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

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People's Republic of South Yorkshire.
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:

49426493328_45fa371670_o.png portlaw-cotton-mill-1 by HughieDW, on Flickr

And in later times:

49426538773_e425a27834.jpg 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:

49426538773_51fe1c2a2d_o.jpg Factory_Portlaw by HughieDW, on Flickr

Portlaw tannery circa 1980:

49426493258_295a216045_o.jpg 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:

49363411543_c95bcc27c9_b.jpg Portlaw Tannery 09 by HughieDW, on Flickr

49363011398_126a4758e6_b.jpg img5167 by HughieDW, on Flickr

49363004718_e4988f5f64_b.jpg img5172 by HughieDW, on Flickr

49364085277_3711c5fd5d_b.jpg Portlaw Tannery 08 by HughieDW, on Flickr

The approach is looks pretty apocalyptic:

49363687722_9ac0b978a2_b.jpg img5165 by HughieDW, on Flickr

49363720617_15aa51f1b5_b.jpg img5123 by HughieDW, on Flickr

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

49363027748_040c848175_b.jpg img5147bw by HughieDW, on Flickr

49363689532_72d2af7a74_b.jpg img5163bw by HughieDW, on Flickr

49363708922_0e2befd2af_b.jpg img5136 by HughieDW, on Flickr

49363710472_786c8ab767_b.jpg img5135 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Inside isn’t much more interesting:

49363500586_543417c092_b.jpg img5130 by HughieDW, on Flickr

49364088517_79a92789e3_b.jpg Portlaw Tannery 01 by HughieDW, on Flickr

The electrics look ancient:

49363705347_65c501423c_b.jpg img5141 by HughieDW, on Flickr

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

49363035293_5fda0e05a5_b.jpg img5138 by HughieDW, on Flickr

The old meets the new(er):

49363703782_f0723f496e_b.jpg img5142 by HughieDW, on Flickr

49363029253_db3f7f3ca5_b.jpg img5146 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Part of the old mill:

49363414953_c4159b144b_b.jpg Portlaw Tannery 03 by HughieDW, on Flickr

49364085807_f8dbefa5e7_b.jpg Portlaw Tannery 07 by HughieDW, on Flickr

Some out-lying buildings:

49363026478_237a22186b_b.jpg img5149 by HughieDW, on Flickr

49363696317_69effa1cda_b.jpg img5151 by HughieDW, on Flickr

49363874456_175a24285a_b.jpg Portlaw Tannery 04 by HughieDW, on Flickr

The chimney:

49363022693_42f3a55649_b.jpg img5153 by HughieDW, on Flickr

49363693332_21e0d4b66f_b.jpg img5157 by HughieDW, on Flickr

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

49364086437_69f39f1fc0_b.jpg Portlaw Tannery 06 by HughieDW, on Flickr

And finally, this building was furthest away:

49363471326_92d17d9d6a_b.jpg img5166 by HughieDW, on Flickr


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Thats a nice big derp! the b & w work well there.

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