1260a. Sketch of Hewitt’s Watercourse Distillery, 1869. (picture: Cork City Library)

Blackpool tales from Cork: A Potted History selection

‘Cork: A Potted History’ is the title of my new local history book published by Amberley Press. The book is a walking trail, which can be physically pursued or you can simply follow it from your armchair.

It takes a line from the city’s famous natural lake known just as the Lough across the former medieval core, ending in the historic north suburbs of Blackpool. This week is another section from the book.

Hewitt’s Distillery:

Hewitt’s Watercourse Distillery was established in 1792 by Thomas Hewitt, John Teulon (both butter merchants) and Richard Blunt (a London distiller). By 1794 the production and sale of whiskey had begun.

Although sales kept rising during the first decade of the nineteenth century, the distillery was having endless trouble with water power due to the many other industrial concerns using the same supply. Consequently in 1811 the company purchased two steam engines (a new technology) from Birmingham at a cost of £2,062.

The Watercourse Distillery was one of the first distilleries in the country to do so. The company even bought a large sawmill in 1830, which they subsequently dismantled so that there would be one less claim to the millrace and hence the limited supply of water.

The distilleries in the Cork harbour area primarily produced pot still whiskey (repeated distillations producing a spirit with a characteristic flavour), but by the early 1830s patent or continuous stills (more economical and producing spirits with a higher alcohol content but with less flavour) were employed at the Watercourse Distillery.

In 1834 the Hewitt family took sole ownership of the distillery, and a full description of it was drawn up at the time for insurance purposes. The building inventory included a boiler and still house, containing three iron steam boilers; a brewhouse, which also contained boilers and cast-metal mash tuns; a fermenting back house with coolers; two engine houses with a number of boilers (with three steam engines); a malthouse; kilns; a corn store; spirit store; and watermills.

The Hewitt family sold the distillery to the Cork Distillers Company in 1868. By 1876, distilling had ceased at the Watercourse Distillery, although the maltings, corn stores and warehouses were still used by the company.

According to local information, this latter building was used for yeast fermenting and drying during the 1940s and 1950s. By this time the distilling process had been relocated to the North Mall Distillery and Irish Distillers Ltd used the majority of the buildings at the Watercourse Road complex solely as warehouses. A cooperage was still in business, however, and occupied a workshop in the southern area of the industrial estate.

Following the demolition of some industrial buildings for the construction of the bypass of Blackpool village (which began in February 1997) the ground plan of several early nineteenth-century buildings were uncovered and recorded during archaeological monitoring of the construction works by a team of archaeologists from Cork City Council.

One of these sites was part of Hewitt’s Watercourse Distillery (the steam mills/grain store building), which were dated to the end of the eighteenth century/the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Blackpool and its


Blackpool was the scene of industry in Cork in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In this district various attempts were made at various times to start or revive the manufacture of textiles such as broadcloth, blankets, flannels, hosiery, thread, braid and rope.

The leather industry was also vibrant in the Blackpool area, giving employment to over 700 hands and tanning on average 110,000 hides annually. Tanning is the process of making leather (which does not easily decompose) from the skins of animals (which do).

Traditionally, tanning used tannin, an acidic chemical compound. Colouring may occur during tanning. A tannery is the term for a place where these skins are processed.

In 1835, records of industrial enterprises reveal that there were possibly forty-six tan yards in various parts of the city, the most extensive being located in the North Gate Bridge vicinity where there were 615 tanners in constant employment.

The average number of hides tanned annually amounted to 110,000 and from 1835 onwards, tanners found it necessary to import hides from as far afield as Montevideo and Gibraltar in order to supplement local supplies.

Richard Griffith’s evaluation of 1852 listed twenty-one tanneries in the Blackpool area. By the turn of the twentieth century only a handful of tanneries remained in production.

The main tannery was Dunn’s on the Watercourse Road. One of the most extensive tan yards in Cork belonged to Daniel, fourth son of Jeremiah Murphy. This was located in Blackpool.

The firm of Daniel Murphy & Sons was not affected by the decline which ruined many tanning enterprises following the 1830s. A partnership formed with the firm of Dunn Brothers maintained the business and the new firm became the largest tanning concern in the country at the time. The Great Famine dealt the industry a very serious blow from which it never recovered. From that date onwards, the industry steadily declined.