Curious about a mysterious postcard in the Hamilton reference library that was titled “Blantyre or Bothwell Mill” and wanting to know more about the Mill at Milheugh, Blantyre man Alex Rochead and I set out on a quest in March and April 2014 to find further information and investigate the mill in more detail. Alex had a recollection of seeing old ruins in the alleged mill location at the Peth Brae, about 50 years ago. Our work had us revisiting libraries, walking down the Calder, taking photos and at one point, stepping down into the river itself, removing ivy and growth in the search for centuries old stonework! What we found, and eventually concluded, appears to have been generally forgotten to history and this story will perhaps change people’s perception of the area at the bottom of the Peth Brae. The story was equally researched by myself and Alex, who deserves half the thanks for this article. I make no apology for it’s length as it was the product of many weeks of hard work for us both and we hope you enjoy reading it.
Before beginning, I would say it is generally recorded already in Blantyre’s history and accepted that there was a Mill at Milheugh, which is now gone, but there is nothing published in local history books to suggest that actually there were TWO beside each other with one of them having some very intricate and extensive engineering in order to operate, the other many dating from many hundreds of years earlier.
The Milheugh Lade
Starting back at the 1747 map, there is a curious red line drawn from the bend in the river at Milheugh, upstream of the falls, straight across the large open field and over to the Milheugh Bridge at the bottom of the Pech Brae. Given that all man made objects on this map were shown in red, it suggested a lade of sorts, diverting water across the fields of Milheugh, over to a mill at the bottom of the Brae. The mill location was known, but a lade, over the entire field? We needed to know more as such an undertaking in constructing that lade would have been considerable and there was no apparent evidence on the site to suggest a lade had been there.
A site visit showed that there were stone abutments at the bend on the river, which we thought were the foundations of a small pedestrian bridge, but could have equally been the entrance to the lade. It made sense that the most direct route for a lade, with the shortest work needed, would have been from the bend in the river, in a straight line across the field. The fields were known to have been landscaped, so the lade would have been originally at a much lower level than the current fields and long since buried.
Then we found some great dating evidence in sketches drawn in 1799 by John Claude Nattes, which showed the mill at the bottom of the Pech Brae, beautifully sketched in detail with a water wheel, but importantly, with a lade coming in from the South. There certainly looked like a watercourse coming in from the fields and the sketch indicated this looked very man made.
The 1816 map showed the lade to better effect, by a thick black line drawn over the field, diverting the River Calder through the fields and over to a mill, clearly shown on the map by a water wheel. Curiously though, this map showed the lade to be much longer, running alongside the river itself. Looking at modern aerial photos, it is easy to imagine that the lade could have come from this particular location which shows the river running very straight, almost formed by man, rather than nature. Creating a lade would have forced the water over the field, then by gravity it dropping into the wheel pit, forcing turning the wheel faster than it would have if on the riverside in that location.
After 1835, Andrew Bannatyne landscaped Milheugh when the Victorian extension to Milheugh house was added. The landscaping of the estate and decline of the mill itself may have led to the lade needing to be filled in. The 1859 map does not
show the lade and since the Mill was not at the riverside, but at the edge of the Peth Brae road, it would appear that by 1859, the mill itself was not being powered by water at that time and likely not in use.
In April 2014, Alex and I noticed indentations or depressed areas in the field immediately where the drop to the water wheel would have been. This looked like possible indications that a void was filled in below a long time ago, and now settled. It is remarkably strange and very different from the rest of the Milheugh field.
The 14th Century Ruined Mill
This rare 1880 photo shows two mills at the bottom of the Peth Brae. It has been incorrectly titled by local reference libraries as being in Bothwell, but this is confirmed by Alex and I as being the Milheugh mils. Here is our evidence for that.
The first, and possibly the oldest mill in Blantyre sat on the corner of the River Calder, near the Milheugh Bridge, (bordering on the Niaroo land). One side was circular and the other gable square, built entirely of stone with arched windows. The masonry was partially worked. Dating it proved harder, but several sources became available. The first, an old account from the Barnhill Blacksmith in 1860, who wrote :
“Milheugh Mill lies almost half a mile further south and it is now reduced to mere foundations. It stood at the end of Milheugh Bridge and it is the oldest of all the Cawther mills. It was an old mill when Mary, Queen of Scots, crossed the Cawther on the fateful 13th May, 1586, on her way to Langside. The earliest known proprietor of the land around it was Thomas Randolph, nephew of Robert the Bruce. From him the land passed in time to the Countess of March, the “Black Agnes of Dunbar”. Her son had the land in turn but before he died he handed over the Baronies of Blantyre and Cumnock to Dunbar of Enterkin in 1598 whose successors continued in possession until it passed to Walter Stuart. This Stuart was first Lord Blantyre and the succeeding Lords Blantyre were superiors of the land until the title became extinct in 1900. As the mill was astricted all the time to the Barony of Blantyre it is not unreasonable to suggest that the mill dates from near the time of Bannockburn. The mill has been in possession of the Millar family or their descendants for about 400 years. The oldest title extant is a feu disposition granted shortly after the Reformation but, before that, they were probably like all the proprietors in the Barony, were kindly tenants of the Superior.”
It is thought this used to be a lint mill. If it did date back to the 1300’s, this old mill would have been one of the oldest buildings in Blantyre, almost as old as the Priory itself.
This particular mill stood on the river’s edge and was powered by the water in that location. Today there is no visible sign on the riverbank of the 14th Century Mill, but Alex and I searched along the riverbank and could see traces of stone foundations and some worked masonry that were an indication of where it used to be. However, those final few ruins could only be seen when standing actually in the river itself!
The 1727 Mill on the Roadside
In 1727, there is evidence that a new Milheugh mill was built (see 1880 photo above). Situated by the side of the road at the foot of the Peth Brae, and directly opposite the older, ruined mill, this new mill was powered by the aforementioned lade.
Built of stone, the masonry is more modern and regular and likely had a slate roof. A large water wheel hung from the Western side of the building. The 1864 account we found describes the mill “A ruin on the side of the “Rotten Calder” having the date 1727 on its east side. It was formerly a Lint Mill. The property of Mr Bannatyne of Millheugh House.” and “For these last 90 years, as stated by A. Jackson Esqr. of Blantyre Park, a Mill has always stood where the Ruin now stands, & it is most likely that the name is derived from the Mill.”
So, the second mill built in 1727, was by 1864 a ruin itself. We see the water wheel pictured in Nattes 1799 sketch, but by the 1880 photo, the wheel is gone and the building appears to be unused. 1798 cart tax records exist for the mill, demonstrating that the second mill was indeed still being used, just a year earlier than it was sketched. But why was there no wheel or lade by 1880?
Wanting to know more why the second mill didn’t stand the test of time, the most plausible explanation was this. Thirlage laws in Scotland existed in the 1700s. (the right for others to mill on your land). With regard to the Scotland Law of Thirlage in 1752 it was stated categorically that ‘a corn mill cannot be erected, upon any pretext, within the thirle of another mill’. In 1760 John Miller, miller of Millheugh, Blantyre, complained to the Sheriff that Alexander Corse had erected a new mill within his thirlage, and Corse was ordered, after a considerable amount of debate, to demolish his new mill, something that was difficult to enforce (Source: The Scottish Country Miller). However, we know from the 1799 sketches, that didn’t happen as the mill was sketched in beautiful glory and was far from a ruin. The 1799 date is important. In 1799, in Scotland, The 1799 Thirlage Act was introduced, one law of which was correcting the right to mill and ensuring people could not mill on others land. With the tenant of the mill Mr Alexander Corse, forcibly now by law required to leave or remove his mill, I suspect his final act was to demolish the corn mill to prevent John Miller using it. Their relationship is already documented in the old accounts as one which was not of any liking for each other. Alternatively, when Andrew Bannatyne landscaped Milheugh fields in the 1830s, he may have deliberately filled in the lade, to prevent any illegal use by others of the mill. The 1859 Valuation Roll confirms the ruin was then owned by Andrew Bannatyne and that it had a date of 1727 on it’s East side.
Gordon Cook, local historian told Alex, “In 1555 John Miller acted as Bailie, he would therefore have been involved in every transaction in the barony of Blantyre. He was granted this position by John Dunbar of Blanter. A document dated 27th November 1555, was signed and sealed by a notary, Sir George Brownesyde in the presence of the curate of Blanter, James Clerk in Auchtinraicht, Hugh Hammyltoune, a dweller in Blanter, John Miller in Mylnehwicht and others.
In another document dated 27th November 1598, pertaining to a business transaction at Auchinraith, one of the witnesses to sign was John Millar, junior in Mylneheuch. In a charter dated and signed on 18th January 1599, James VI, in kind remembrance of boyhood friendship and faithfulness, granted to his cousin Walter Stewart, the lands of Blantyre which included — the grain mill of Blantyre, called the Mylneheuch, with lands, mills, astricted multures, houses, yards and pertinents.”
The rest of the story flows on quite naturally with the mill a ruin shortly after and now almost all gone. Looking into it a little further, loads of mills throughout Scotland suffered the same fate in 1799 with maps of the 1800s marking them as ruins.
Today, only a handful of stones remain of the second mill, hidden away in the undergrowth and almost entirely reclaimed by nature.
It’s always exciting to be part of uncovering historical detail that has been forgotten or needs to be rekindled. Throughout researching these mills over many weeks, certainly for me, it felt like we were making discoveries and taking a step towards the level of research normally undertaken by historians, rather than local history enthusiasts. The subject remains perhaps the most exciting thing I’ve looked and was glad to have a fellow researcher in Alex to help establish the facts. It’s hoped upon reading this, Blantyre people will now know there were TWO mills at Millheugh at the bottom of the Peth Brae, one fed by a remarkable lade, the other likely to be one of the oldest buildings in Blantyre surviving centuries until only recently, and dating back possibly to the time of Bannockburn. I have since written to the reference library for them to update their records.
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1st class multidisciplinary research both of you! 😀 The records referred to appear to be notary accounts preserved from Glasgow. The mill is mentioned in the earliest records pertaining to the area, albeit with a different name. It was probably the primary mill land of the Lordship once upon a time. Wonderful article!