Last weekend I went on a tour of sites of the historic mills around the River Clyde to learn more about the significance of water power in the area which was organised by Ken and Jim from the Clydesdale Mills Society. The walk started from the Scottish Wildlife Visitor Centre and was along the banks of the River Clyde to Cora Linn before a short climb to Bonnington to see the Walled Garden of the former Bonnington House, Bonnington Pavilion and the remains of Bonnington Saw Mill.
The water level on the River Clyde was very high, due to very heavy rain on the Friday evening, and this added to the enjoyment of the day, as the falls were looking quite spectacular.
Using Water to Power Machinery
Before the availability of affordable electricity, water was used to power large wheels for milling flour, grinding wood into pulp for papermaking and crushing fibers for use in the manufacture of cloth.
|A dam holds a large volume of water (Dundaff Linn)|
To ensure a large volume of water is available to power the water wheel, a dam is built to create a ‘head’ of water to build up. This is channelled to the wheel by a ‘race’ which can range in distance from a few feet to many miles from the dam to the mill site. The same race may serve one mill or many mills. At the mouth of the race there is often a gate which stops debris from damaging the water wheel.
|View of the above dam from a distance (Dundaff Linn)|
The race can either be a head or tail race are have gates which allow the mill operator to control how much water is in the race to enter the water wheel. These two types of gates are called head gate and sluice gate. A flume, or sluice carries the water at an elevated level above ground to the water wheel. The above photographs are of Dundaff Linn, which at 10 feet, is the smallest fall.
When the water is released, it is directed to the top of the water wheel. The wheel spins faster due to the falling water and pushed the wheel round at a higher speed. After the water flows through the water wheel it is then returned to the stream below the mill. It flows through a tail race.
Retort House Chimney at Dundaff Linn
In the photograph above, a chimney can be seen on the left of the photograph. This is Retort House Chimney which dates from1825. It is a tapered octagonal sandstone chimney on square plinth with plain cope. It is a remnant of an earlier 19th century gas-making plant. Most Scottish chimneys were constructed from brick, and this octagonal stone chimney is a rare survival from the 19th Century and therefore particularly significant.
It is the last remaining part of the village gasworks where coal gas was used to provide lighting for cotton production in the mills, as well as for lighting in the village. Two small gasholders once stood next to a small U-plan Retort House which was sited where the present viewing area is now located.
The chimney is also an important visual element of the mills complex providing a vertical accent at the termination of the view. In 1873 another large stack, this time in brick, was built for the steam boilers and appears in late19th century views of the village but this has since been demolished.
Origins of New Lanark
The mills at New Lanark were in operation from 1786 to 1968 and built to exploit the water power offered by the Falls of Clyde. The mill village has industrial, residential and community buildings which date from between 1786 and the 1820s. The village was founded by David Dale and expanded by Robert Owen, who took over management of the mill village in partnership from 1799.
Owen created an environment where child labour and corporal punishment were abolished, and provided workers with good homes, education and free health care as well as affordable food. He had a profound influence on social developments such as factory reform throughout the 19th century.
Bonnington Power Station
While the mills have all but disappeared at New Lanark, ScottishPower still make use of the water on the Clyde to generate electricity. The Bonnington Power Station is situated between Corra Linn and Dundaff Linn, with a water inlet at Bonnington Linn. It was built in 1927 and was the first hydro-electric power station in Scotland. It generates approximately 11 MW from a total head of 51 metres (167 ft).
|Pipes transporting water to Bonnington Power Station|
|Falls of Clyde at Corra Linn|
The falls at Corra Linn (“linn” is the Scottish word for waterfall) are a spectacular sight most of the time but at the weekend they were looking fantastic. We stopped for a while to admire the view before continuing on. Near the top of the above photograph can be see a rocky area. The photograph below shows this in closer detail.
The rocky area which starts from the top left and sweeps to the bottom right was the site of a mill, but little remains of it. Looking closely through my binoculars, I could see a Dipper in the river.
Walled Garden of Bonnington House
The walk at this point moved away from the river to higher ground in the Bonnington area. We were informed that the higher ground was created after the melting of the ice after the Ice Age which left gravel and sand behind. On this part of the walk we came across the remains of the Walled Garden of Bonnington House. Much of the wall is intact which gives some indication of the quality of the workers who built it.
|Walled Garden of Bonnington House|
The pavilion is a square structure of two stories with its principal façade towards the first Bonnington House, now demolished. The Bonnington Pavilion is said to have been built for Sir James Carmichael as it has the monogram IC and the date 1708 carved on the stair newels. His exact date of his birth is unknown but as his parents married in 1684 he may have come of age in 1707/8.
The Bonnington Pavilion is a remarkable and fortunate survival. It was used as a hunting tower, tea room and viewing platform for the surrounding landscape and Corra Linn falls. It was one of the earliest such structure in British architecture and on the Continent. It is now a ruin with only its four walls and a stone fire surround remaining.
The walls on the first floor had centrally placed windows, with external carved stone architraves and decorative sills. That window overlooking the Clyde was later enlarged and given an iron balcony in the nineteenth century. Mirrors were also introduced at that time to create surprising views of the waterfalls from the upper room.
We walked along a narrow path before turning right into a field. I was familiar with this field as I had gone on a bird-watching walk in Spring with the Scottish Wildlife Trust.
|Field at Bonnington|
When I was last in the field we had stopped for lunch and the two horses had come over to get some food. On the day we were there again the horses ignored us and spent their time munching grass. I was told that there was also a Shetland Pony in the field which used to kick the white horses until one day one of them kicked the little Shetland Pony so hard it has to be put to sleep by a vet.
After leaving the field, we walked down a small road to the site of the Bonnington Sawmill. The site was covered in soil and has this is being removed by members and friends from the Clydesdale Mills Society.
|Remains of Bonnington Mills|
The site has to be carefully excavated to avoid damaging any objects which are found. This means that the work will take months rather than weeks to excavate but it has resulted in some interesting objects being found.
|Some objects found at Bonnington Mills|
When the site excavation is completed, it will be opened for visitors to investigate. More photographs of the site can be seen here.
The day finished with the walk back to the visitor centre. On the way back, a pair of Peregrine were spotted in the sky in pursuit of some Sand Martins. It was the perfect conclusion to a great afternoon out.
The Clydesdale Mills Society website has detailed information about the mills in South Lanarkshire (link below).