“His mill was, I think, erected in the ancient neighbourhood called Yellow Walls…”1
n 1783 Colonel Richard Talbot, Lord of Malahide, a businessman and member of the Irish Parliament, built a cotton mill on the banks of the Gaybrook stream, south of Cave’s Marsh. Talbot funded the building of the mill himself while the parliament of the time approved a grant of £2000 towards the cost of the machinery.1
At its height, the mill was a major operation and large scale employer in the area. The following first-hand account illustrates this.
A Mr David Clarke of Stockport, Cheshire in England came to Malahide to assist with the set-up and operation of the mill. He stated that “I first erected all the hand spinning machines, such as Carding machines, spinning jennies, and after that I erected Mr. Arkwright’s machinery – they are now at work, and there are more spindles at work in the Manufactory at Malahide, than any other Cotton Mill had at work in Ireland…”2
The mill resulted in tremendous growth of Yellow Walls. Rocque’s 1762 map depicts Yellow Walls as a tiny hamlet. Some fifty years later, by which time the mill as a business was finished, it had grown to be bigger than neighbouring Malahide village.
Why did Talbot build the mill? One account relates that when Richard Talbot “…succeeded to the estate of his uncle there [Malahide], he found it covered by a number of idle and disorderly peasants and fishermen, without employment for themselves or their destitute families; upon which he immediately applied himself to incite their industry, usefully directed its objects, and expended a large sum of his money in building and furnishing the cotton works, and especially in the construction of a very ingenious water-mill.”3
The description of the water mill as being “very ingenious” was no doubt necessitated by its situation on the Gaybrook stream. Looking at the stream today it is difficult to imagine its waters being capable of driving a mill wheel yet they did just that (there is also a reference to cotton being spun at the mill “…by a novel control of water.”4) In order to provide the required volume of water to drive the mill wheel, it was necessary to divert some of the Gaybrook stream’s flow into a man-made reservoir called a mill pond.
The mill pond had a dam to hold back the water until it had reached a certain volume upon which it was released and channelled into a mill race which drove a water wheel, which in turn powered the mill’s machinery. The mill race then returned the water to the stream.
The mill pond occupied low ground between the present day housing estates of Millview on one side of the stream and Killeen and Seabury on the other.
The mill was an Arkwright mill5, named after Richard Arkwright, the inventor of the water frame.
The water frame was so named because it used the power of a water wheel to drive a number of spinning frames. The water wheel provided more power to the spinning frame than human operators, reducing the amount of human labour needed and increasing the spindle count dramatically.
There may be images (e.g. drawings) of Talbot’s mill in existence but unfortunately there are none available to show here.
We do know that it was a large imposing structure with 5 floors. A visitor to Yellow Walls described it in the following terms: “The building is large and extensive and when viewed from the road, contributes not a little to enliven the landscape.”6
Talbot’s estate papers7 from the period reveal that the mill contained the following areas:
• Sorting room
• Reeling room
• Upper spinning room
• Lower spinning room
• Carding room
The working life of the mill was short-lived – by 1800 it was finished. In its last few years of operation the mill was leased by Talbot to Andrew Reynolds, a Dublin poplin manufacturer (poplin is a ribbed or corded fabric such as silk, cotton or wool).
An account8 by Reynolds’ grandson Thomas Reynolds gives an interesting insight into the building, its products and the workforce employed:
…my grandfather had an offer from Colonel Talbot, at Malahyde on the sea-coast, about seven miles from Dublin, of a lease of a cotton-mill on the Colonel’s estate ; he now accepted the lease, and purchased all the machinery ; and, as the mills had only been adapted for spinning cotton, he added 20 or 30 looms, with all their tackle, for the weaving of corduroys, thicksets, calicoes, and such matters ; for which plenty of hands were to be had among the unemployed silk-weavers…
The premises consisted not only of an extensive building and appurtenances used in the manufacture, but also of a very excellent detached dwelling-house, offices, garden, and three acres of grass-land. A person named James Gaynor was hired from England to superintend the works, which, in a short time, produced the finest muslins, and employed several hundred persons, one-third of whom were children from eight to fifteen or sixteen years of age, principally females.
From 1800 to 1803 the mill buildings were used to manufacture bleaching salt via a lease held from the Talbots by the Bleaching Salt Company. The lease was put up for sale in 1803.10
In 1806 the mill was again advertised to be leased – the newspaper extract below gives a good description of the mill, its associated buildings and its situation.
So why, ultimately, did the mill fail? There are a number of reasons.
The main reason was probably the mill’s inability to compete on price with cheaper cotton manufactured in other parts of the (then) United Kingdom. The previously mentioned David Clarke was asked by a British parliamentary committee if he was “…of opinion that cotton can be manufactured as cheap in Ireland as in England?” His reply was “It neither is, nor ever will be.”2
Another factor was the reluctance of Parliament to provide any additional funding to keep the mill in operation. Although it contributed to the expense of setting up the mill, it refused a second grant when the mill was struggling.
The closure of the mill had a devastating impact upon Yellow Walls, resulting in “crowds of artisans being suddenly dismissed from their employment, the various families, who, a little month previously, had exhibited a picture of regular and thriving industry, were devoted to penury and idleness.”3
After the mill closed it was put to other uses. In 1831, the parish priest of Swords, Father Carey, set up a school in the building but it too closed 10 years later (Malahide was part of the parish of Swords until 1941, when it became a parish in its own right).
All that remains of the mill works are the mill arch and retaining bank. In the 1960s, before houses were built on the site adjacent to Old Yellow Walls Road, the mill race could be seen from the road “coming through a stone gateway in an embankment.”9 Also visible were the remains of storehouses and the laneway leading down to them.9
The mill arch and retaining bank are not on Fingal County Council’s list of protected structures but arguably they should be given they are a link to Malahide’s industrial past when not only the cotton mill, but a silk factory, salt works and cod liver oil manufacture thrived in the locality.
*This map can be accessed at the Irish Virtual Research Library and Archive.
1. Little, George A. About Malahide. Dublin Historical Record, Vol X Nr 1, March-May 1948.
2. Minutes of the evidence taken before a committee of the House of Commons, being a committee of the whole house, to whom the bill for repealing the duties on tobacco and snuff, and for granting new duties in lieu thereof; was committed; Great Britain (1760-1820, George III). London, 1789.
3. D’Alton, John. The History of the County of Dublin. Hodges and Smith, 1838.
4. Sunday Independent, Aug 15, 1926.
5. Cullen, Louis M., Smout, Christopher T. Comparative aspects of Scottish and Irish economic and social history, 1600-1900 (1977).
6. Wilson, William. The post-chaise companion: or, travellers directory, through Ireland; To which is added, a dictionary, or alphabetical tables shewing the distance of all the principal cities, from each other. J. & J.H. Fleming, 1805.
7. Talbot Family Papers: Articles of partnership in the cotton mill at Malahide, 1791. Available on CD from Fingal Local Studies Library.
8. Reynolds, Thomas. The Life Of Thomas Reynolds, Esq formerly of Kilkea Castle, in the county of Kildare, by his son Thomas Reynolds. Milliken and Son, Dublin, 1839.
9. O’Neill, Patrick. An Macalla, No. 10, April 08, 1962.
10. Saunders Newsletter, 05 May, 1803.
11. Saunders Newsletter, 23 May, 1787.