Clanrye Mill - A Special Building
There are some great buildings left idling in Newry, reminding us daily of the town’s former glory as an industrial port town. Of all Newry’s remaining artefacts which hint at its industrial past, few capture the imagination like the brick giant of Clanrye Mill on Canal Quay. This really is a special building, one I pass and observe regularly, it is a building of charged individuality and an intrinsic piece of the town, strong even having survived two fires in its life.
Like all buildings, the mill has a part in our collective memory and understanding of the town. Interestingly it intersects both Newry’s marine industry and its links to the farming rural community, this building processed grain into animal feed, it provided work for a lot of the town. Few buildings have the potential to give us such an understanding of our town.
Architecturally the building is fantastic, it takes the task of housing the mill processes and elevates this to a piece of art, poetry of brick and stone reflecting of the desire at the time for a city of quality buildings and spaces, a desire lost in built contributions to the town of recent generations.
Its form is strong, a curved corner carries the facade, resolves the off-square junction between the street and canal. This spreads the building, allowing it to change form and character depending on your vantage point.
The immense brick and sandstone facade is restrained as per its industrial use, its rhythm broken by well considered functional openings. This restraint is elevated by the economical embellishment of the sandstone, granite, blue brick and metal rosettes holding the building together. The building is a real lesson in constructing truly civic parts of the city, regardless of their function, unfortunately this lesson seems to have been ignored by most of what has been built in Newry since.
The building is located at the edge of the town. It holds a formerly key position at the quay side, its reflection site elegantly in the canal, hinting to the Venetian inspiration. Unfortunately, in this end of the town its companions of quality are reducing. The riverside church and the warehouses on basin walk retain some of the character of the area, though the ruinous state of many of the buildings in the area has reduced the potential joy of this part of the town. Of particular sadness is the recent loss of the convent buildings on canal street, very noticeably a hole in the street fabric.
This area is one of the few industrial areas left in Newry’s core and is blighted by an uncomfortable amount of traffic in what could be a valuable part of our town, it is on route to the towpath after all. Potentially the most unwelcome part of the town to anyone stubborn enough to walk, a shame as the additional time spent walking, rather than driving by the building gives you greater sense of the quality of this piece of architecture. We know its current use will not last forever and it would be great to find a use for this that benefits all.
Thankfully the buildings architecture lends itself to conversion to a variety of alternative uses. The facade would happily house a series of apartments behind, imagine the having a coffee in Newry’s highest sitting room, not to mention the benefit to the city of having life in the beautiful facade rather than the closed metal sheeting.
The building would make a great commercial building, dare I say even a council civic centre. Imagine the confidence this would place on our existing building stock if our council was to reuse a building truly of the town, rather than the generic architecture we see in the publicised proposal images of the civic centre. This would be an immeasurable boost to our current building stock.
The extended site would be more than large enough to house any parking and external space required for such a scheme - it would even be large enough to site a new high quality building if more accommodation was required, something which would improve the setting of the mill.
We need to accept the gifts this building and some of its contemporaries have to offer to the town, methods of ensuring these industrial buildings do not become hollow shells of themselves when their current uses cease will be key to how we recreate Newry as a properly civic city. These buildings should become instructional models on the proper proportioning and dressing of buildings within the town, models for creating architecture which is dignified and worthy of its place in the town. The Mill is all of the above, not everything newer will be, we’d best not loose it.