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Blackaller and Head Weirs

Page updated 17 December 2008

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These weirs are situated right next to Bonhay Road - few will not have been impressed by Blackaller Weir in full flow after heavy rain. Blackaller Weir, was also known as Calabear Weir and even Head Weir, which can cause confusion.

Blackaller Weir

Blackaller Weir originally raised the river level to feed the upper and lower leats, thus creating Exe Island

In 1568 it was noted of Blackaller Weir:

"The latter end of this year there was a severe frost, which was attended by a sudden thaw; in consequence of it great inundations were caused which did much damage, particularly to the bridges and weirs; Calabear Weir (now Head Weir) was entirely destroyed, but afterwards rebuilt in a much stronger manner."

Head Weir

After the flood caused by the frost, a second leat and weir was built above Blackaller, in 1609 and named Head Weir. The upper leat was extended by cutting through solid rock beneath Wear Cliffe. Since then, the leat fed by Head Weir now flows under the Bonhay Road, crossing beneath Exe Street, and emerging just before the new Powhay Mills development. Blackaller Weir was then disconnected from the upper leat to solely feed Head Weir Paper Mill on the site of the Mill on the Exe public house. Later in the 19th century, Jenkins described the two weirs thus:

">...and beneath it are two strong stone weirs, which turn the river into different Head Weir, leats, on which is situated the engine that supplies the city with water, many fulling, grist, and other mills, dye-houses, &c. a great accommodation to woollen and other manufacturers; the walk between the river and leat is not above six feet in breadth, and when the river is swelled by floods is awfully grand; the great expanse of water foaming over the weirs on the left hand, the lofty cliff, clothed with wood, (which is only separated from you by the leat) on the right, and the beautiful prospect in front of the bason of the river, with the adjoining meadows, excite a sensation in strangers that cannot be described."

Mill on the Exe

Head Weir Mill, was converted to a paper mill in 1798 and continued to produce paper until 1967. It was demolished in 1982 and rebuilt the next year as the Mill on the Exe public house. The new footbridge bridge just above Blackaller Weir is the innovative Millers Crossing which opened in 2002.

Bathing Ground

Just above Head Weir, there was a bathing place that was used from the early nineteenth-century, or before. The City Council took responsibility for it from 1864 when they appointed James Baker as the first bathing ground superintendent at a cost of 18s per week. It was situated on land rented from the London and South Western Railway, but formerly it was "Mr Carew's old withey bed" - a withey bed was where willow was grown for coppicing. In 1871, Baker was sacked for misconduct and Frank Shooter, Hero of the Exe appointed; in the same year the area was tarmacked. Later improvements to the bathing ground were made, with wooden slats for bathers to stand on after they left the water, pans of clean water for washing feet, and in 1877, fifteen bathing huts, at a cost of £56.

During September of 1872 a swimming match was run, to became an annual event. By 1883, 80 guineas was offered in prizes. Shooter won a Silver Medal for Bravery, and was feted by the City Council, when he saved a young boy who fell into the river above Head Weir and was swept into the upper leat. The leat by this time was covered, so Shooter had to swim along a dark tunnel until he found the boy, to emerge in the open just below Engine Bridge.

BlackallerBlackaller Weir is popular with kayakers.
Head Weir bathing areaHead Weir bathing ground.
Head WeirHead Weir below Weir Cliff.

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