Portlaw – Cotton Factory.

I had read about the cotton factory at Portlaw, but the size of this operation only properly registered this morning – see image of Portlaw in the tweet from the National Library below…

David Malcolmson had been involved in milling corn in Clonmel, but with changes in the market due to the corn laws turned to cotton and commenced operations at Portlaw in 1818 1 by demolishing  a small flour mill and building a small cotton mill. Later by 1824 a larger factory 2 was in operation on the site.  The business later became known as Malcomson Brothers when control passed to his sons Joseph, Joshua and John

and by 1849 3 (see extract below) provided direct employment ‘..to considerably more than 1,000 persons..’ and also a knock on effect to an estimated 4,000 persons in the area.  By 1870 the the workforce had increased to about 1,500 and the there was a railway station near the town 4 but the original company failed in 1876 and was replaced with a smaller operation named Mayfield Spinning employing about 300 people 5.

The Mill at Portlaw was on the Clodiagh River which joins to the River Suir a short distance to the east.

Portlaw in 1777, before the large mills were built, and Mayfield where the Malcomsons later lived (North is to the right on this map)

Further Reading :
Waterford Museum – A 19th Century village, The Malcolmsons – Corn & Cotton Magnates,
Historic Buildings of Portlaw – pdf (large) document, Waterford Council website
National Inventory of Architectural Heritage, Portlaw (Buildings of Ireland)
OSI Historic Map showing Portlaw 1st edition 1841,
and later c1905 map showing  factory as disused

Entry for the Town of Portlaw in Lewis (2nd ed. 1849 )

PORTLAW, a post-town, in the parish of CLONEGAN, union of CARRICK-ON-SUIR, barony of Upper-Third, county of Waterford, and province of Munster, 9 miles (W.) from Waterford, and 83 ¾ (S. W.) from Dublin; containing 3647 inhabitants. This place, which is situated on the small river Clodagh, is altogether of modern origin; within the last twenty years, there was scarcely a cabin to be seen on that spot which is now the site of a handsome and flourishing town. It is solely indebted for its growth and prosperity to the residence of Messrs. Malcolmson and Sons, who introduced the cotton manufacture, and erected buildings for carrying it on upon a very extensive scale.

The town is situated on the confines of Curraghmore Park, the princely seat of the Marquess of Waterford, from which it is separated only by the Clodagh, a deep and rapid stream, on whose margin the mills are erected: the total number of houses is 489, many of which are handsome and well built, and the remainder neat cottages roofed with slate. The manufactory is a spacious and lofty building (with a flat roof, on which is a reservoir for water) fitted up with the most improved machinery, propelled by three large water-wheels and three steam-engines, the united power of which is estimated at more than that of 300 horses. The works afford constant employment to considerably more than 1,000 persons; the amount of capital expended weekly is not less than £600.

Connected with them are numerous trades to which they furnish employment; and in all the various departments upon which they have an influence, it is calculated that more than 4,000 persons are procuring a comfortable subsistence. The cottons. when manufactured. are bleached on the premises, and are chiefly sold in the home markets, though large quantities are sometimes sent to America.

The health, education, and morals of this newly created colony have been strictly attended to by its patrons: a dispensary for the benefit of the working people has been established, under the care of a resident surgeon within the walk of the concern; and a second dispensary is supported by the Marquess of Waterford. The formation of a temperance society has been so successful that its members are nearly 500 in number: meetings of the society are held once every fortnight in a spacious apartment fitted up for its accommodation.

The fairs of Clonegam are now Monday, May 28th, and Aug. 26th. A sub-post office is in connexion with Carrick-on-Suir; there is a constabulary police station, and petty-sessions are held generally once a month. A Presbyterian place of worship in connexion with the Synod of Munster, built by subscription, in the Guilcagh part of Portlaw, was opened in 1845. There is also a Roman Catholic chapel.

1 – Parliamentary Gazetter of Ireland 1844/45 , pg. 84 (google books)
2 – Account of Proceeding of the Great Western Railway Co.  1834 , pg. 16 (google books)
3 – Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, Samuel Lewis (2nd Ed. 1849)
4 – Slater’s Directory of Ireland – 1870
5 – Slater’s Directory of Ireland – 1881

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