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Thread: Cotton mill/Tannery, Portlaw, Country Waterford, Ireland 2020

  1. #1
    Join Date
    January 2013
    People's Republic of South Yorkshire.

    Default Cotton mill/Tannery, Portlaw, Country Waterford, Ireland 2020

    1. The History
    The story starts with Joseph Malcolmson (d. 1774), one of two sons of a Scottish Presbyterian linen weaver. He had no fewer than eleven children with his Quaker wife, Rachel. One of their sons, David, went on to be extremely successful and a career that saw him founding the family fortune via the corn, and later, cotton trade. David settled nearby in Clonmel, County Tipperary where, from 1793 onwards, he became involved in the corn milling industry. In 1825 he took out a 999-year lease on Mayfield house, along with a 16-acre plot of land adjacent to the house, from a local landlord. The small, fire-damaged cotton mill that stood on the land was demolished and redeveloped into a vast, 40 feet wide and 240 feet long six-storey cotton mill, along with a canal to utilise the power of the adjacent River Clodiagh. It was the largest single span building in the world at the time. An adjacent weaving factory incorporated a half-glass roof to allow for a proliferation of light under which the weavers could work. The new mill required many more workers (at full production 2000 people worked in the factory) and this demand for labour saw the village of Portlaw expand from around 400 residents circa 1825 to over 3,500 by 1841. The new town was carefully designed in the rays of the sun so one policeman could stand in the square and observe the whole settlement. Many English mill hands came looking for work and a whole new part of town known as “Little London” sprang up to house them. For a while this corner of County Waterford prospered while the wider country struggled with the mid-19c famine

    Unfortunately, a series of outside influences dealt powerful and ultimately fatal blows to the operation. Heavily reliant on imported cotton, the American Civil War in 1861 caused the cotton supply to dwindle, while post war tariff rises imposed on the Irish saw the demise of the Malcolmson empire. An overspend on building grand houses, including the nearby Mayfield House in 1849, led to Malcolmsons being declared bankrupt with huge debts. Many of the workers headed to Lancashire to join the booming spinning industry in England. By 1881 the population of Portlaw had halved. In the 1870s the factory was adapted for spinning and the formation of the Portlaw Spinning Company. This turned out to be only a brief reprieve. In 1897, the McKinley tariffs raised the import duty on cotton from 35% to 55%, the end was in sight. By 1904 the whole operation had ceased.

    The cotton mill circa 1900:

    portlaw-cotton-mill-1 by HughieDW, on Flickr

    And in later times:

    Factory_Portlaw by HughieDW, on Flickr

    Then, 28 years later, in 1932, the site was taken over by Irish Leathers Group and work began to convert the derelict cotton mill into a tannery. The town began to prosper again. Tanning is well known for being an intolerable industry due to the insufferable smell of hides during the tanning process. A lime yard and tan yard were built, along with various extensions, culminating in 1945 with the large concrete framed four-storey factory, its 260-foot frontage running the length of the original cotton mill that remained behind it. The tannery used the Clodiagh’s water, this time for treating the hides. At full capacity it was turning out 4,000 hides a week, turning them into sole leather. At one stage, the Portlaw Tannery was the largest in Europe, employing 600 people. A further body-blow was dealt to the factory with the introduction of synthetic leather sole shoes in the 1950s, which saw the industry fall into a long and slow decline. By-products of the tanning industry were developed to keep the business afloat and various rescue attempts were made until massive redundancies were announced in 1983 and the operation was wound up, finally closing in 1985. The factory, along with Mayfield House, which was used as offices for the company, both then fell into dereliction.

    Undated picture:

    Factory_Portlaw by HughieDW, on Flickr

    Portlaw tannery circa 1980:

    tannery-ariel-1 by HughieDW, on Flickr

    2. The Explore
    Came here for the house and the factory. The house was a beautiful shell {see seperate report). However, I wasn’t prepared for just how derpy this factory was. The very grey overcast weather didn’t help. The place still had a feel to it and was worth a look. Sadly, the older part of the factory is mostly gone and it in the 1945 concrete factory that is most complete. The place is also incredibly overgrown in places. I actually ended up missing the interesting old boiler bits sadly. So, like I said, pretty derpy, but if you like your factories dark and dirty, then this could be the place for you.

    3. The Pictures

    Possibly the most interesting bit of the whole place:

    Portlaw Tannery 09 by HughieDW, on Flickr

    img5167 by HughieDW, on Flickr

    img5172 by HughieDW, on Flickr

    Portlaw Tannery 08 by HughieDW, on Flickr

    The approach is looks pretty apocalyptic:

    img5165 by HughieDW, on Flickr

    img5123 by HughieDW, on Flickr

    The 1945 addition with its brutalist fašade ain’t a looker:

    img5147bw by HughieDW, on Flickr

    img5163bw by HughieDW, on Flickr

    img5136 by HughieDW, on Flickr

    img5135 by HughieDW, on Flickr

    Inside isn’t much more interesting:

    img5130 by HughieDW, on Flickr

    Portlaw Tannery 01 by HughieDW, on Flickr

    The electrics look ancient:

    img5141 by HughieDW, on Flickr

    And the water tower looks like it wouldn’t hold much water:

    img5138 by HughieDW, on Flickr

    The old meets the new(er):

    img5142 by HughieDW, on Flickr

    img5146 by HughieDW, on Flickr

    Part of the old mill:

    Portlaw Tannery 03 by HughieDW, on Flickr

    Portlaw Tannery 07 by HughieDW, on Flickr

    Some out-lying buildings:

    img5149 by HughieDW, on Flickr

    img5151 by HughieDW, on Flickr

    Portlaw Tannery 04 by HughieDW, on Flickr

    The chimney:

    img5153 by HughieDW, on Flickr

    img5157 by HughieDW, on Flickr

    You really wouldn’t have wanted to fall into here:

    Portlaw Tannery 06 by HughieDW, on Flickr

    And finally, this building was furthest away:

    img5166 by HughieDW, on Flickr

  2. Thanks given by: etc100, Hugh Jorgan, KJurbex, Mearing, ocelot397
  4. #2
    Join Date
    June 2014


    Thats a nice big derp! the b & w work well there.
    What the hell am I doing, I mean really at my age!

  5. Thanks given by: HughieD
  6. #3
    Join Date
    January 2013
    People's Republic of South Yorkshire.


    Quote Originally Posted by BikinGlynn View Post
    Thats a nice big derp! the b & w work well there.
    Ha ha, they do don't they? Out of accident really. The colours were so dull I got rid of them!

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