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Report - Portlaw Tannery & Mayfield House; Co. Waterford, Ireland - November 2013

Discussion in 'Industrial Sites' started by Idle Hands, May 5, 2014.

  1. Idle Hands

    Idle Hands 28DL Regular User
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    Portlaw Tannery & Mayfield House

    I spent a week chilling out in Ireland in November but didn’t get round to posting this report. I don’t think it’s been on here before - and it’s probably out of the way for most people - but it was a nice little explore with an interesting back story which will hopefully interest a few people.

    Explored with an Irish mate and a dog.

    I’d initially made a note to check out Mayfield House since it wasn’t far from where I was staying in Carrick-on-Suir. On arrival you could see what had become an all-too-familiar sight through my week in this country so far – the bare exoskeleton of a once fine building, collapsed right through but protruding with defiant fragility from the undergrowth that had engulfed it.

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    The sound of chainsaws in close proximity indicated that we weren’t alone in the grounds so we backtracked in an attempt to go round the back. That was when this loomed into view:

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    History

    Initially the site housed a cotton mill developed by David Malcolmson, which at 40 feet wide and 240 feet long 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. At full production 2000 people worked in the factory and the small town of Portlaw grew up around it, carefully designed in the rays of the sun such that 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 nineteenth century famine, but 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 supply to dwindle, while post war tariff rises imposed on the Irish saw the demise of the Malcolmson empire. Their financial situation was exacerbated by a sudden interest in building grand houses - notably Mayfield House in 1849, with architect William Tinsley incorporating the remains of an earlier dwelling in his Italianate construction. The Malcolmsons were soon declared bankrupt with huge debts. Many of the workers headed to Lancashire to join the prospering spinning industry on the English side of the water, and by 1881 the population had halved. Incorporation into the Portlaw Spinning Company offered a brief reprieve but when 1897’s McKinley tariffs raised the import duty on cotton from 35% to 55%, the writing was on the wall. By 1904 the whole operation had ceased.

    28 years later the site was taken over by Irish Tanners and work began to convert the derelict cotton mill. A lime yard and tan yard were built along with various extensions, culminating in 1945 with the large concrete framed four storey factory you see on approach now. Its 260 foot frontage is the same length as the original cotton mill that remained behind it. 4000 hides a week were being turned into sole leather – another success for this the relative backwater that would soon be dealt a further body-blow. The introduction of synthetic leather sole shoes in the 1950s saw the industry fall into a long and slow decline. Various rescue attempts were made until massive redundancies were announced in 1983 and the operation was wound up, finally closing in 1985. Mayfield House was used as offices until the 1990s but is now completely ruinous.

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    Standing inside the complex you can see the older stone built mill on the left, with the newer concrete addition to the right.

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    A water tank still sits atop the four storey mill building. The climb up to it revealed some fire damage but the stone was holding up well enough.

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    The tank itself was rusted through, but on reaching the roof it became apparent that the site had yet more to offer: There was a chimney, which suggested there might also be an engine house…

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    …and after crossing the channel that once housed two water wheels that drove the original factory, I stumbled into it.

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    The engine house once contained two rare Robey stationary steam engines, and parts still remain.

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    The Tannery’s 50 year history is now commemorated by way of a mural in nearby Carrick-on-Suir, wrapping up centuries of industrial heritage in this part of Ireland. The site is now used by petrolheads for drifting.


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    Thanks for stopping by :)
     

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  2. Paradox

    Paradox 28DL Regular User
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    Nice report there Idle hands - liking your pics too :D
     
  3. Idle Hands

    Idle Hands 28DL Regular User
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    Cheers mate. We'll have to arrange another day out in England sometime :D
     
  4. Paradox

    Paradox 28DL Regular User
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    Yeah deffo - got a bit of stuff on at the moment but will have a word with Jobs for when we are free :D
     
  5. Bugsuperstar

    Bugsuperstar Irresponsible & Reckless
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    I really like this. Thanks for posting.
     
  6. Idle Hands

    Idle Hands 28DL Regular User
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    Thank you mate, I hoped it might interest people even if it's off the usual UE trail :)
     
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