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I am extremely grateful to the Portlaw I.C.A. Local History Group who gave permission to publish their history of Portlaw on the school web site.
Portlaw stands in a lovely setting where the south road from Waterford to Carrick-on-Suir crosses the River Clodagh. It is bounded on the north by the River Suir and the Comeragh Mountains are to the west. The name "Portlaw" has been equated with the Saxon "Lagh" or "hill". Another source associates it with "Claddagh" (sandy bank or landing place).
When first built, the town was called "Mayfield" after Sir Algernon May who lived in Portlaw at the time of Queen Elizabeth. In the early days, Portlaw was situated on the opposite side of the river at Coolfin. Old residents can remember a row of mud cabins on the right hand side going up the hill towards the Catholic Church. A delivery coach used to travel the boreens from Carrick to Waterford through Mount Bolton, Clashroe, Coolroe, Clonegam, through part of Curraghmore, Darrigle and Pouldrew. There are only two Holy Wells - "The Angells Well" on the townland of Kilmogemogue and Saint Martin's at Adamstown, but there are early church sites at Killowen, Kilmovee, Kilmogemogue, Kildermody, Darrigle, Adamstown, Gortaclode and Carrigphilip.
There was a row of houses with half doors on Green Island and a street called Thomas Street to the side of Brett's public house. These no longer exist. It is interesting to note that among the residents of these houses there lived, in the middle of the last century, a coachman named Keane, a boatman named Lahey, a weaver named Tobin, a gas fitter named Kennedy, a shoemaker named Hackett, a dyer named Neille, a thatcher named Butler, a tailor named Wright, a fiddler named Greene, a tailor named Hanrahan, a boatman named Shanahan and a car man named Hickey. Other names and occupations in the Portlaw area over a hundred years ago were Colbert (turner), Geary (baker), Dwyer (smith), Bowesman (clerk), Hackett (cobbler), Finlay (engineer), Lynagh (boatman), Jones (gaiter),, Manning (groom), Ashmore (painter), Dolfin (tailor), Coghlan (smith), Winberry (butcher), Conway (cooper), Bowler (smith), Gooley (smith), Patten (superintendent), Milling (policeman), Mulreahy (stone cutter), Kavanagh (mason), Friggs (brushmaker), Ryall (butler), and Brabazon (cashier). Many of these names are no longer to be found here. One can assume that many of them went to Lancashire when the mills failed.
Below the doctor's house was a Protestant school. Factory Road had a row of small houses, the property of Meddicotts. This area was known as Gorey Lane. Meddicotts also owned property at Killowen and there was an eviction there in 1887. The name of the family evicted was Delahunty. The family sought relief from the Carrick-on-Suir Guardians but were refused. One of the daughters died shortly afterwards and there was widespreadoutrage as we can gather from an extract taken from "Waterford News", June 21, 1887. To the right of the Grotto stands an old house which was once a thriving bakery business belonging to the Molloy family. According to "Ireland - Its Scenery and Character" by Mrs. S.C. Hall dated 1825 "the town and neighbourhood of Portlaw have, of course, shared the prosperity of the Malcolmsons. The houses are clean and comfortable; the people are all decently dressed."
When the Cotton Mills closed at the end of the last century. the people dwindled away. With the opening of the Tannery in 1935, Portlaw regained an air of prosperity.
Portlaw can now boast of a troop of Boy Scouts (10th Waterford) hurling and football clubs, camogie club, soccer club, I.C.A. Guild, Muintir na Tire, Pioneer Association, Legion of Mary, St. Vincent de Paul Society, Credit Union, Youth Club, Musical Society, Shalom Folk Group, St. Patrick's Choir, Pipers.' Band, Residents' Association, Gun Club and Tidy Towns Association. Newest addition to the list is the "Jobs for Portlaw" Committee - a sign of the times that are in it.
It is interesting to compare the population of Portlaw when the Malcolmson's factory was in full swing, with the population of today. In 1837 the figure was 3,250 persons. Today the population is approximately 1,600 persons.
The Power family came to Ireland with Henry II at the Anglo~Norman invasion. Eight years later extensive lands in Co.Waterford were granted to Sir Robert le Poer. Sir Robert was Knight Marshal and joint governor of Ireland in 1169 with Hugh de Lacy. King John’s Bridge which spans the Clodagh River, was built by the Power family for Prince John when he came to Curraghmore to extract fealty from all the ruling chiefs, about 1185. Sir Robert's eldest son became the Baronet of Donoyle (now Dunhill) and Lord Kilmayden (now Kilmeaden). The estates of this line were confiscated by Cromwell. It is from the younger son of Sir Robert. that the Curraghmore line descended.
As early as Sept. 4th 1368 the- Powers (with the O'Hedriscolls of West Cork) were at open war with the citizens of Waterford City. They were met by John Malpas, Mayor with the city forces. The mayor was carried home "cut to pieces" and was buried in Christ Church. Again in 1461 these two septs attacked the city. The Mayor and citizens defeated them on this occasion. They captured their gallies (which had landed the O'Hedriscolls at Tramore). It was in this victory that the three gallies quartered on the city arms had their origin.
In 1461 the citizens had a statute passed in the Irish Parliament against Richard le Poer "as enemy to God and a great rebel to the King." Nevertheless, the family ruled Go.Waterford as hereditary sheriffs for many generations.
Sir Richard Power, a son-in-law of the powerful, Earl of Ormond, became a member of the Irish House of Lords on 13th Sept. 1535 when he received from Henry the titles of Lord Power and Curraghmore "the remainders of them heir male of his body forever.
Richard, 6th Lord Power, became Earl of Tyrone and Viscount Decies in 1673. He served as alderman on the corporation, elected under charter of James.
In 1690 Lord Tyrone was a colonel in King James' army and after the surrender of Cork he was brought to the Tower ' of London and beheaded for his part in the struggle against William of Orange.
When Cromwell came to Curraghmore, there was only a child and his mother living there, the father (John Og) having been slain by the White Knight. The widow invited Cromwell to lunch, and thus saved herself, the child and the house.
Lord Tyrone left two sons, John and James. John died in 1693. He was succeeded by his brother James who was the last Earl of Tyrone and died in 1704, leaving his. estates to his daughter, Lady Catherine Power. Lady Catherine married Sir Marcus Beresford in 1717 and Curraghmore passed into the hands of the Beresford family. Sir Marcus was given the titles of Earl of Tyrone, Viscount Tyrone, and Baron Beresford, by George lst on 4th Nov. 1720.
His ancestor, Tristram Beresford, came over to Coleraine in the reign of James I as manager of the New Plantation of Ulster. Tristram’s son was created baronet. It was the 4th Baronet who married Lady Catherine. He died in 1763. His son George de la Poer, 2nd Earl of Tyrone, was born in 1735 and he was the person on whom the title "Marquis of Waterford" was first conferred in 1789. The first Marquis died in London in 1800. He is buried at Clonegam.
John Beresford (1739-1805), whose mother was a de la Poer, exercised almost unlimited political influence which he employed in suppression of the 1798 Insurrection and in furthering the passing of the Act of Union. Many of the best architectural features of Dublin can be attributed to his efforts.
When the Curraghmore Rangers were formed (to protect the country from an expected French invasion) on Nov. lst 1779, they had at their head Colonel George Earl of Tyrone. The Dungarvan Volunteers. also formed on the same day, had as their Colonel Right Hon. John Beresford.
Henry de la Poer Beresford - 2nd son of the first Marquis was second Marquis (the heir having been killed in a riding accident at the age of 13). He died on July 16th 1826, a few weeks after he lost the election to Villiers Stuart (O'Connell's candidate for catholic emancipation.) This event marked the turning of the tide in Irish history.
Henry de la Poer Beresford, 3rd Marquis, was born 26th.April, 1811 and married the Hon. Louisa Stuart. He rode in the Grand National during the famine and was not popular. Henry was killed in 1859 and as he had no heir, his brother John was 4th Marquis. He married Christiana Leslie of Glasslough and they had five sons, the oldest of whom was the present Lords great-grandfather. Henry died in 1866,. He had been rector of Mullaghbrack, Armagh. John Henry de la Poer Beresford, fifth Marquis was married twice, first to Lady Florence Grosvenor (who died in childbirth and whose monument is inserted in a window at Clonegam) and later Lady Blanche Somerset, only, daughter of the 8th Duke of Beaufort. He was Lord Lieutenant of Co. Waterford and Hon. Colonel of the South Irish Division of the Royal Artillery. Three of their children survived -Henry (called Tyrone) born 1875 and Lady Susan and Lady Clodagh. Lady Clodagh wrote a book called "Victorian Days". In it she tells how her father (5th Marquis) would get threatening letters signed "Captain Moonlight.
The, 6th Marquis was Lord Lieutenant of Waterford County and also of Northumberland, and was Hon. Colonel of the South Irish Horse. He married Lady Beatrix Fitzmaurice, daughter of the 5th Marquis of Landsdowne.
The first, third, fifth and sixth Marquis' were Knights of Saint Patrick and their flags can be seen in Dublin Castle.
The 7th Marquis (John Charles de la Poer Beresford) married Juliet Lindsay in Oct. 1930. In 1934 he was found in the gun room at Curraghmore with a bullet wound in his temple. The verdict at the inquest was accidental death.
The Beresfords had a powerful position in Ireland during the Penal Days. At the time of James 1 , a Parliament was set up to represent the people. However, pocket boroughs were created so that the people could not send a majority to the chamber,being too poor to pay the expenses. Thus, the Parliament became a machine to suppress the Catholics.
These pocket boroughs were at the service of the younger brothers of the ruling families. Lord William Beresford, son of the 4th Marquis, got the V.C. Archibald Forbes, the great war correspondent, related that during the Zulu war, a small party of British cavalry was attacked by a large Zulu force. The British rode away for their lives. Lord William noticed a British soldier whose horse had been killed, about to be surrounded. He killed six of them and took the solder on his horse. The place was Ulundi. After that he was known as "Ulundi Bill."
The family could also boast of an illegitimate Field –Marshall who won the battle of Albuero. His name was William Carr and he obtained permission to adopt the Beresford name.
The Beresfords have long been a sporting family borne out by a long list of winners of horse races.
The present Marquis (8th) married Lady Caroline Wyndham Quin, younger daughter of the Earl of Dunraven in 1957. They have three sons and one daughter: 1. The Earl of Tyrone, born the 23rd of March, 1958. 2. Lord Charles de la Poer Beresford, born 18th January, 1960. 3. Lord James de la Poer Beresford , born 10th December, 1965 and 4th Lady Alice de la Poer Beresford born 31st Augsut, 1970.
John Power (in his minority known as Lord Decies) whose father Richard, 1st Earl, died in the Tower, had in his youth formed an intellectual friendship with lady Nicola Sophie Hamilton. They discussed reincarnation and astrology. They had doubts about life after death. They entered into a mutual pact that whomsoever should die first would come back to prove to the other that there really was life beyond the grave. Earl John died on October 14th., 1693 and was buried at Carrick-on-Suir. According to this promise he appeared the night of his death to the friend of his youth. She was at that time married to Sir Tristram Beresford and had two daughters. The "spirit" told her that she was pregnant and would bear a son and that she would die in her 47th year and that her son would marry the heiress of Curraghmore. Lady Beresford demanded proof of his presence and the spirit’s hand touched her wrist. At the touch the sinews shrank and withered. On the following day the family got word of the death of Earl John.
Lady Beresford placed a black velvet ribbon on her wrist and it was not removed until after her death. On her deathbed she told of the apparition she had seen. All of the prophesies came to pass. Her son Sir Marcus Beresford married Lady Catherine de la Poer and thus became owner of Curraghmore.
David Malcolmson was the founder of the cotton factory and practically of Portlaw. His grandfather came from Scotland about 1660 and was a skilled craftsman - a linen weaver. He became a leading elder in the Presbyterian Church in Armagh. He had two sons, one of whom, Joseph, married Rachel Greer, a Quaker in 1748. From this date one branch of the Malcolmson family were Quakers, though Joseph himself never joined them. Rachel was disowned by the Quakers for marrying outside their ranks. They had eleven children, who were all brought up as Quakers, and eventually Rachel was accepted back into the Society.
After their father's death in 1774 two of the children, John aged 13 and David, aged 9, were sent to Clonmel, and here David, the founder of the family fortunes, began his career. At 18 he found a job with his cousin, Sarah Grubb, of Anner Mills, near Clonmel, when she advertised in 1784 for competent clerks to aid her in the administration of her late husband's business. David did not stay long in his cousin's employment, having been dismissed, it is said, for keeping late hours.
Then he became agent for John Bagwell, whose family were large property owners in Clonmel, and in this capacity he paid the. South Tipperary Militia, in which several of the Bagwells were officers. It is said that he was employed in 1786 as a distiller.
David's elder brother, John, appears to have helped him considerably at the start of his career. He bought Corporation Mills, on the Suir Island, for David, at the cost of £3,000, so, presumably, he was quite well off at this stage.
In 1795, when he was thirty years old, David married Mary Fennell, of Cahir Abbey, and inherited Crohan estate. His wife brought him a dowry of £1,500 which was to be invested in lands for David, by Richard Sparrow and Robert Fennell, the trustees of the settlement.
On the 12th of April 1825 at the age of 63, he leased from John Thomas Meddlycott and his son, the Rev. John Thomas, the lands of Clonroe, in the Barony of Upper Third. There was a small flour-mill, which had previously been an iron-mill, on the premises. This was taken down and the first portion of the extensive pile of buildings was begun. There were, reputedly, two or three other small mills on the River Clodagh also. One of these, opposite the Manse, was only demolished a short time ago. We may presume, then, that the weir in the River Clodagh dated back far beyond the time of David Malcolmson, but he strengthened and rebuilt it to meet the increased water requirements of the cotton factory.
A canal was built to link the River Clodagh with the River Suir, so that raw materials up to 60 tons could be brought up the river by barge from Waterford, and right into the factory, for the canal ran in underneath the receiving house. The raw cotton was then taken up by pneumatic tubes to the upper floors. The barges used were called lighters. The finished product was taken by the same means to be put on board ships in Waterford Harbour and exported to all parts of the world. The barges were pulled by horses using a tow-path up the side of the canal. Chains were used under the bridges so that the barges could be hauled through by hand. A vast mill pond was constructed, which stretched from the entrance gate right down over the present day car-park. The factory was opened in 1826, when it employed 260 workers. The factory required about 150 bales of raw cotton each week and the weekly output was about 40 tons.
The decision of David Malcolmson to enter the cotton trade was guided by practical business. He was already extensively involved in the corn trade, and with the corn laws about to be repealed, he was fearful of its future. To quote him, "We fear we are on the eve of such a change in the Corn Laws as will be very serious to this country. It is clear that for every barrel of foreign corn imported from other countries into England, she wants so much less from Ireland."
The second most important object after the cutting of the canal was to secure a greater fall and consequently increased water power for the mill-race.
When it was completed the factory measured 260 ft. by 40 ft. and was considered the largest single span building in the world. It is said that there were 365 windows in the cotton factory, and this can hardly be an exaggeration, but in any event, the windows were made to take small panes of glass, which were standardised throughout the various buildings, so that there was no difficulty about keeping a stock of replacements.
The weaving factory was situated on the west side of the canal between it and the river, and covered one acre of ground. It was a one storey building with half of its roof constructed of glass to give an abundance of light which was essential for the weavers. Two million pounds worth of raw cotton was spun annually and six million yards of calico woven. Flax spinning was added for a time about 1850.
The factory had a huge reservoir on the roof, of the same proportions as the factory itself, for use in the event of fire. The machinery was driven by three large water-wheels; two of which were of iron. The two largest were of colossal proportions; 100 ft. each in circumferences, and possessing a combined face of 40ft. In addition. there was a fourth wheel- which was an undershot wheel worked from a tunnel from a settling pond below the mill, which had an outlet into the canal. This pond was fed from the River Clodagh at a point above the three main mill wheels and the water was taken off through an underground tunnel. The beautiful cut stone work is still visible and is fitted without the use of cement or mortar, in the form of a quadrant of a circle in which the large water wheels revolved. This cut stone facing ran close to the troughs on the wheel and ensured that the full weight of water was directed into them and was not wasted by running down away from the wheel.
With the factory in production, the Malcolmsons and their manager Robert Shaw methodically re-planned the village. Houses of a very distinctive type were built for the workers to be let at a low rent.
The factory town was laid out in the shape of, a hand or rays of the, sun. A single policeman could stand in the Square and observe the whole village. Many of these houses can still be seen and are still in good condition. They have a semi-flat roof, with a timber truss, covered with tarred cloth, which became known as "Portlaw roof". It is said that the model village of Bessbrook, Co. Armagh (where the Quaker family of Richardsons. had mills) is based on the Portlaw plan, and it is also probable that the firm of Cadbury Brothers had Portlaw in mind when building the garden village of Bournville.
A school was built just inside the factory gates. By 1837 there were 100 children at the school. Later an infant school was added and by the late eighteen hundreds the number had risen to approximately 800. The children were taught the three R’s and "no interference with the religion of the children was attempted." About half of the boys and girls went to school for the first four hours of the day and worked four hours of the afternoon in, the cotton factory. These were known as "half timers." After the crash of the Malcolmsons' empire, the numbers dwindled and 'the girls' school was shifted to the Square (The Library now.) They also occupied the Coffin House at the back and the Mercy Sisters taught there for a time until the present school was built in 1909. The boys school continued inside the factory gates until the present school was - built for them in 1931. At that time there were only about 70 on the roll. The principal teacher was Mr. P. Curran, assisted by Mr. M.J. Fitzgerald, both of whom are now deceased.
On January 5th 1835 a resident surgeon was, appointed to the factory, at £100 per annum, namely Dr. James Martin. The Martin Hospital was later built in his memory
A water supply for Mayfield House, the factory, and the village was installed and it was serviced from a reservoir in the hills nearby. The Malcolmsons also built and operated own gasworks for the lighting of the vast factory, Mayfield House and the roadway.
Portlaw's oldest resident Joe Joy could remember man lighting up the town each evening. The tarred cloth for the roofs of the houses was manufactured in a small factory near the gas work on the roadway to the Green Island. There was also a mechanics shop inside the gates. Steam was used as well as water for power.
They provided billiard rooms, handball court, a concert hall, brass band and shopping facilities. At that time, Portlaw was one of the best laid out towns in Ireland , with its wide streets radiating from a centre Square in which stood a very fine fountain The fountain was made of cast-iron and was cast in the Mayfield Foundry. It was erected to the memory of an employee named William Robert Caldbeck who died 5th February 1887. In recent years. it has been moved to the centre of the newly laid out roundabout. The company also erected a town clock in Queen St. It was the duty of the watchman to go out on the town each morning at 6.00 a.m. sharp and ring his bell to waken up all the workers. The bell was to be seen in the Tannery workshop until a few years ago, when it was stolen.
The Mayfield Foundry produced a wide range of steel and iron work. The main gates were made there with their unique wheel operated opening and closing mechanism, by means of which the gate keeper controlled the two sets of gates, with a handwheel for each. This mechanism is still in use today. Limestone for the Foundry came in by barge and was unloaded at the jetty on the Clodagh River at Coolfin (old Portlaw). The engineers workshop on the island turned out elaborate castings of machinery, ornamental railings, garden seats etc.
The massive entrance gates at the site of the Copper Lodge (sold to Stradbally some years ago) are another example of the craft of the mould makers and moulders.
By the 1840's the Portlaw factory was spinning, weaving, bleaching, dying and printing. The hours were long and the wages low, but, in the context of 19th century Ireland and the approaching famine, this was paradise.
Wages at the time were 2/6 to 7/- for boys and girls and £1 a week for adults at task work. The Malcolmsons were hard taskmasters. Workers had to keep on the move continuously. The Malcolmson's high standards were reflected in the behaviour of their employees who would not even smoke in the presence of their employers, even on the, street. A district court was held regularly in the concert hall and was presided over by Mr. Malcolmson who was the local magistrate. It was the rule to dismiss any girl guilty of the slightest impropriety. A temperence society was formed which numbered almost 500 and met every fortnight in a spacious apartment fitted for that purpose. A thrift society was also formed to improve savings.
At this time the Malcolmsons were exporting manufactured cotton to India, the United States (their biggest customer), the British Colonies and the Pacific. When famine struck in 1845 and 1846 it was remarkable that at a time when the rest of Ireland was in a desperate plight the Malcolmsons were giving a lot of employment in Portlaw and elsewhere. In full production the factory employed 2,000. The original factory when completed cost £15,000 and by the time the additions had been completed, upwards of £60,000 had been spent. However, for a considerable time, the Malcolmsons had to overcome hostility and prejudice. Even when the hostility had vanished, there was still reluctance to buy the goods manufactured; the women bought from the English market rather than help establish their own.
David Malcolmson had his share of difficulties to contend with. It can be established from copies of letters taken from "Rylands History of Waterford 1824 that an attempt was made to interfere with water rights of the mill, over which the then Lord Watertord tried to exercise control. We can presume that the matter was arranged satisfactorily as he was able to continue his business.
In 1835, David Malcolmson was the principal speaker at a meeting held in Carrick-on-Suir for promoting the "River Suir Navigation Co. The Company obtained parliamentary powers in 1836. The object of the Company was to make the River Suir navigable for vessels of 300 tons burden.
In 1837, David handed over the running of his business to his seven sons and from that time they were known as Malcolmson Bros. After his fathers death, Joseph became head of the firm. He founded the Neptune Ironworks at Waterford in 1844, mainly as a repair depot for their ships, but later went into shipbuilding themselves. This venture gave employment to 260 workers. There was a painting of one of the Malcolmson ships "The Rapid" hanging in the Public Library in Waterford for many years. However, when the building was being refurbished in recent times the painting was returned to the City Hall from whence it came.
On the completion of each ship a launching holiday was declared which included the workers in Portlaw factory, who were brought to Waterford and spent their leather-money freely in the pubs and gin-shops. Mr. Henry White Malcolmson remembers hearing from his father that the main shafts and heavy machinery parts for the steam-ships were cast and fabricated in the Mayfield Foundry, and then transported by barge to Waterford.
The first ship to come off the stocks in 1846 was appropriately named "Neptune" and was built for the St. Petersburg Steamship Co. owned by Joseph Malcolmson, who had agreed with the Russian Government to inaugerate a line between London an St. Petersburg. "Neptune" arrived safely at Kronstadt and was received with great acclaim. Tzar Nickolas himself met her on the River Neva in his state barge. Forts and warships fired salutes for the memorable occasion. Between 1846 and 1880 altogether 63 ships were built at the yards.
The Malcolmson family was by then involved in a labyrinth of business enterprises which included corn mills and warehouses at Clonmel, Carrick and Waterford, the cotton spinning factory at Portlaw, the Neptune Ironworks at Waterford, the Cork and Waterford Steamship Go., the St. Petersburg Steamship Co., and the Shannon Fishery Co., The Shannon Estuary Trade at Lax Wier, Limerick, the Clonmel and Thurles, Limerick and Foynes Waterford to Limerick Railways and Annaholty Peat Works, near Castleconnell. Two years before his death, Joseph Malcolmson, his brother William and. his, son. David invested large sums of money in the coal-mining region of Germany. They held controlling shares in the Shamrock & Hibernia Co., in the Ruhr. The Malcolmsons also had a tea plantation in Ceylon and a teashop on the Quay in Waterford (near where "Fieldmaster" is today.)
After the Bank Act of 1846 Malcolmsons got permission to issue their own "token money", though it had been in use since about 1832. It was legal tender within a radius of thirty miles. The cardboard money (or leather-money as it was called due to it's appearance) was represented by. at first tokens of 21- each and then by 4 pence, one shining and a half-crown. Each token bore the signatures of the Portlaw industrialists. A great London financial house once put it in writing "We guarantee Messrs Malcolmson Bros. to the extent of two million pounds sterling. In 1844, an action for libel was taken by Malcolmson Bros. against the proprietors of the newspapers ."Warden" and "Statesmen" who attacked the Portlaw factory for employing slaves who received no money but small tokens to procure goods at the shops of the "tyrants." This was untrue as Malcolmsons owned but one shop "Mayfield Stores" which sold groceries and drapery cheaper than other Portlaw shops and the tokens were legal within a radius of thirty miles. They were awarded £500, even though the newspapers had already printed an apology.
As the cotton-mill prospered with its many workshops, English and other mill-hands poured in. To accommodate these and the officials etc., a practically distinct new town grew up on the island formed by the river and canal. To this area local usage gave the name "English Town." It was also known as "Little London". The island is known today as "Green Island." All the buildings are now gone but are still remembered by older residents
According to Rev. P. Power, the houses on Green Island were later used for piggeries for hogs which were being fattened by the Mayfield Dairy Co. Malcolmson's employed every type of tradesman: millwrights, joiners, nailmakers, turners, moulders, and other skilled craftsmen such as model makers, who made the timber bobbins for the spinning wheels, and the pattern in timber for casting iron. With the factory at its peak, it was the wish of the people that a road be constructed to connect Portlaw with the Carrick / Kilmacthomas road at Piggot's Gross. A writ was served on the landowners through whose property the road would pass. Only a few objected and on the second attempt agreement was reached. This road was afterwards known as the "Scrouty." The manager and engineer of the factory were responsible for the planning of the road.
Fiddown Bridge might never have been erected but for the Malcolmson family. They were big shareholders in the railways at the time and it was to facilitate them that it was built. They were managers of the Waterford Steamship Co. (later to become the "Clyde") and had to travel to Waterford each day. It was originally intended to build the bridge at Mooncoin, but it was felt that the railway was too far away.
The American Civil War in 1861 was a bad blow to the factory. Raw cotton surplusses dwindled. Lincoln enforced a naval blockade and Malcolmsons' ships ran the blockade. They supplied cotton to the Southern States, allowing a huge bill to mount up by the losing side. Cotton exports which totalled £40 million in 1860 fell to £8 million in 1861. Robert and Richard Shaw ( sons of Robert Shaw, the manager at Portlaw) were sent to the Southern States to look after the Malcolmson interests. They never returned and their distraught family in Portlaw never succeeded in tracing them.
It was about that time that, for some strange reason, the Malcolmsons embarked on a frenzy of house-building. All the houses were fine examples of Victorian architecture. Among the most notable were Mayfield House (now Tannery Offices), where Joseph Malcolmson lived, Milford House (later St. Philomena’s) which was destroyed by fire in the 1950's, and Clodagh House where Fred Malcolmson and his family lived. Woodlock was the residence of George Pim Malcolmson and his wife Emily Maud. Woodlock was bequethed, in accordance with Emily Maud's wishes, to the sisters of St. Joseph of Cluny, who have a rest home for the elderly there to the present day. Malcolmsons also built Villa Marina in Dunmore East for David, Joseph’s son, and Minella at Clonmel for Thomas, another of Joseph’s sons. All these houses had magnificent entrance gates measuring 10 ft. by 12 ft.
Evidence that the finances of the Malcolmsons were being depleted is gathered from the fact that they sought aid from the Bank of Ireland. When peace came, the Malcolmsons owed a huge sum. They had bad debts double that amount and were so short of cash that they had to admit their inability to meet their creditors. The "New America" imposed tariffs on the Irish cotton. Their best markets were gone forever. Their rivals in Lancashire left them standing where modern methods were concerned. The failure of the Malcolmsons was 'lone among many" in the latter half of the nineteenth century. When they were declared bankrupt their liabilities amounted to £55,894 and their assets were £1910110. Many of the cotton workers went to Lancashire where alternative mill employment was found for them. This accounts for the fact that so many surnames on the roll-book in the Boyls N.S. have disappeared altogether from the area e.g. Colbert, Hough, Partridge, Searge, Cashin, Lewis, Bowesman, Dawson, Finley, Tynagh (or Synagh), Fling and Forrest.
The reasons for the failure of the Malcolmsons' business empire were many. In addition to the American Civil War, when Joseph died in 1858 it was a double tragedy for the firm, for his widow, Charlotte withdrew his share. Then in 1867, William King (trustee of David, Joseph’s son) withdrew his share which amounted to £169,516. This David died of intemperance at the early age of 37 and he left one child, Joseph, who was seven years old, David's wife, Nanny Malcolmson, began court proceedings to have her son's share withdrawn. It amounted to £198,000. The crash of the City of London Bankers, Overend & Gurney in 1866 was another bad blow, for Malcolmsons did a lot of business with them.
Another contributing factor was that the development of railway transport destroyed the profitability of water transport on the Shannon and Suir rivers. The opening up of the River Suir also caused other problems as they had then to compete with the most up to date mills in Britain. These difficulties might have been overcome had fresh capital and fresh enterprise been brought in, but the family structure of ownership inhibited such a solution.
Many of the workers who had money invested in the company as shareholders were aware of the situation in which they found themselves, but could do very little to prevent forthcoming disaster When the company went broke only executive members were entitled to a dividend. The workers lost all their investment in the company as well as their jobs.
Nanny Malcolmson retired to Villa Marina in Dunmore East, where her son became a dedicated fisherman. Unfortunately, he died at Portlaw before he was twenty. In his memory, his mother built the Fisherman's Hall in Dunmore East, and inaugerated a trust fund to help the needy within a three mile radius of Dunmore.
The Malcolmsons will also be remembered in Tramore, where in the 1860's William was involved in constructing the Malcolmson Bank - a feat of engineering which cut off the waters of the Rhineshark from a portion of the land at the rear of the strand.
The dyke which he built had a road on top which was wide enough for a horse and cart to travel on. 263 acres were reclaimed and a fine racecourse was built. With age and neglect of repair, one winter's storm in 1912 ended a lifetime’s work and flooded the racecourse forever.
The Malcolmson business enterprises were divided into four distinct eras - by
The factory was then taken over and re-organised by the Portlaw Spinning Co. This also failed due to the introduction of the McKinley tariffs in 1897, which raised the import duty on cotton from 35% to 55%. Weaving was first abandoned and, a few year, later, spinning. The last bobbin ceased to revolve in 1904.
Portlaw then went into a period of depression with wholescale unemployment and 'poverty. There was a rapid decline in population, and the houses and buildings fell into disrepair. This state of poverty and depression continued until 1932 when someone got the brilliant idea of utilising the disused factory, and Portlaw once again looked forward to the possibility of new industries and thankfully said goodbye to a long period of stagnation.
The work of repairing the derelict cotton factory and construction of a lime yard and tan yard began in September 1932 with a workforce of 75 men.
The Tannery was officially opened on September 26th 1935, by the late Mr. Sean Lemass, who was, at that time, Minister for Industry and Commerce. He was met at the outskirts of the town by a large number of townspeople and two bands. He was escorted to the platform by a guard of honour of Civic Guards. An address of welcome to the Minister was read by Mr. Eoin (Jack) Hennebry on behalf of the people of Portlaw. At that time, 140 male workers were employed at the factory. Some of these were engaged in reconstruction work.
In the "Sunday Graphic and Sunday News" dated February 7th 1937, under the heading "Life Comes Back to Portlaw", we read the following, "an old man of ninety four applied for work in the Tannery, said he had been a Malcolmson employee, and asserted his name should be first on the pay-roll.' Every Saturday now he stands outside the paymasters office, as if unwilling to believe he has not been included in the latest development that has given his native place a chance of becoming industrially great and world-famous once more."
During the next five years, extensions both to buildings and plant had to be undertaken to cope with increased output which had by then reached 4,000 hides per week. These were turned into sole leather. In 1945, the construction of the new factory was undertaken. This building is of reinforced concrete, has four floors, an area of 45,000 sq. ft. and a frontage of 260 sq. ft. The factory generated its own power by coal-fired steam boilers until they were connected to the E.S.B. from Carrick-onSuir. For many years, in the registered offices of Irish Tanners Ltd., there hung the maps of every country, every sea in the world along which the Malcolmsons traced the voyages of their merchant ships. With competition from synthetic soles, output of sole leather had to be reduced and other lines were tried. In 1956 the "Leather Board" section was opened. A small number of people were employed vulcanising soles. This was discontinued after a fire in the section.
In 1958 Waterford Rubber and Plastics was officially opened by Mr. W. Norton (Minister for Industry and Commerce). It employed about forty, some of them female, and they produced soles and heels.
Protein Foods Flesh from the hides was processed to produce a meal which was used to make dog food. Also, the fat was exported to England for the manufacture of soap and candles. Waterford Leathers This was started in the early 70's and produced a patent finish light leather in many colours.
Sad to relate, the leather industry has seen many serious reverses in recent years. 1983 saw massive redundancies in the Tannery. The future of the industry seems uncertain. Portlaw, having shared the prosperity of the Tannery for many years, now seems doomed to large scale unemployment once again.