Historic Hamilton By Garry L McCallum
Historic HamiltonBy Garry L McCallum 

Avon Mill.


On the banks of the River Avon, up until the mid-1990s, there once stood a Mill on the side of Avon Water, between Old Avon Bridge and Avon Bridge. The Mill originally was a 17th-century building and when it was in full operation it was used for grinding oats, peas, barley and wheat and it was the property of the Duke of Hamilton.
There were several houses, including the Miller's dwelling, a lodge of the “High Parks” of Hamilton and some colliers' dwellings, which bear the name of the Mill.

The site on where the Mill stood was said to have had a building there since 1627, or earlier. Throughout the 19th century, it was run by the Fleming family who were a family of Miller’s and cattlemen.

The mill was once accessed from the Old Avon Bridge until in 1816, parliament commissioned the great engineer Thomas Telford, to design the New Avon Bridge which connected the Glasgow to Carlisle Highway. The bridge was built under the supervision of a Hamilton Mason called King. It is said, Thomas Telford’s (who was also the designer of the Caledonian Canal) bridges always looked better from beneath than above. Avon Bridge was no exception and when constructed, it came with a Toll House attached to the bridge.

The New Avon Bridge was completed in 1825 and was immediately put to the test when the massive pillars for the Hamilton Palace were transported across it.

I found the first record of Alexander Fleming in 1841 and he was living at Avon Mill with his wife Marion. Marion was recorded as the ‘Mistress’ of Alexander and this is not to be confused with today’s meaning! In 1841 a ‘Mistress’ was the term given to a woman of higher social status, whether married or not.

Alexander was originally from Carmunnock and he married Marion Young at East Kilbride on the 27th of May 1821. In 1841 the family were living at Avon Mill along with a William Fleming, who could have been Alexander’s brother and they had 7 children, Marian, James, Stephen, Alexander, John, David & William. In 1841 Avon Mill seems to be making a good profit as Alexander was paying an annual rent of £120 to the Duke of Hamilton.

In 1851, the family are still happily living at the Mill with their children and they also had 3 servants living here with them who were Marion Carslaw, James Wilson & Gavin France.

Alexander continued to run the Mill to at least 1861 where he takes up a new lease at Raith Farm on the Hamilton Estates. He takes his son also called Alexander to work with him and his son David takes over the tenancy of Avon Mill and we first see him recorded in the 1871 Census as the tenant.

Alexander’s time at Raith farm was short as he dies here on the 10th of March 1866. His son Alexander Jr takes over the lease of Raith Farm where he lives until his death on the 13th of June 1912.

Alexander’s wife Marion also moves away from Raith Farm and she is next recorded on the 1871 Census where I found her living with her Daughter Marion at Crookedstone Farm in Hamilton. Marion’s daughter marries a man named John Torrance, who was the farmer of 100 Acres. Marion dies at Crookedstone Farm on the 29th of March 1891.

David Fleming continues to run Avon Mill until 1915 where the Mill changes hands and David’s son Robert becomes the new Master Miller. Robert is the third generation of the Fleming family to work this mill. The family have been fully integrated into the Hamilton community for the past 70+ years.

Life seems to be quiet living on the banks of the Avon, but on Saturday the 12th of October 1895, a fire break’s out at the Mill. It happened around midnight when a stack containing thirty-four tons of straw caught alight. The stack was standing not far from the Mill and it belonged to Mr Thomas Wilson a grain dealer. On that night the wind was high, and the flames soon spread to John Torrance’s stack. (John Torrance being the brother in law of David Fleming)

The fire engine from Hamilton was sent for and luckily the wind blowing in the other direction prevented the rest of the haystacks and the Mill from catching alight. The fire burned until 4 o’ clock on the Sunday morning and it consumed both stacks. The damage done amounted to £120, and it was covered by the insurance.

David Fleming died at Avon Mill on the on the 2nd of March 1911 and an obituary was written in the Scotsman. It read: The Late Mr David Fleming of Avon Mill who died at his residence was one of the oldest and best-known agriculturists in Lanarkshire. He was in his seventy-seventh year, and when a boy went to Hamilton with his father from East Kilbride. About 1860 his father took a lease of Raith Farm on the Hamilton Estate, and David was given Avon Mill where he remained up to the end. A noted breeder of prize taker of Ayrshire Cattle shows in the county and not infrequently he acted as judge of Ayrshire stock.

So, the family tradition continues at Avon Mill and now the 4th generation of Fleming’s are working the Mill. Brothers David & Robert Fleming are now joint owners. Between 1915 and 1920, they form a partnership (D&R Fleming) and thy buy Avon Mill from the Duke of Hamilton. They are overseeing the day to day duties and running the mill as their own business.

Around 1920, the Duke of Hamilton is starting to sell off his assets, the Palace is subsiding, and he is about to turn his back on Hamilton, so perhaps the Fleming brothers got a good price for Avon Mill.

Robert Fleming eventually moved from Avon Mill to “The Bungalows” which was adjacent to the Mill. He died at his house on 7th of August 1948, he was 69 years old. His brother David was the person who registered his death.

“Robert Fleming who had a lifelong connection with the Mill was well known among the farming community, in the west of Scotland. He was a widower and 69 years of age. An office-bearer in St. Johns church, Hamilton he had a lifelong connection with the congregation. He was predeceased by his wife some years ago".

What became of David Fleming is unknown. After Roberts death, the trail goes cold and I can’t find what happened to the Family. I would like to think that there are still descendants of the Flemings living in Hamilton, perhaps if any of our readers know of any family members who worked at Avon Mill then you can let us know.

The Avon Mill survived over three centuries, only to be destroyed by fire in 1963. After the fire destroyed the Mill it sat as a ruin on the banks of the River Avon and it was a beautiful ruin that looked almost ornamental.

In September 1985 a Hamilton Businessman had plans to build a £1 Million hotel complex at the old Avon Mill and Toll House. Mr Oreste Pisano applied for planning permission to turn the ruins of the old mill on the banks of the river Avon into a 30-bedroom split level hotel. He also applied to upgrade the derelict Toll House on Carlisle road into staff accommodation.

Mr Pisano in 1985 owned the Pinnochio Italian restaurant in Kemp Street and the Italian Connection furniture shop in Duke Street said that it would be a very big project that would create jobs not only in the building of the hotel but should also provide work for 30 people in the running of it.

The planning permission was refused and one of the reasons as to why was because of the Old Avon Bridge. The Old bridge prevented the building of the hotel nearby because no one could work out exactly who owned it, therefore putting a stop to the work.

Legend has it that the old Avon bridge – the first bridge beyond the mill – was built on the whim of a rich priest. Wanting to vote on a matter in town, he lost his chance because the river was too swollen to cross. 
After much expenditure, the situation was rectified and our priest, with his own special crossing point, was secure of casting his vote for evermore.

The ruin was to become a listed building and it sat undisturbed since the flames went out in 1963. It was illegally demolished in the 1990s, possibly by Mr Pisano, however, I can’t confirm if this was him that instructed the bulldozers to knock down the Mill.

It was a criminal act and Hamilton was robbed of its historic Mill which had stood on this spot since 1627. The old connection to our past was taken from us and without our consent.

So, what has become of the land where the mill once stood? Well, there is a luxury house built on its site and yes, the old Toll House has been converted to a modern home. Did Mr Oreste Pisano finally get his wish? Or has someone taken his idea? Who knows!

In May 2015 I went down to the former site of the Old Avon Mill to see how the new house was coming along and I managed to get some pictures. There is little evidence of the Mill, with old a few parts lying around. The old wall which housed the water wheel is still there and apart from that, there is nothing else to indicate that this was a working Mill, which was home to generations of the same family, who were born, worked and died here.

Garry McCallum - Historic Hamilton. © 2018

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