Monks in Paisley were granted various extensive charters to net and to construct traps (yairs) in the year 1452AD for catching salmon in Loch Lomond, Rivers Leven, River Clyde and the Gare Loch.
During the early 1700’s, long before the construction of Dales Mills a dam had been built on the River Clyde at Blantyre. The area was then known as Millhaugh (the land of the Mill) and the dam most likely assisted that early industry. It is known a mill existed at this location on the Blantyre side of the river before Dales 1785 mill, for baptism records of folk who worked there, exist for the mid 1700s. Lord Blantyre was the constructor of the little dam which was known then as “the Small waulk” of “Fulling Mill”, for the thickening of the “Hodden Grey” of the Lairds of Blantyre, which was preceded by the “Little Cotton Mill” first built, and that through the “Triffing Dam Dyke” then existing, plenty of water flowed for salmon to pass freely up the river. The 1747 map shows this little Blantyre Mill directly across from Bothwell Mill.
In 1771, dredging of the River Clyde for navigation and easier upstream access commenced. An escalation in the rate of industrialisation, including construction of a number of weirs hindered the passage of adult salmon, notably including Blantyre Weir on the River Clyde (1785) and Partick Weir on the River Kelvin.
Blantyre Weir was built in 1790 during a 7 year construction period when Dale and Monteith were building their mill works at Blantyre. The original 1790 weir was 16.5m wide to allow the works to get started, then extended in 1796 to 63m to serve the growing expansion of the mills.
By 1798, it was noted many sewers discharged directly into the River Clyde and this started to affect the freshwater fish, salmon included. According to FRS Freshwater Laboratory, by 1808, there was a noticeable decline in Salmon in the River Clyde, the fish seriously impeded by the man made obstacles, with pinchpoints like Bothwell Bridge, upstream of the obstacles abundant wish plentiful fishing. In 1814, the Blantyre weir was widened again to 109m to service the new Turkey Red Dye Mill and lade and finally in 1836 expanded again eastwards to 127.5m. That expansion saw not only the weir dam span the entire river, but actually repairs a large part of it which had broken away in a flood during the spring of 1834. The sluices were on the west side, the small salmon ladder on the east, on the opposite side from where it is today. The salmon ladder was built into an eastern sluice, which was accessed by a small footbridge from the Bothwell side.
Robert Wallace of Kelty, MP for Greenock, raised an action in the Sheriffs Small Debt court at Glasgow in December 1838 against Henry Monteith, the proprietor of the Blantyre Mills for violating his rights as a proprietor of “salmon fishings” further downstream. Wallace claimed compensation amounting to £8 8s. 6d for loss and damage to his fishing at Weems (Wemyss) Bay, four miles distant from Blantyre Dam by illegal obstructions to the course of the salmon up the River Clyde caused by the collection of water to supply Monteiths cotton works at Blantyre. (It is worth mentioning that Wallace may have misled the court in stating his fishing right at Wemyss Bat were only 4 miles down the river in an effort to suggest he had rights to that part of the river!)
Mr Wallace, who brought the action not only on his own behalf, but also as a representative of other proprietors, one of whom was the Duke of Hamilton, stated that the salmon fishing at Weems was out in the sea and that any fishermen on the coast could, in theory come forward with a similar claim. He also maintained that unlike other proprietors, such as the Duke, he did not want the removal of the dam, as he knew the value of water power to the country, and only requested that the fish should have access to their natural habitat. While the Blantyre Company took enough water to keep their works going, they should leave the comparative driblet which would allow the fish to pass up and down the river. He claimed that the present sluices (1838) and Salmon “chace” were unsuitable and that poachers from near and far were “cleeking the fish” as they lay dead or dying below the Blantyre dam. Some poachers who stayed all day at the dam had their meals brought to them by their families!
After hearing all arguments for and against the dam, the Sheriff of Lanarkshire declared that he found that salmon got past the dam easily during rains and floods. On 5 or 6 runs a year, salmon could not get past the dam, and so the dam, as it stood, was an illegal erection. The Blantyre Company had unquestionable right to use the dam for the purpose of their machinery, and therefore he could not have it stopped or find a way to preserve the breeding of salmon in the river by the upper and lower heritors. The Sheriff awarded compensation to Mr. Wallace but found that for 80 to 100 days a year, the fish got over the Blantyre dam easily. He noted that the company would make alterations at their own expense to secure the passage for fish to the upper reaches of the river. In the end the case resolved nothing, because the dam was modified and raised to its present height shortly after, which restricted the salmon even more and one cant help but wonder at how irate Monteith must have been at these salmon who caused him so many problems.
Around 1850, shortly before the construction of Monteith’s Suspension bridge, the height of Blantyre Weir was increased, to the sizeable height and barrier we see today. By 1900, occasional salmon are still being sighted at Blantyre weir. Throughout the 20th Century, water purity improves with legislation to prevent dumping waste and effluent into the Clyde.
During the 1960s, Salmon were released into the Clyde in an attempt to re-introduce the species in abundance to the River. The venture was partially successful and by 1983, reports of adult salmon at Blantyre Weir found the fish trying desperately to navigate the large barrier, again.
In 1984, formation of the River Clyde Fisheries Management Trust took place to supervise and coordinate the future development of the River Clyde salmon fishing rights and in 1993, they began negotiations to improve salmon access at Blantyre. This resulted in the construction of a salmon fish ladder at the western side of the weir at Blantyre. In 1995, just 2 years after, monitored reports showed many fish ascending the ladder and being able to swim on to Glasgow.
Over the centuries, there have been many drownings at this location. People caught out by the power of the currents of the Clyde. Some of the drownings took place on or at the weir itself, a popular spot for swimming. Many of the fatalities were children.
At the time the fish pass was built, a larger project was taking place, with a new Hydro building on the same western side constructed. RWE Innogy UK began producing electricity at Blantyre from the existing weir in 1993. The weir had served no purpose for many decades, so this saw a return to industry and use of water at this location. RWE are now capable of producing 575 kilowatts of clean power from its single Kaplan turbine. Local environmental considerations were paramount during the development, construction and operation of the site.
The river at this weir can run full flow in Winter with the lower part almost the same as the upper, which is an incredible sight to behold. Conversely, in Summer, the river can all but stop in droughts, dammed by the weir and indeed it is known for people to have stood on the level level on dry ground! The weir makes a pleasant scene if you’re out walking across the David Livingstone Bridge and now at over 225 years old, is a beautiful part of Blantyre’s history.
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