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 building

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.

Apologies in advance for this amateur footage, but I took this in one take in an effort to give a sense of the building (Thursday 19th August 2021)
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. 

an illustration of a scotch weir (there were many varieties including the adaption of the traditional Head Weir. They stretched to the shoreline, usually ran perpendicular to the shore, the fish encountered a wall of netting and swam towards the deep water where they encountered a “kill box” where they became trapped. These worked on both times of tides and there were numerous weirs in the Kings Channel and beyond

The ice required for this trade led to a growth in the building of commercial Ice Houses, not to be confused with an earlier practice of ice houses associated with the big houses.  The difference here was in terms of use and scale. The ice was used to box and ice fish. These boxes could if required be stored in the chamber and would be later sent to the port for direct export or via train to Dublin or further inland. As the use of steam driven ships arrived, fish could be on the London market in under 24 hrs of capture in Waterford, ensuring a premium price.

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. 

Norweigan ice, being slid down to awaiting ship

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.

The earliest advert I could find is from the Waterford Mail – Wednesday 05 October 1853; page 1
Advert for ice from the Waterford Mail – Friday 01 August 1862; page 1. I would think it most likely that John Crawford is one in the same as the J Crawford leasing at Halfway House in 1853?
Waterford News – Friday 30 April 1869; page 2. I found adverts such as these up to 1898 in local papers

In 1858 a schooner Neptunus was wrecked in Tramore Bay on a journey from Norway with ice. I’ve no further details on fatalities etc. (Source: Shipwrecks off the Waterford Coast). 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, 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.

Interesting to note, that for some Ice Harvesting is still practiced…maybe it will make a comeback in years to come

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This year’s event is again supported by the Local Authorities Waters Programme.

Halfway House Mill

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.

PO = Post Office, seen here in the later era 25″ map.

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.

The Mill as it looks today. Andrew Doherty

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.

The pond and leat in blue leading down from Book Lodge towards the mill

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”

Source: Irish Times. Friday 15th June 1900. Francis Brennan lived on the Cheekpoint road on the left past Kennedys. The family has since died out and the walls of the ruined house are still to be seen.

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.

A curious event at the mill, suggesting a social aspect to the site also. Major Cuffe was living at Woodlands House at the time. Source: Waterford Standard. Wednesday 06 September 1899; page 3
Mark Power of Epic Locations caught a wonderful bit of footage of the site at the outset of this video.

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.

The lovely and calming sound of running water on the site to end. Thanks to Seán

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.

This year’s event is again supported by the Local Authorities Waters Programme.

Halfway House and Jack Meades Pub

Halfway House

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 it was more commonly called Halfway House.  Over the next few Fridays, I will focus on some of the aspects of the site in the context of the historic role of the stream, Ballycanvan Pill, and the River Suir.  In this post I want to look at the location and the pub. 

Introduction

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. 

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. 

A sense of the location – OSI Historic Maps

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,

Boundary sign from 1980 on the city side of the bridge. Authors Photo.

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 Blenheim.

Interestingly, the area was once commonly referred to as Alwyardstown, Baile an Adhlar Taigh – a historic reference to the first Norman-era landlord who ruled from Faithlegg an area of about 6000 acres that stretched from Cheekpoint and Passage to Ballytruckle in the city. Authors Photo

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 apparently 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. 

A busy scene at Passage East in the late 18th century via BGHS http://gaultierhistoricalsociety.blogspot.com/2014/

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”

The door to the old pub. Authors Photo.
Jack Meades Pub or Halfway House. Andrew Doherty

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. 

The site of course has many other water related features, and these I will explore over the new few weeks in the run into National Heritage Week 2021 and specifically Water Heritage Day on Sunday 22nd August 2021.  My original plan was to do a booklet of these pieces of information to be available for a guided walk on the site. However, due to my Covid concerns, this is still not a certainty. I might opt for an online presentation instead. This work will be supported by the Local Authority Waters Programme.

Next week – the two agricultural water-powered corn mills on the site, their design, operation, and the relevance of the stream and the tidal Pill in their operation.