Dell Pipe Boring Mill
John More Planning and Location of the Mill In February 1765 the Laird James Grant of Grant sought advice after receiving an inquiry on ‘supplying the New River company’ of London.
Subsequently, William Forbes (grieve at Castle Grant), John More (‘Abernethy miln-wright and sawmillar’), the Commissary of Aberdeen and James Grant Inveroury (Principle Overseer of the woods) visited several potential local sites for the new mill.
The Spey tributaries – the Craggan and Dulnain, both presented problems. The Craggan’s main problem seemed to be its tendency to flood its banks and so threaten a mill. Also, the logs would be floated, as was common then, and both these rivers were discounted as being at risk of log jams.
Another interesting consideration was damage resulting from rocky riverbeds… ‘…the Wood being floated so far on a rocky Channell was so hurt in the Bark that it is thought not so proper for pipes for the London Mercat…’ (Clerk at Castle Grant, 1766)
Drilling of Pine logs to make sections of water pipe for sale. A section of wooden pipe.
River Nethy at Lynstock, Dell of Abernethy (NJ 010 204 approx)
The final decision was made… ‘These objections and inconveniences made them all fix on erecting the Boring Miln at the Saw mill of Dell where there is a convenient proper place near the Saw-mill and which will save the Expence of a new water Run and Mill-Dam as the present will serve both mills and the same hands will do for both too, besides the Woods of Abernethy are better in quality and answer better for pipes than the wood of Delnahaitnich and can be brought to the miln and manufactured without hurting the Bark’
Clerk at Castle Grant, John More, a well known local sawmiller, was employed to construct the mill and an associated house. The agreement was signed at ‘Belliward (inn)’- possibly Ballieward Inn… ‘…I am to do everything else of wright – work necessary for compleating the said Miln and to have her ready for going and boring against the end of July next and for my said Wright work of said Miln and house I am to have Sixteen pounds Sterling…’ (John More snr 13th may 1766 )
He was to be paid in two instalments, the second on completion. By Spring 1767, pine water pipes bored at the mill were displayed for sale in London. It featured a relatively new and complex machine and in that respect, was very successful. Many pipes were exported, some pipes were used locally, for example at Lochindorb Lodge, where they transported spring water to the occupants (Dunlop 1994)
If it was to succeed further afield, the venture had to make a profit. However, the terrain made transport difficult and so would increase cost in time and money – especially as the cargo had to be transported all the way to London. The Commissary suggested that, if the pipes fetched a sufficient price in London, the cheapest method of export would be to float them down the Spey to Garmouth. Then, in Summer they would be loaded onto boats and transported to Portsoy, on the Moray Firth (Findhorn bay was thought to be a difficult place to find boat transport).
The challenge in making the venture profitable is further illustrated by the fact that even the precise location of the mill itself could be altered depending on circumstances – it was designed so that ‘the principal Machinery can be moved to another place if necessary’ (Clerk of Castle Grant)
Short-lived contracts: From 1768 there was a large increase in the sale and harvesting of timber for water pipes, using sawmills at Muckrach, Grantown and Carrbridge. A contract with Messrs Cumming, Cumming and Grant of London, involving the cutting of 100,000 trees over 15 years. However, the contract was given up in 1772 due to high costs and a trend towards local manufacture and it is likely the Nethy Bridge mill was abandoned by this time.
In 1771 another boring mill was set up by the Laird of Rothiemurchus and supervised by John More junior. It again made a brave start, and various innovations were proposed including cross cut saws instead of felling axes, sluices on the lochs, cork bungs sealed with tar to keep the pipes bouyant (and presumably undamaged) during floating and also cork lifejackets for the floaters. The operation produced 4000 pipes in two years, but again was abandoned due to English estates using cheaper Elm pipes.
Late 1760s, The Pipe Boring Machinery. A detailed diagram exists in Dixon’s account.
It seems that the machine itself did not need to be very large. This may be partly because boring was difficult and therefore could only be carried out on relatively short lengths (one pipe section in the Explore Abernethy centre is less than 1 metre, 3 ft long).
They were apparently joined by simple bevels – having a ‘male’ and ‘female’ end (Dunlop). It was apparently an ingenious design, allowing it to be easily operated by one man, ‘…this Fram(e) hath 8 Centre pins and is Moveable By inclining to the one Side or the other So that any of the wheells may be made to take hold of the Trindle at pleasure and when it stand perpendicular none of them Touches. So that the man by taking hold of the Lever …with his Right hand can make the Loge (log) go back and bring it forward again and never move From the Feeding whell (wheel)’ (William Forbes 1766).
It was likely the most advanced boring machine in the area. This is inferred from reference to an earlier pipe borer and hut at Castle Grant (Grantown) and the discovery of 3, 4 and 5 inch hand augers there. It therefore seems likely that William Forbes had knowledge of the work and would have been well placed to help design the Nethy Bridge machine.
A 30 ft diameter water wheel on the Nethy, connected to several toothed gears, turned a cutting implement which bored the pine logs. According to Forbe’s design, one turn of the water wheel gave five turns of the boring device (called the ‘womble’). The hole bored in one section was about 12cm (5 inches) in diameter (on display in the Explore Abernethy centre).
A frame anchored by ropes and chains helped move the log – allowing it to be repeatedly bored and removed and emptied of woodchips, as described below, ‘The two wheells Move’d by the Trindle, for the pulling back of the Loge till the womble Imtie (empty) the Chips the one pull it from the Bitt…’ (Forbes) Brass pulleys were used to increase efficiency – so that the ‘Moving Fram(e)… may be move’d Back and Forward without any Friction…'(Forbes)
M. O’Reilly Explore Abernethy Visitor Centre
Dixon, GA (1976) ‘Forestry in Strathspey in the 1760s’ in ‘Scottish Forestry’ vol 30 no.1
Dunlop, B. (1994) ‘Native Woodland of Badenoch and Strathspey’ (SNH research paper)
Forsyth, W (1900) ‘In the Shadow of Cairngorm’ (Inverness)
Grant, Elspeth (1994) ‘Abernethy Forest – Its People and Its past’ (Arkleton Trust)
Nethy Bridge Community Centre
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