Crossbasket Bridge Mill / Meal Mill

I’ve been researching The Mill at Crossbasket. It was quite unique in the early part of the 20th Century in that it was still working, by comparison to all other Blantyre mills that had ceased operating at that time. Even as late as the 1930’s the mill operated, though not at that time as a meal mill. The Bridge Mill was located over the River Calder and was accessed by a small wooden bridge to the North of the Tower. Being near the General’s bridge it was long called the Bridge Mill, a name that has existed since the 1830’s, but it had been existence far longer than that. It is also known as The Crossbasket Meal Mill and Crossbasket Dyewood Mill.

By 1634, a corn mill had “recently” been established at Crossbasket, which we now know more commonly as the Bridge Mill. This mill would go on to have several uses and may have been the mill attracting attention that particular decade from nearby John Millar of Millheugh.

At the age of 52, on 21st August 1818, Charles Macintosh bought Crossbasket Castle and Estate from General Peter. It is likely Macintosh built the dye mill, also known as Crossbasket or Bridge Mill at the back of the house on the River Calder. Formerly a lint or corn mill, Macintosh was the probable constructor of the brick walls, deep shafts and workings, on top of old foundations. This no doubt suited him well as a private place to conduct his experiments, having a plentiful source of water nearby, to power machinery and equipment. it had been substantially altered and mechanized by Charles McIntosh for the purposes of his experiments. In particular, a large, very deep hole containing a vertical drive shaft, powered by water. The mill is shown on 1824 maps.

On 12th November 1845, The Inverness Courier reported on measures Alexander Downie (the then current owner of Crossbasket) had taken “recently” to prevent his Potatoes from being diseased. The account, as well as providing a detailed insight into the process, also gives good dating evidence for the creation of further varying small mill operations on Crossbasket Estate along the banks of the Calder River. It states,

Mills set up for the extraction of the diseased root have sprung up all around us, some by the spirit and enterprise of individuals. We are glad to learn that already as examples, we can point to the mills erected by Mr. Downie of Crossbasket where work of converting partially diseased food into healthy matter is ongoing. In the meantime we may state that as an encouraging fact, that Mr Downie’s Mill which was one of the first in operation, was constructed and completed by a country joiner in the brief space of eight days. There is water power on the estate to any extent, but in the meantime, the machine works to the extent of 30 bolls per day.” A material feature of these mills is the drying of the flour when it is extracted from the potato root. It would not be easy to describe these mills without diagrams and Mr Downie’s mill will be at all times open for the inspection of those who are interested.”

This suggests a construction date for this particular Mill (known as the Chipping Mill) as 1845 but should not be confused with the larger more substantial northerly and deeper structures constructed earlier by Mr. McIntosh.

On 22nd May 1848 at the age of 38, John Cabbell won the auction for Crossbasket, buying the property for the asking price of exactly £13,000 from the Downie’s estate. In September the following year, scandal occurred close by. The Forrest’s who had been renting Downie’s Bridge Meal Mill, only the year before were caught up in a murder investigation, when somebody was shot nearby on the Stoneymeadow Road. The full story can be read at the back of my “Crossbasket” book, in a separate section ,“Tales of Crossbasket”.

During 1859, the Bridge Mill on the northwest side of Crossbasket Estate was described locally as An Old Corn Mill now used for grinding and cutting by machine saws, logwood, Boxwood, Limewood and other woods used for dyeing purposes. It is bought by the proprieter J. Clarke Esqr. of Crossbasket. The greater part of this Mill is in East Kilbryde. The part which is Blantyre parish, is a wooden shed kept for holding the ground Dyewood. There is a dwelling house about 6 chains west of the Mill, which bears the same name and is occupied by workmen of the Mill.”

A description in the 1930’s, by the Smith at Barnhill, records, “Some years ago villagers remember it being used to ground logwood for dye and occasionally it was called the “chip mill”. It was burned down some 75 years ago. The power plant of the mill, still in use, consists of a horizontal out ward flow, two-nozzle turbine wheel driving a vertical shaft. This is now geared to a dynamo which provides ample light for the mansion of Crossbasket.” The power plant had been working for 100 years and our smith says it was practically as efficient as on the day it was installed. Undoubtedly, he says, it is a great tribute and a worthy memorial to the craftsmen who have long passed to the great majority.

Much time and labour must have been spent in setting up the mill, or rather on the old mill originally there. There is a tunnel of about 30 yards in length and much stone work round the turbine and shaft. Originally it was driven by water from both the Cawther and Stoneymeadow Burn (Lees Burn). The remains of the mill still exist today and it would appear the history of this mill is quite chequered, with protracted periods of not being in use.

Pictured are the mill ruins in 2005. Anybody walking near this mill should be very careful. There are very deep wells there, filled with rusting and old machinery. The wooden bridges are removed for purposes of ensuring safety.  Photos by A Rochead.

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