Milling is significant to the region’s economy with Hamlyns operating one the most modern oat processing mills in Europe, combining the latest oat milling techniques with traditional customs. It is located just a few miles from Portsoy at Boyndie.
Preceding that mill’s opening in 1991, however, Portsoy had a bone and meal mill situated in the heart of the town at Burnside Street, behind the Auld Kirk.
One of the earliest references to its presence can be found in The New Statistical Account of Scotland in 1842 which states: “There is a bone, thrashing, and sawmill, driven by the same water wheel which has lately been erected in the centre of the town.”
A year later, in 1843, and the mill is referenced in a manuscript by Dr George Greig, noting it to be well equipped:
“The large water wheel not only gives motion to the bone machinery, but also turns two circular saws, and a threshing machine, all situated under the same roof. In working the bone machinery, however, it is assisted by a fly wheel, perhaps the largest of the kind in the north, which moves on the outside of the building within the courtyard.”
In 1888, The Banffshire Reporter stated that the meal and manure mills belonging to Messrs John Allan and Son had been secured by Mr John Ewing, Mill of Durn, Portsoy, for £740.
In 1912, the Banffshire Reporter reported on alterations to the meal mill – also revealing that the building had become something of a landmark.
“After doing service for some 45 years, the mill stalk is now all but completely demolished and operations in connection with the alterations and additions to the mills will be commenced forthwith. The stalk which is 95 feet high is said to be mentioned in the Admiralty charts as a landmark”.
The mill was destroyed by fire, and the Banffshire Journal of January 1922 states that the blaze was discovered by a coastguard who raised the alarm.
Subsequently “a large number of willing helpers were on the scene of the conflagration but owing to the poor supply of water and the faulty nature of the fire hose coupled with the inflammable nature of the material inside the building all efforts were futile.
“As the mill has not been working for the past few days owing to a breakdown of the engine, the origin of the fire is unknown.”