In Spring 2014, I was given a copy of an old account of various historical events in Blantyre, primarily centering around Barnhill. This old account was given to Alex Rochead’s wife when she was a teacher at Auchinraith Primary. The words were actually written much earlier around 1940 and they relate to events 80 years before that around 1860. The late historian James Cornfield was shown the words in this account and believed them to be written by The Templeton Blacksmith, who was based at the time at Barnhill on Broompark Road. This section relates to Markings in the Stone riverbed under the old Milheugh Bridge. There is reference to “The Lang Dominie”, old Scots for “the tall Schoolmaster or clergyman”. Remember, the tale is told in the context of events happening in 1860.
“The Smith had known these marking in the bed of the Rotten Calder for a long time but he and his friends could not offer an explanation. The “Lang Dominie” was completely in the dark also so the two called in the Erudite Archaeologist (who has since died) and asked his opinion. Maybe the esteemed gentleman lost confidence in himself that Sunday they met at the old bridge: anyhow he could not guess at their meaning. A chance meeting of the “Dominie” with an old friend, a retired miller, explained every thing at once……and it was all so simple. Did the Deities who rule the Elysian field of learning have a smile to themselves? In the language of today “sez you”.
The markings or, rather, excavations are in the rock bed of the Cawther (the Smith gave the river its old name) a few yards north of the old Milheugh Bridge. At that part the river runs smoothly over a flat shelf of stone and when the river is not too high circular excavations, like a wheel and up to a foot in depth are clearly seen. One of them is a perfect circle; the others are not quite perfect. Each has six runnels on the periphery facing towards the centre and gradually tapering from the river level to the bottom of the excavation. Prehistoric! Of course the three thought that way.
The miller explained that, in the olden days, it was quite common practice for millers to quarry out millstones from water-worn rock. The mason hewed out a circular channel first of all, then he made the runnels to the bottom of the channel and six long chisels were hammered in below the millstone so that it might lift from the bed of the river intact and almost ready for use. After it was lifted it was “finished”, bound with iron and put to work.
Craftsmen would appreciate the difficulty of getting a stone to “lift” intact. The miller said that many old meal mills had a clause in their charter giving right of access to some nearby river in order to cut out millstones. Perhaps others have noticed such excavations elsewhere.”
The process of carving out old Millstones is very interesting. Millers would choose a suitable flat area of rock and carve a small 2 inch wide crevice in a circular shape around the perimeter of the circle, up to 4 or 5 inches deep. Wooden stakes were then hammered and jammed into the crevices, all around. Over time, when water flowed over this set up, the wood expanded all around, exerting pressure on the rock trapped in in the middle and cracking it underneath, coming loose from the rock itself. A mill stone is formed, although I’m positive there would be many failed attempts! Given the number of mills all over Blantyre’s Rotten Calder River, I’m confident there must be many locations where these marks exist in this locality. Intrigued by this subject, I set off to find the Milheugh markings. I knew exactly what i was looking for, circular holes in the flat stone, 1 foot deep, perhaps 3 foot wide. Or maybe just the initial carving with the millstone intact? Would the holes where the old millstones were carved out from still be there over 150 years later? Unfortunately, neither myself, Alex or Blantyre photographer Jim Brown could find them. Not really surprising though. In 1952, the old Milheugh Bridge was replaced by the current bridge. The markings may have been destroyed by new foundations or various holes that were filled in with concrete at the time to make the area safe. They may also have been covered by sediment or even worn away by what is generally a fast moving river at that location. The time for anybody to search for these will be in exceptional dry spells.