The Miller's tale

Vol. 8 No. 2 - 2003

The Miller's tale

by Mary Jensen

In September 1995 we had just returned home to Ballybay Mill after our usual Friday shopping trip to Portadown. We hadn't even emptied the bags of groceries when there was a great commotion of barking dogs and we went out to investigate.

A couple, by their garb and demeanour, obviously tourists and Americans at that, were coming down the lane and into our yard. They introduced themselves as Bob and Susie Rudell and said that an ancestor had at one time owned Ballybay Mill. This rang a bell for me as I knew that a Ruddell had indeed been a previous occupant and we invited them indoors for coffee and a chat. The tale that unfolded was little short of a minor miracle. Indeed, this encounter was the second small miracle that had taken place in 41 years.

In 1954 a William Henry Ruddell, son of John and Eliza Ruddell and at that time aged 76 years, had come to Ireland on a visit. He made his way to Portadown where his father had been born and where he had reputedly owned a mill. Walking down Woodhouse Street he met a young man and asked him if he had ever heard of a place called Ballybay Mill. The young man was Jim Magee who lived at Kilmoriarty, just at the top of the Mill lane and who, of course, knew the Mill extremely well.

Jim brought Mr Ruddell out to visit and they spent a happy afternoon with my parents and some older neighbours, who would have known of the Ruddells and, indeed, some of whom had worked at the Mill in their youth. So that chance meeting with Jim Magee, of all the folk who must have been walking about Portadown that day, was the first little miracle.

Second Little Miracle

The arrival of Bob, William Henry's grandson, was even more amazing. They were on a tour of Ireland, had hired a car and driven up from Dublin that morning. All they knew was that, near Portadown, there was a place called Ballybay Mill, that it was down a lane off the Loughgall Road and that there was an Orange Hall at the end of the lane. A mile or so out of Portadown they spotted an Orange Hall, parked their car and walked a little way into the lane, past a bungalow. All they could see beyond that were fields, hedges and trees - certainly nothing remotely like a mill or, indeed, any buildings and decided they were in the wrong place. However, they knocked on the door of the bungalow and explained their search to Mrs McKeever. She assured them that they were on the right track - the Mill was down the lane, but was hidden by the hedges and trees.

If they walked on down they would find it and she was sure they would be made welcome. Had they been driving faster they might not have seen the Orange Hall, Mrs McKeever might not have been at home and, if they had been twenty minutes earlier, we would still have been buying our groceries and the meeting would never have taken place. We use the other end entrance of the lane and wouldn't even have seen them in the distance. As it was, they spent the day with us. It was quite amazing when they produced photographs of my parents, various neighbours and Jim Magee posing at the gate of the Orange Hall. All the people in the photographs were long dead, even the young man, Jim Magee, and it was quite eerie to see them, forty years on and from the west coast of America.

Stories that Unfolded

Among the stories that unfolded as we talked was the fact that Bob's great-grandfather, John, who had owned the Mill, had somehow 'lost' it. Alarm bells rang in my head, for I had heard a tale of how a previous owner had been driven out, having for some reason failed to pay his rent, had barricaded himself in the mill buildings and had fired shots at the bailiffs when they came to evict him. I didn't know the name of this person, but the story seemed to fit like a bit of a jigsaw puzzle. None of us likes to hear the family skeletons being rattled in their cupboard, so I was a bit unsure whether to tell Bob the story I had once heard. In the end I did tell of the eviction, but not of the alleged shooting, also adding that I did not know the name of this man or when these events took place. In any case we had a grand afternoon together. They took many photographs and also bits of stone and brick from the walls to bring home as mementos for Bob's six siblings and their offspring. We had letters from Bob and Susie for a few years and about three years ago had another Ruddell visitation, this time from a nephew of Bob's, and his girlfriend.

Interesting Communication

The best communication however was from Bob's parents, Howard and Fran, back in 1996, the year after Bob's visit. They sent the most interesting stuff. There are photographs of John Ruddell , born in1830, his wife Eliza Jane, nee' Humphreys, born in Castleblaney in 1840, together with their two eldest children, Alfred, born in 1862 and Helena, born in 1865. They had 14 children, all born at Portadown in the 14 years between 1862 and 1881. Four of these children died very young and were buried in Drumcree. One, a boy, was given no name or date of birth so may have been stilborn. Interestingly, the first five children are noted as having been born at Hannahvale, which is a substantial and once beautiful house standing in its own grounds, about a mile from the Mill on the Loughgall road. The other nine children are noted as having been born at Portadown. This makes me wonder if, between the births of Henrietta (Hannahvale, 1870) and John Hesby (Portadown, 1872), the family had moved out of Hannahvale. I remember the walls of what was probably a quite fine brick house on the lane a short distance from the Mill buildings. This was reputedly the owner's residence, so it seems possible that the Ruddells had moved from Hannahvale to this house around 1871.

The Mill's History

Ballybay Mill was both a corn mill and a flax scutching mill. Fred Hammond, who gave a lecture to our Historical Society and whose interest is in old mills, has visited Ballybay and found out some facts for me. In the valuation of 1836, the corn mill had two sets of millstones, an old pair for shelling and a new pair for grinding. The water wheel was 18 feet in diameter and 3 ft. 9 inches wide. The flax mill had 12 stocks, all powered by this breastshot water wheel, as was the corn mill, though there was not enough water to operate all the year round. However, John Ruddell acquired the Mill in 1857 and by the early 1860s had installed steam power for the flax mill, as an auxiliary to the water mill when water was scarce. He had also installed a third set of millstones, elevators, fans and sifters, so he would appear to have been a successful miller in those days, Among the stuff sent to me by Howard Ruddell are various documents.

There are five contracts for flax scutchers, dated between 1866 and 1870. Workers are to attend daily from 7.00 a.m. until 8.00 p.m. for a period not exceeding six months, being paid fourpence half penny and five pence per stone and ten and twenty shillings bounty. John Ruddell is at full liberty to put an end to the said contract and dismiss the worker from his employment on paying all wages due. On the back of one of these contract forms there is a list of employees - seven cleners(?) and six buffers - Many of the names are familiar to me as families who lived in the neighbourhood. There is a Magee and a Whaley, both of whom would be ancestors of Jim Magee who met William Henry Ruddell in Woodhouse Street, Jim's mother having been a Whaley before her marriage. There is also a Cassady, who might well have been an antecedent of my own, that having been my maternal grandmother's maiden name. Hannahvale House was said to have been built by a family called Sinamon and there is a road facing it which, until very recently, was called Sinamon's Lane and the houses along it were supposed to be Mill workers' cottages,

The only nearby mill is that at Ballybay. Poignantly, the name Sinamon appears on the list of workers as a cleaner. Did his folk once own the Mill and had they, like many others before and after them, for some reason fall upon hard times?

The Ruddell Family

The Ruddells were Methodists. I have photocopies of quarterly tickets for the Wesleyan Methodist Society, established in 1739, for Eliza Ruddell in 1862 and 1865 and similar tickets for the Methodist Society, established in 1739, for Eliza and John in 1881, 1882 and 1884.

Quarterly tickets for the Methodist Society

I have also seen a note in records of the Methodist Church that Thomas Ruddell and son donated £60 to a building fund for Thomas Street in 1860, That was the year in which John Ruddell probably married Eliza Jane Humphreys of Castleblaney. It seems reasonable to assume that Thomas Ruddell was his father, Sixty pounds was quite a substantial donation to a building fund in l860, so the Ruddells must have been fairly well off. Howard Ruddell (grandson of John and father of Bob, who was the first of the clan that I met) wrote to me a couple of times and came across as a lovely person, as did his wife Fran.

The Ruddell Family

As well as the various bits and pieces to do with the mill and his grandfather, they sent reprints of some old photographs. These confirmed my opinion of the Ruddells as people of substance.

Two pictures of John and Eliza Jane, taken at her home at Castleblaney, shows them as a young couple with their two eldest children, Alfred and Helena.

A third picture shows Eliza Jane as a more mature lady, but very elegant.

Mrs John Ruddell

Another two pictures show a bedspread, supposedly woven in 'the Great Ballybay Mills in Belfast'. This may be so, but never having heard of another Ballybay Mill, I'm inclined to take this with a pinch of salt. Most family stories tend to grow with distance in time and space and the Ruddells are probably no exception. For example, the present generation have heard of Castleblaney, but know it as Blaney Castle and seem to think the family occupied it at some time in the remote past. Perhaps they did and I'm just being horrid!

Quirk of Fate

A picture of the keys of Ballybay Mill rings true. They are the very things a man evicted and fleeng to America would take with him. A page of John Ruddell's pocket journal, the only entry in the whole book, records when he got the Mill and when he lost it. We don't know what brought about the latter event, but there are pointers.

The final picture of John Ruddell, a fine figure in the earlier pictures, shows him as an old man, sad and broken looking. By a strange quirk of fate, a friend of a friend was looking up something else in the Public Records Office and his attention was caught by a file relating to the townland of Corcullentraghmore in which Ballybay Mill is situated. It dealt with the efforts of one John Ruddell to regain possession of his farm, having been evicted on 22/04/1885, Strangely, no mention is made of the Mill and the date of this application is not until 01 /12/1903, but it appears that after his eviction, the lands became occupied by a John Robinson. In any case, the local inspector notified Ruddell in writing, that he would meet him at The Temperance Hotel, Portadown on 07/03/1907 at 10.00 a.m.. Ruddell did not keep the appointment and, worse still, enquiries revealed that he had gone to Washington, U.S.A. in 1905 to live with his family, as he was unable to look after himself.

To add insult to injury - literally - the inspector, a Mr. Ringwood, commented that John had "one short crooked leg and was unable to work". Also, the owner of the Temperance Hotel reported that he had left his hotel in a hurry, leaving an

John and Eliza Jane Ruddell unpaid bill for £20.

Not surprisingly, the Land Commission refused John's application "as he is unable to work the land and is in America".

John Ruddell in Billingham, Washington USA
A Mystery Misfortune

Bearing in mind that by 1905 John Ruddell was 75 years old, it is hardly to be wondered that he had this 'short crooked leg and was not able to work'. Many of us, even in these more medically enlightened days, are or will be in similar straits by the time we are 75! I feel sorry for the man. He apparently worked hard for nearly 30 years. He and his wife had 14 children in 19 years - physically hard on Jane, but probably also financially hard on John, At any rate, some disaster must have struck the miller and his family, for by 1885 they were being evicted, their beds being put on the roadside at the top of the lane, according to another local story, so it would not be difficult to believe that he took his gun to the bailiffs.

They left Ireland with barely enough money to secure a very meagre passage to America for the family. They settled first in Winnipeg, Canada, but times were bad, Both money and work were scarce, but according to their grandson, Howard, John and Eliza were deeply religious and saw to it that their children lived a good life and also took their education very seriously. We will probably never know what misfortune befell John Ruddell, miller, of Ballybay Mill, but I am sure that he deserves better than the scathing comment of inspector Ringwood concerning John's poor short crooked leg!

A copy of one of the Flax Scutchers contracts dated 1868