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Information on the village of Bunessan in Scotland.
The walls that can be seen today are the remains of a two-storey water mill that was last in operation before the First World War. Prior to this date, grain (oats, barley and corn) had been ground on this site for hundreds of years, with evidence of an earlier 18th century single-storey mill on the same site.
The main alterations to the mill building were carried out around 1830 when improvements were being made to the general management of the wider Argyll Estate on Mull. Bunessan was developed as a fishing village, and the road from the village to Loch Don was enhanced at this time.
The building comprises a large grinding room at the front and a grain-drying kiln at the rear.
The power was provided by a water wheel on the southern end, which was fed by a mill stream (lade) that diverted water from the burn, giving a 20 foot head of water to the over-shot wheel. Traces of the lade can still be seen running alongside the road above the mill for around half a mile to Linne a Dhuais. A system of sluice gates would have controlled the flow of water.
When the improvements had been carried out in the early 19th century, a 14 foot diameter wheel was fitted to replace the earlier 11 foot diameter wheel, and grooves surviving in the end wall still show the relative sizes of the two wheels. The wheel shaft passed through the end wall of the building and connected to a series of cog wheels which turned the large millstones.
Millstones were cut locally, and traces of the quarrying of these stones can still be seen at Gribun where there is an outcrop of pebbly and siliceous gritstone. The best millstones were reputed to come from Brittany, however, and later millstones were composites, with the most suitable materials used for different elements. Examples of three millstones can be seen within the building, their grinding faces grooved to feed the grain across the stone from the centre to the outer edge. The grooves needed to be regularly re-cut (dressed).
Prior to grinding, the grains had to be cried in the kiln. Grain would be spread on a raised floor of perforated sheets of iron, which would allow the heat from the fire below to slowly permeate through.
On milling days, the crofter/farmer was required to labour for the miller, opening and closing the sluice gates, and carrying out a range of other heavy, unskilled tasks.
Bunessan Mill was a great advance on early milling techniques, which were carried out by rolling a rounded stone over grains on a flat stone base. Later, individual families used two quern stones, the upper being rotated. Water-powered mills were developed quite early with horizontal or "clack" mills being gradually replaced by the more powerful vertical wheeled mechanisms.
Up until the mid 19th century, there were at least six sizeable water mills actively producing on Mull. By 1892 there were only two – Bunessan Mill and one in the north of the island. Cheap foreign grain imports meant that large mills were developed near the ports of arrival, which led to an inevitable decline in the local grain trade.
Bunessan Mill has a category C listing from Historic Scotland.
(This material has been made available by the staff of the Ross of Mull Historical Centre, Bunessan)
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