. 
Surprisingly in terms of modern times it is Salmon that fetches the
poorer price with Lobster next.  I
imagine that his remarking that the only fishery being Herring in the harbour
was a reflection on the time that he recorded the observation, October.  Had it been in the summer, it would
have been different.  Of course he has
also covered fishing elsewhere in his Irish travels and mentions Weirs and “Drag
nets” as two other methods.  Drag Nets I
imagine to refer to Draft Nets.

The Bolton’s and/or their tenants are
planting Potatoes, Oats, Barley and Wheat. 
For manure they are using mud from the river and lime from local limekilns.  Fields have been enclosed and
much land is being reclaimed.  He
particularly praises the building of hedges, with three layers of planting
including broadleaf such as Oak, Elm, Ash or the evergreen Fir.  The Bolton’s have planted almost 300 acres of
trees, including orchards, which he considers forward thinking and displaying commitment.  They are also providing long term leases to tenants
to work the land and have built 40 new houses with stone and slate to house
them.  He lists agricultural trials with Turnips,
Horse Beans and Carrots suggesting that in their practices the Bolton’s are
approaching the growing, tending and using of their crops in a scientific

Once Cornelius the younger succeeds his father he will develop an industrial hub at Cheekpoint building on the work that his father had started.  I will go through those developments in brief in the coming weeks.  But I can’t help wonder, was a source for those developments, not just the legacy of the landlord system that extracted the wealth of it’s peasantry, a legacy of his enterprising father, but also the company and wisdom of  a champion of the industrial age; Arthur Young.

The missing Mileposts

Familiarity breeds contempt they say and so I guess that’s why, in Cheekpoint at least, not much is made of the Bolton Milepost.  But did you know there was a series of them, leading into Waterford? What were they for and where did they go? It’s a story, like the milestones, worth preserving I think.

Bolton Milepost (top of the Mount Ave)
You see although the milestone(s) might be familiar it’s also historic.  Milestones themselves go back a long way in history. The Bolton milepost has distance to the pier with the name Bolton and Cheekpoint on it – distance 1/4 Mile.  It also has the distance to the city on it – 6 and a half miles. This dates it to when the village was known (or rather renamed) as Bolton.   Bolton of course was Cornelius Bolton MP, then landlord of the area .  The rebranding seems to have coincided with the moving of the Mail Packet Station to Cheekpoint in 1785.  This was achieved with the financial and political motivation of the Bolton family. The mail packet (or mail boat) ran daily sailings to and from Ireland carrying post and passengers and the location of it in Cheekpoint created a major economic spinoff.
The station operated under a Welshman named Captain Thomas Owens, and he and his family lived at Fairymount.  It operated until 1813, when it was moved further down river to Passage and then to Dunmore East in 1824. With the coming of steam driven ships, the station as finally moved to the city around 1837.
Traffic would have increased considerably into the village, as a consequence of the packet station.  To cater for the traffic, roads were widened and I imagine in some cases rerouted.  Marking the routes were a series of Milestones.  The loss of the mail packet station seems to have been the catalyst for the collapse of Bolton’s business interests.  By 1818 Bolton had sold off his home, land and interests in an attempt to pay his creditors and moved to Waterford where he died in 1829. 
As said, the Milestones marked the road to town, and conversely the road to Bolton pier or Cheekpoint quay as we now know it.  But it also marked other parts as well like Dunmore, Passage and New Geneva.  They most likely started (or finished) with the Bolton Milepost and locally I have heard that there was one at the bottom of the Bridge hill and another at Mooney’s grove.  Further towards town there was one at the now Maxol garage, which was realigned in the 1980’s and an existing one at Newtown.  Some photos of those closer to town exist:
Two photos of an existing milestone at Newtown via Eoin Nevins

Milestone from the Dunmore Road
With thanks to Michael O’Sullivan
Waterford History Group
Apparently the milestones (and all other signage) were removed by the  Local Defence Force, with the co-operation of the county council during WWII (the emergency) in case the Germans landed in the estuary and followed Strongbow in the road!   If you think that’s Irish, well the English did it too!
Eamon Duffin remembers the village milepost being recovered from the ditch sometime in the early sixties when council employees were doing some work.  After some debate and consultation locally it was determined that the present location was where it stood in the past and re-erected it.  My Uncle Sonny remembers the one at the end of the Bridge hill, saying it stood to the right of the road, at the church side of the glen road.  He recalled it lying by the roadside, covered with a layer of clay.  Pat Moran told me during the week that he heard talk of a milestone at Mooney’s grove, and he could remember the milepost at the now Maxol Garage on Dunmore road, so we speculated that there must be at least one other (given the distances) in between, most likely around the Passage Cross. 
Considering this, it might be worth trying to locate the missing mileposts.  Chances are they are flung in a ditch in various locations along the road.  Apparently one is lurking in council yard in the city, most probably the last one photographed above, which as already said was removed when the Dunmore Road was realigned.  Wonder did they extend to Passage and Dunmore?
I suppose to some they are only a lump of limestone, but for me, they give an important signpost to our heritage and history.  Although much older, here’s an example from England of how a Roman milestone has been protected and interpreted.
“Milestone kirkby thore” by Northernhenge – Own work.
Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons –

Many thanks to the following for information and/or photos; Pat Moran, Sonny Doherty, Eamon Duffin, Michael O’Sullivan & Eoin Nevins