Stuart Nisbet explores the colourful history of a mill with which walkers by the Kelvin are familiar – in under a different name
North Woodside is probably the best-known mill on the Kelvin. This is because of the survival of the mill foundations, the dam and the long lade. At the time of writing, the final use of the mill is well illustrated on a display board.
Although the mill is well known, it is also a puzzle. Firstly, it is best known asathe ‘Flint Mill’, which is not a familiar type of watermill. Secondly, some of the remains on the site have very little to do with water power.
For part of its life the mill used water power to process flints, one of the ingredients for pottery making. The process had a number of stages, but the reason for its being situated beside the Kelvin was to apply water power to the grinding stage. The grinding house and its water wheel straddled the lade, just where it disappears under the mill site. The grinding pans were in the rectangular building whose foundation survive to the east of the lade. Grinding was the middle stage of three main processes. The first stage was the burning of the flints in the kiln, whose altered stump survives. The final stage was drying of the wet flint slurry in the drying house, whose foundations also survive.
The reason for locating a mill here was due to the flat site and the ability to create a fall by means of a dam and a long lade. On many nearby parts of the Kelvin, the banks are steep and inaccessible, with no suitable riverside sites to build a mill.
North Woodside is a good illustration of a mill which is indelibly labelled with a single product (flint), yet had numerous uses over the centuries. One of the main snags in unravelling its story is the difficulty of separating the history of North Woodside from South Woodside, the next mill downstream at Kelvin Bridge. Further confusion about the site stems from having two or more completely separate uses at any one time.
North Woodside mill is assumed to have started as a medieval meal mill and by the early eighteenth century was a barley mill. From the 1750s it commenced its long-running connection with pottery making. Initially it was used for grinding coloured dyes, when it had the engaging title of ‘the Colour Mill’. Thus rather than being lumbered with the ‘flint mill’ name, it could just as easily be remembered as the Colour Mill.
At the time, pottery was toughened by adding ground flint, and the mill carried out the grinding process by the end of the eighteenth century, if not earlier. Around this period Garrioch Mill upstream had also started up. We will find out more about Garrioch Mill in the next issue of FORK News.
The barley mill continued in tandem with the wider industrial uses. In 1802 Garrioch and Woodside were advertised jointly as corn, barley and flint mills. By 1810 Woodside was reputedly a gunpowder mill. In 1841 it was burnt down and is shown ruined in contemporary drawings. It was rebuilt as a corn and flour mill by David Jackson, whose name is still applied to the dam.
The site was altered greatly over the years. In the 1840s the lade continued well beyond the mill site, before returning to the river. In the 1860s it was still used for processing colours, reinforcing its brighter image as the Colour Mill. Flint grinding also continued intermittently on the site from the 1750s until 1963, when the mill finally closed. The later owners included the Ferguslie Fireclay Company in Paisley. Rather than making fine pottery, they used the flint for the production of sanitary ware and pipes.
Perhaps the biggest asset of North Woodside is the long lade, leading back to the dam. This provides a vivid impression of the main parts of a water mill, helping us picture other mills on the Kelvin which are long gone. Near the top of the lade can be seen the foundations of a pier of the former Queen Margaret Bridge or ‘Walker’s Bridge’, demolished in 1970.
I would encourage you to visit the site and read more about this fascinating mill, particularly while the signboard survives! Walking up the lade, the long ‘island’ of ground between the lade and the Kelvin was the miller’s garden. In 1934 it was described as being planted with threes and shrubs, and a sanctuary for numerous birds. At the top of the site is Jackson’s dam, which still demonstrates the power of the Kelvin, the source of energy for so many early mills.