Stuart Nisbet reminds us of an age when the Kelvin reverberated to the clang of blacksmithing machinery
The lowest mill on the River Kelvin was the elusive and intriguing Slit Mill. It was located on the east bank of the Kelvin, downstream of old Partick Bridge, and just upstream of the railway and Clydeside Expressway.
The Slit Mill used the power of the Kelvin to turn imported iron bars into horseshoes and nails. The water wheels operated rollers to flatten the iron bars, which were then cut with water-powered shears. It was part of the larger business of the Smithfield Iron Company, whose main factory was in the area of modern Robertson Street, between Argyle Street and Broomielaw.
The Smithfield company acquired the site to build the Slit Mill in the 1730s. It was soon a large enterprise, with eight water wheels powering numerous mechanised blacksmiths’ processes, such as grinding, hammering and stamping, producing a wide range of tools and implements. The partners were Glasgow colonial merchants John Murdoch, James Denniston, Allan Dreghorn and Thomas Dunlop. Much of the factory’s output was sent out to the colonies in return for slave-grown tobacco. When the slit mill was founded in the 1730s water-powered sites on the Kelvin were in great demand. This mill did not have its own dam or waterfall on the Kelvin, but tapped into the lowest natural fall on the river, just above the oldest Partick Bridge. These falls were also the power source for the medieval Bishop Mills, which lay directly beside the falls. An extension of the Bishop Mills lade led to the Slit Mill (see sketch map).
The Slit Mill had an agreement to abstract a limited amount of water from the Bishop Mills lade, which would not affect the older mills. The Slit Mill overcame this restriction by storing up water in its own very large reservoir. This is the most obvious feature of the Slit Mill on maps; it was dug out at great expense behind the mill. The water storage system allowed eight water wheels to operate in the various iron-working processes. Below the water wheels, the tailrace discharged into the lowest tidal part of the Kelvin, near its juncture with the River Clyde.
After the American War of Independence, the Smithfield Company’s market for nails, horseshoes and tools declined. In the late 1780s ownership united with the Bishop Mills upstream and the Slit Mill was converted to yet another Kelvin grain mill, servicing Glasgow’s burgeoning population.
In common with many mills, despite changing its purpose, it retained its old title, causing persistent confusion. By the time of the Ordnance Survey of the 1850s it was known as the Slit Grain Mills.
The Slit Grain Mills were demolished around 1862 to make way for a boiler works. Today housing is built on the site and over the infilled pond. The dramatic fall on the river at the Bishop Mills survives as a reminder of the power of the Kelvin, and its harnessing to make the hardware which stimulated Glasgow’s early colonial trade.
The Lost Mills of The Kelvin is taken from the Winter 2007 edition of FORK News