Waterford Harbour

Waterford Harbour
Cheekpoint village 1940's

Friday, 28 August 2015

Cheekpoints Industrial Era

Today's blog is a summary of the recent walk conducted to celebrate Heritage Week 2015 and is a narrative of the afternoon and what we encountered.  

Welcome to Cheekpoint and to this years heritage week event, which is hosted by the Cheekpoint Fishing Heritage Project in conjunction with Deena Bible of Russianside Tours.  This year we look at an era of significant activity in the village and primarily between the years 1787-1813 when the official station for the mail packet, or mail boat, was based here at Cheekpoint.  The walk will also explore the industries which evolved, largely as a consequence of the mail boat activities.  We will look at the industries themselves but also glimpse how village life was perceived through the poetry of a young lady named Elizabeth Owen, daughter of the mail packet manager, Thomas.



The developments that we cover were largely, if not solely, as a consequence of the efforts of the local landlord; Cornelius Bolton.  Several times Mayor, County Sheriff and MP for Waterford he built on the agricultural improvements of his father to secure investment into what might be seen as a pet project.  

Mail Packet Station


Communication between Britain and Ireland began in an official way during Tudor times.  The mails to the Waterford area were however an ad hoc affair.   Over time the Packet boats  had evolved to carry the packages of business/government and domestic mail, passenger, and freight transportation between European countries and their colonies. However the service out of Waterford, and based at Passage East was a privately run operation, carrying post, but depending largely on passengers and freight to generate income.  The official postal route between London and Ireland was Holyhead to Dublin.  Pressure had been building on the postal service via business interests in the Bristol and the Waterford area for some time however.  Correspondence was highly irregular on the existing private service and the official channel via Dublin was slow, when road transport between the capital and the cities and towns of Munster was factored in. Further leverage in the campaign for a regular service appears to have been the need for up to date intelligence on the French fleet during the Napoleonic wars.


A Cutter
By 1786 the Post Office began working to make a second route to Ireland a reality and the Cheekpoint Packet officially commenced on 5th April 1787 with one ship and one sailing a week.  By June of that year the packet had extended to five trips a week and by August five ships were running 6 days per week, every day but Saturday


An amazing record was set during this time.  The distance between Cheekpoint and Milford Haven was 85 miles.  It was covered on one occasion in 8 hours, but the average seems to have been something between 9-15 hours.  The ships being used were cutters of about 80-90 tons and known for their speed.  Some of the ships running on the service in 1788 were; Carteret, Walsinghm, Ponsonby, Clifden and the Tyrone.
Poem: Reflections on Bolton and the scenes of my infancy
Dear Bolton, where my gayest hours were spent,
When thoughtless childhood found my heart content,
How often round thy hills at morn I stray'd,
And when fierce Sol withdrew, I still delay'd
How often have I climb'd each flow'ry hedge,
How often have I rov'd the river's edge,
And seen the stately vessels swiftly glide,
Upon the bosom of the lucent tide,
Or mark'd the busy tars those sails unbend,
Which brought to mem'ry then, some absent friend !
Past joys like these, my fancy loves to trace,
Which time, nor change, can alter or efface.

 The Green - Textile Industry
It's long speculated that the Green in Cheekpoint owes it's name to a bleaching green.   Bleaching was a process used in the textile industry of whiting material to remove stains from the manufacturing process.  

Julian Walton quoting Matthew Butler relates that "...A report of 1788 states that there were thirty stocking frames in operation, though there were only twenty-two looms in linen and cotton." (Fewer: p49)

The mention of Stocking Frames gives some sense of the work happening in the village at the time. The industrial revolution saw the creation of many mechanical solutions to what had previously been a skilled, hand crafted
work.  One such invention was the Stocking Frame, which could make socks, albeit of poorer quality, but much quicker and cheaper.  The invention gave rise to the term Luddites - those who rose up and fought against the machines and the displacement of their work and income.  

As a consequence a 
trade in stocking frame looms emerged, where they were purchased by the wealthy and were then leased out to workers to make the socks which were then sold on by the wealthy merchant.  Looms were installed in the cottages of the poor and with minimum training they could soon be turning out socks for export.  In the case of Cheekpoint, it is likely that the poorer quality material was exported directly to the army, then fighting in the Napoleonic war.
 
Stocking frame machine
In 1788 Cornelius Bolton exported "...300 dozen plain, ribbed and ribbed and figuered cotton stockings at a profit of 25%... " In November of 1789 Daniel Malone, possibly the manager of the textile business, reported that the Bleach Green had been robbed of  "...39 pairs of cotton stockings, 28 yards of calico, and 24 yards of linen, and offered a reward of £10 for information"  In 1792 Malone was advertising for "..six apprentices for his hosiery business" (Fewer: p49)

There was also mention of a cotton mill in the village and some have speculated that it was close to the Green.  However, the remains of any building of such a size have been found either around the green or elsewhere in the village.  No signs of same on any old maps either.  Is it possible that over the years hand looms. were mistaken for a cotton mill?  Possibly.  However, Anthony Rogers could tell me that his mother remembered as a child the remains of rusting machinery in a field where Tommy and Maura Sullivan now live.
 

Its likely that the ending of the Napoleonic war in 1815, would have seen an end for the demand for the local produce.  Certainly Samuel Lewis writing in 1837 noted that Cheekpoint was “formerly the Waterford post-office packet station, and the seat of a cotton and rope manufactory, which since the removal of the packets to Dunmore have been discontinued.”

Poem:  On Receiving a View of Dunbrody Abbey
Tho' we, my friend, have often stray'd
O'er many a hill, thro' many a glade,
How chanc'd it that we never met,
In this old monastery yet ?
Where still are seen 'mongst weeds and stones,
The holy Friars mould'ring bones:-
We might have mus'd till busy thought,
In fancy's glowing colours brought,
The days,- when 'mid those cloisters dim,
Was heard the solemn choral hymn ;
When still this aisle,- whose canopy,
Is now yon clear unclouded sky,
Returned in echoes deep and strong,
The matin chime,- or vesper song:
Dobbyns House.

Dobbyns house was once the home of several sea captains including Captain White.  There is a story locally that one day the wife of the sea captain was working in the kitchen when she noticed a sailor falling from the rigging of her husbands ship.  She rushed out of the house and down to the quay.  On approaching however, she was restrained.  Her young son, who may have been an apprentice, or just down helping the deck hands was the person she had seen falling, and he had died on hitting the deck. Such accidents must have been a regular occurrence in the village.


Poem:  Written while viewing the Funeral of a young sailor, who was killed by falling from the mast. 
With drooping colours, see, the sailors bear,
Their late gay messmate, to an early tomb ;
For his sad fate, they drop the silent tear :
Poor hapless blossom nipp'd in life's young bloom.
Ev'n I, a strangrer to his name and birth,
Feel pity's soft emotion o'er me creep ;
Yes, I - who lately smil'd in buoyant mirth,
For thee, ill-fated youth - can also weep.
The Bolton Milepost is one of only two remaining mileposts dating from the time of the mail station.  The milestones were obviously part of the road realignment which sought to ease the passage of carriages and good vehicles.  The milepost marked the end of the line for a network that covered most of Munster and included 38 towns. 

The cost of post at that time was:
for every single letter, sixpence
for every double letter, one shilling
for every treble letter, one shilling and six pence
for every one ounce, two shillings
and so in proportion for every packet of deeds, writs, and other things
(Antell: p19) 
Milepost
The mileposts were taken down in the “Emergency” for fear that in the event of a German invasion; they would assist the invading army!  The present milestone was dug up when the Mount Avenue houses were being constructed and was repositioned.  Many others no doubt lie in ditches between here and Waterford. 
Poem:  Epistle to A. H.
Cheekpoint is a wilderness cheerless and drear,
No kind-hearted neighbour to knock at our door,
And could you behold your poor friends pining here,
You'd say we were never deserted before.
The storm's on the hill, and the dark tempest low'rs,
The city has lur'd all my friends from the plain ;
But summer soon comes with her smiles and her flow'rs
And then like the swallows, they'll flock here again.
The Owen's came to Cheekpoint in 1787 to run the Mail Packet Station. Captain Thomas Owen and his wife Jane arrived from Milford in Wales where they, apparently, originated.  They raised their family at Fairymount.  The family were Quakers, and obviously they would have been welcomed by a strong community already in place in Waterford.  We don't know very much about their lives but when Elizabeth published a book of poetry, Poetical Recollections, in 1826 it gave hints and insights into what it was to live in this era.

Although Thomas and Jane had ten children in all, only four survived to adulthood.  Margaret Owen was born 8/7/1783, Elizabeth 26/6/1787, Samuel 17/3/1792 and finally William, the youngest was born 13/9/1781.  No mention is made of schooling, but as the Quakers set up Newtown School in 1798 it is possible, if not probably that Elizabeth and her younger brothers would have attended. Elizabeth had a strong affinity with nature and it appears that it was a central feature to her upbringing.
Poem:  Fairy Hill

My Muse can no longer be still,
On a spot so luxuriant and gay,
I write in thy praise, FAIRY HILL,
And the subject must sweeten my lay.
How beautiful art thou at morn,
Refresh'd by the dews of the night,
When glittering spangles adorn,
Thy blossoms of blue, pink, and white.
When Nature her beauty bestows,
When soothing the hum of thy bees,
When sweet of the breath of the rose,
Young Zephyrus sighs thro' thy trees.
How pleasant at noon to retire,
From the glare of the mid-day to the shade,
Where envy itself must admire,
The neatness around us displayed.
And lovelier still to survey,
At eve - when the soul is at rest,
The beams of the sun's setting ray,
Kiss lightly the blue river's breast.
Daisybank opened as a Coaching Inn in 1793.  We know the date as the hotelier, J. Sly advertised his new Inn in the Waterford Herald. The advertisement is dated as January 21st 1793  By calling it a new Inn, I think it safe to assume that the old inn is what we now know as McAlpins, Suir Inn.
I have read three accounts or reviews of those who stayed at the Hotel, none of them were very positive and one is blunt and to the point "It was dark before we reached Cheek Point - where there is a large dirty inn - for the reception of Packet Passengers.  piece from Antell book?
I often wondered why they would have located a hotel on this side of the village and away from the main road and packet.  Well the buildings of Ireland website consider the building to be much older. Dating it between 1750-1780 and speculate that it may have been built as a harbour masters home or a constabulary barracks.  
Daisy bank - the coaching Inn

We know that during famine times it was still in use as a hotel but by 1888 it became a family home and has been used as such since.  So it must have given employment to the area for over 100 years.
Poem:  Written after attending the funeral of an old and faithful servant

When living, I promis'd thee, shouldst thou depart
Before me, - a tribute of praise should be thine,
Tho' lowly and poor - yet I valued thy heart ;
'T was faithful and honest -in these didst thou shine.
Thy labours are ended ;- beside the old pile,
O'ergrown with dark ivy, we buried the deep ;
And green is the sod or thy own native isle,
Beneath it, poor MARY, in peace dost thou sleep.
Ropewalk, Brick Kiln, Mines, Slate Quarries and fishing trade.
Much of the other industries that evolved in the village during this period are now largely forgotton, save for a placename or a feature of the landscape.  There was reputed to have been a brick kiln in the Rookery end of the village, but anything of this operation seems to have disappeared.  Perhaps it was a consequence of the building boom that would have accompanied the packet.  Likewise the Slate quarries, although in this case the remains of at least two can be seen at the Barn Quay end of the village in Coolbunnia and it was believed anonther was located at nooke in Wexford.  Locally it was said that the slate was of too poor a quality and the importation of welsh slate to easy, to make the quarry worthwhile.

Cobalt mining was another initiative that seems to have been a failure.  one Colonel Hall was the chief protagonist in this opertation and as children we were often cautioned about old mine pits in the faithlegg area that we would be as well to avoid.  

The ropewalk, where we now stand was another operation and was most likely a going concern for a number of years, given the need for rope and cordage associated with shippping and the fishing trade in the area.  Ropewalks existed in several areas of the city and in Portlaw associated with malcomson's mill.  As an example of the quantity of rope required at the time, a sailing ship similar to those larger vessels who visited Waterford in 2011 for the Tall Ships event would have needed 3 miles of rope.   

Poem:  The Shipwreck
The bark was toss'd - for the wind was high,
And fearfully flew the spray ;
Twas dismal to hear the seaman's cry,
Of "lighten by cutting away !"
The masts were gone with a stunning sound,
And the vessel became a wreck ;
The steersman's voice in all the din was drown'd,
As he summon'd all hands on deck.
The storm increas'd,- twas an awful night,
For the Angel of Death was near,
They pray'd to the king of glory bright,
And he turned not away his ear.
His mighty hand, brought them safe to shore,
It was stretch'd in their hour of grief ;
When feeble man could preform no more,
The arm of the Lord brought relief.

Summer House
I was always curious about the purpose of the Summerhouse but growing up, there were no answers just speculations.  My grandmother had it that a woman used to sit here and write poetry.  I always thought she referred to Kathy Leech who lived in the street.  However it came as a surprise to be given a gift of Elizabeth Owen's book some years back and to find the following poem;
Poem: Lines Written in a Summer House 1924
1824
Welcome to this calm retreat,
Call’d the little fancy tow’r;
Shelter’d from the summer heat,
Freely pass a social hour.
Eastward turn-and you behold,
The Abbey, graceful in decay,-
Westward-mark the clouds of gold,
Glancing in the setting ray.
Here the hill, - and there the vale,-
Taste delight in such a view;
Now a bark with spreading sail,
Gently skims the river blue.
Kindered love doth here repose,
In each other, all are blest;-
May that peace which virtue knows,
Shed its sunshine o’er each breast.


Cheekpoint Quay

It's fitting then that we end where we strated from.  The mail packet was moved in 1813, the same year that Captain Thomas Owen died.  The tides, currents and contrary winds made the journey from Cheekpoint to the open sea a challange to steep.  The packet had faced early criticism and the reality was that whatever about summer sailings along the south east coast, winter sailings were a precarious venture.

These ships were embarking and disembarking from the village, but not the present quay, which was extensively refurbished in the 1870's.  By 1810 plans were announced for a new port at Dunmore East, as the site at Cheekpoint was considered too far upriver, against strong currents and wind dependent.  In 1813 it moved back to Passage East and by 1818 to it's purpose built home at Dunmore.  In 1834 the service relocated to the city of Waterford.  

Following it's relocation ships continued to call to the village, but it's clear that the village went into serious economic decline from that point forward.  
In my youth the only employment in the village was seafaring the fishing with some jobs in the local pub/resturaunts.  Today we are a satellite village of the city depending on it for work.  Our only employment now is the tourism sector.  Hopefully some element of fishing can be restored.

Poem:  Review of Childhood
Ah ! let me for awhile recal those hours,
When I in chlildhood round the village stray'd,
To gather blackberries or cull sweet flow'rs,
Whose wild profusion deck'd the verdant glade.
Remembrance blest ! for ever, ever dear,
Then, who like me so innocent and gay ;
Fond mem'ry sheds one silent sorrowing tear,
O'er days so bright, forever fown away.
Ye tranquil hours, and blissful scenes, farewell !
The thoughts of BERTHA oft shall turn to you,
While time around ye pours a sacred spell ;
Sweet spots of happy infancy - Adieu !

Many thanks for joining us on our walk, safe home, and we look forward to seeing you back again next year for another Heritage Week event.

Sources:


Antell. R.  The mails between South West Wales and Southern Ireland: The Milford-Waterford packet 1600-1850.  2011.  Welsh Philatelic Society.
Copies can be ordered directly by contacting the Welsh Philatelic Society, contact details on their website at http://www.wps.wales.org/

Bill Irish wrote a wonderful piece about the Waterford packet in Decies #60 link to online version here: http://snap.waterfordcoco.ie/collections/ejournals/100704/100704.pdf

Aalen. F.H.A. et al Atlas of the Irish Rural Landscape.  2003. Cork University Press

Fewer T.N. (Ed) I was a day in Waterford.  2001.  Ballylough Books.  Waterford

I'd like to thank Andy Kelly who originally passed me on the book of poetry. Also like to acknowledge Christopher Moriarty of the Irish Quaker Historical Library who provided many of the details of the family which I used.