Last week we looked at the operation of a saltwater mill, which harnessed the tides to power a mill wheel to grind local corn. This week, we will look at another innovative water-powered wheel, but this time it was freshwater, harnessed by man.
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.
One of the earliest (6 inch map drawn between 1829-1841) gives us the name Newport corn mill, presumably of the banking and political family. At the time of the Griffiths Valuation (1847-64), Thomas and William Manning were leasing a house and extensive mill property from Simon 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 called it Halfway House Mill. When I was growing up, I only heard it referred to as Delahunty’s, the last operator of the mill.
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.
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.
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”
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.
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”
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.
I have set up a dedicated page for Water Heritage Day this year. I will gather all the elements of the Halfway House story there and any links etc to the day. I also have a link to this event on the Heritage Week website.