Dalbeattie Town - Industrial Mills

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Dalbeattie Town
General History

Granite Quarries
of the Urr Valley

The Port of

Murdoch of
the 'Titanic'

Industrial Mills on the Dalbeattie Burn :

Site Advantages :

During the last Ice Age, the Urr Valley was widened and over-deepened by glacial action, leaving a valley-bottom beneath sea-level and a series of 'hanging valleys' with rapids or cascades from the upland plateau to the valley floor. This situation changed rapidly at other points in the Urr Valley, but Dalbeattie Burn crossed a massive and erosion-resistant outcrop of granite. In consequence, except for a little vertical erosion, the Burn's course changed little in post-glacial history. A steep ravine at Barrhill and rapids at Mill Isle below the bridge-site, provided sites for undershot and overshot wheel water power. A similar site (but with less water) existed across the Urr at Buittle beside Craignair Hill.

The Earliest Mills

Dalbeattie Burn appears to have come into use for driving undershot mill-wheels as early as the 1600s, judging from the 1627 Statistical Account and the early Timothy Pont map of 1647. Weirs across the Burn channeled water into a lade that discharged into an impoundment (the 'Mill Dam') north of the Burn. This isolated the 'Mill Isle' the name of which survives as an address. Although now filled in, originally a lade from the Mill Dam powered a small corn-mill that may have been owned by the Maxwell family. The long-vanished corn-mill of the MacFergus family, at Buittle, may have predated the Mill Isle mill.

The other early mill-site up at Maidenholm or Barrhill (or 'Cunningham'), was beside the then-lowest bridge across the Burn; only a ford and the dangerous stepping-stones at Isle-Steps, near the present Town Hall car park, allowed a crossing below the Barrhill bridge line. Barrhill initially started as the 'Mill Forge', with water-power driving the bellows and later trip-hammer of the local blacksmith. It is hard to date the Barrhill mill exactly, but it was certainly in business by the 1830s. So, too, was a small cattle-feed mill, that grew in time to become Carswell's Mill.

The invention of water-powered industrial weaving and spinning machinery by Compton and Arkwright, was to herald the first Scottish Industrial Revolution. It is difficult for the modern mind to understand the impact of this new technology, but it made cheap clothing a reality for millions used to rough homespun. The mill-owner might be a local landowner or a middle-class entrepreneur, but the labour force could expect to be paid in money, - even if spent mostly at the owner's shop. People with money to spend meant an opportunity for thousands of small craftsmen; shoemakers, tailors, publicans, coopers, carters, carpenters, builders, masons and shopkeepers, at last replaced the local pedlar and his packhorse.

Mills could service mills. Spinning-mills as far away as Glasgow needed bobbins and spindles, best made from the (now gone) wood from spindle trees. Dalbeattie had at one time some four mills for bobbin-making alone. Other mills made paper, cut timber for building or ship-building, even fulled cloth and provided dye-works with power. Dalbeattie even briefly had its own hydro-electric station, the re-built version of which has been brought back into private use by the property-owner.

Granite and Coal :

The development of the granite industry is discussed separately, but it started in 1805 at Craignair and has yet to end. Most stone was to be sold for building purposes, but some went to be made into the excellent carved granite features and monuments that are a mark of the town. Polishing mills for granite were to become a feature after the 1850s, yet again upon sites were water-power and later steam-power could be used.

Barrhill's mills and Mill Isle's mills were to be joined by a third site at Isle-Steps in 1793. Those three sites each had a cluster of mills around them by the middle of the 1800s. From then, the impact of imported coal had begun to be felt; from the 1850s, coal could be imported from the Workington and Whitehaven mines by sea, from the 1870s, coal from Lanark, Sanquhar and Langholm was being imported by rail. Brick chimneys belched smoke, as steam engines drove more powerful machinery and gas lit the town. The last mill to be opened, - down at the Port in the 1860s, - has also been the last to go; Biggar's Mill buildings were finally replaced by modern structures in 1998.

Mill by Mill History :

It is easiest to examine the mills from Barr Hill down the Burn to the Port on the at Dub o' Hass, the port where much freight entered or left Dalbeattie till 1965.

Barr Hill Mills :

Maidenholm Forge was the first (and is the last) of the mills on this site. The weir, sluice-gate and lade are still in excellent condition. Records of 1835 indicate that it was owned by the Elliott family, but by the late 1870s it was run by two rival members of the Newall family as a granite polishing mill until 1916. The lade fed two high-breast wheels, an 8-spoke wood and iron whell 5' 10" wide and 16' diameter being mounted in the centre of the complex. The original wheel was built by J.B.A. McKinnel of Dumfries. The farther position from the burn now runs a turbogenerator made by Gilkes of Kendal. From 1916, the mill was the works of the Dalbeattie Electric Light Company, charging a penny a bulb. Carswell's mill later took over the site in the 1930s for their own power supply, but the site was derelict after their closure and is now a remarkably fine home, water garden and generating plant.

Barrbridge Mill was started by John Carswell and Son in 1837 as a corn-mill for flour and animal-feed. It closed in the 1970s, the rubble-built eight-bay mill buildings being left derelict until 1996 when the land was cleared ready for housing. The mill itself was a three-storey structure, the bottom floor originally housing the wheels, later assisted by a 5-cylinder Gardner diesel engine when water flow was insufficient. The bottom floor was used for fertiliser storage, there being machinery on the other two floors for the feed business. A complex system of lades, - one of which was linked to the Maidenholm Forge discharge, - powered one overshot and one breast wheel. 1The main building was similar in its appearance to nineteenth century cotton mills. A building opposite the main mill held an oatmeal plant, built in the late 1930s; it had a distinctive rotating cowl, the exhaust of the dust extraction cyclone. Separate stores and offices still exist.

Edingham Mill :Between Barr Bridge and Islesteps, the Edingham Burn enters Dalbeattie Burn. It was converted to a lade to power the Edingham wauk (woollen spinning and weaving) Mill at some stage in the 1800s, presumably by an undershot wheel. By the 1860s it had briefly become a granite polishing mill (possibly for one of the Newall family), but from 1887 to the 1950s it was the Jubilee Bobbin Mill of Lawson and Henderson. Sadly, nothing exists of what became a steam-powered mill, except for the lade; the site was cleared for housing in the early 1980s.

Islesteps (The Lade) Mills :

A pair of lades starting beside Barr Bridge powered the Islesteps Mills further down the Burn.

Mount Pleasant Paper Mill was founded in 1790 by Alexander Wilson on a feu granted by Alexander Copland. This was one of the longest-running of the mills, working successfully until at least 1926. In common with others of its type, it was a 'rag mill', converting discarded rags shipped in from Manchester and Liverpool into brown wrapping paper. A mill chimney for the hot water and process steam was erected; the lade would have powered the hammers and knives that produced the pulp. The mill is a two and one storey structure built of rubble, with a tw-storey store and a large brick boiler chimney. It has been re-roofed and is now in use as a private dwelling. Sited in Lade Lane, this mill was the highest of the mills in Islesteps.

Islesteps Sawmill and Wilmington Flour Mill appear to have been fed by a side-lade from just above the paper-mill, the side-lade passing down the western side of Lade Lane to the junction with Mill Street. The sawmill was on that corner site, with the flour-mill some yards further down. In 1870 the sawmill was known to have been run by William Beck, but by 1908 it was being run by James Bell, supplying rough 'blanks' for bobbins to the Jubilee Mill at Edingham. The flour-mill was in being until 1885, but thereafter may have briefly been a creamery. Both buildings are now private houses. Their lade discharged under Mill Street into the complex serving the mills in what is now Jackson's agricultural machinery repair business.

LeClair Sawmill was a late development, fed by a secondary part-piped lade from Barr Bridge, in 1870 supplying rough bobbin 'blanks' to the Jubilee Mill. Later construction of the Football Stadium has destroyed all traces of this small sawmill. The LeClair lade also supplied the Islesteps Dyeworks of George Kimm, sited not far from the edge of the Burn near Jackson's, of which it is now a garage.

Islesteps Mill was right at the bottom of the main lade and took in water from the secondary lade as well. It began in 1801 as the wauk (woollen) mill of Hugh Lindsay, but by 1845 was the bobbin mill of Thomas and William Helme, who later concentrated their efforts on their Mill Isle site. After becoming the workshops of Motherwell's (the base of their factory steam boiler chimney still survives), the building became A.& F. Jackson's agricultural machinery business. The writer was shown the old 1920s Banki turbine still in position in its pit, at the south end of the existing buildings. The lade was filled in during the 1950s and 1960s, as the channels were a hazard.

Mill Isle Mills :

Newall's and Shearer's Granite Polishing Works were erected in about 1865 on sites immediately below the Mill Dam. Newall's had begun the first polishing works at Maidenholme Forge, but moved down to Mill Isle. Shearer's appear to have started their works below the Mill Dam before the arrival of Newall's. Nothing survives of their works, but later the amalgamated firm had a steam-powered polishing works in the buildings now occupied by Jardine's garage and Jet filling station. Johnson's the builders have a small workshop and sawmill in the lower part of the old stoneworking yard. The Mill Dam is now filled in as an overspill car-park for local businesses and the local Clinic. Sadly, the buildings may be demolished if a new supermarket is built in the area.

Mill Isle Corn Mill was built sometime in the 1600s on a lade downstream from the Mill Dam. By 1835 it had become the woodyard and sawmill run later in 1880 by Thomas and William Helme. In 1793, the Statistical Account records a lint (linen) mill as being beside the corn mill and fed from the same lade, but by 1835 this had become part of the Helme sawmill. Nothing is known to survive.

Other Mills :

Nether Place Threshing Mill was shown on the 1863 Ordnance Survey map of the Dalbeattie area, on a bend of the Burn some hundreds of yards south of Mill Isle. It is suspected that this is one of several feed and threshing mills in the Dalbeattie area. Others (with lades annd mill-dam) existed near Richorn Farm, Meikle Dalbeattie Farm and other farms between Craignair and Palnackie.

Biggar's or Port Mill was steam-powered from the outset, built in 1865 by James Biggar to replace his earlier 'Meikle Mill' works on the Haugh of Urr Road. At both sites, bones and acid were used to make superphosphate fertiliser. A site beside the Port gave the Mill easy access to the bargeloads of imported coal and bonemeal from Liverpool needed to supply the mill. The 'Meikle Mill', built in 1840, is now a terrace of three houses, but there is still a depot of Amalgamated Farmers on the site of the now-demolished Port Mill. Since 1965, all freight has been by road. As the later days of the Port are closely linked to Biggar's, readers are advised to examine that section as well.

Mills elsewhere in the Lower Urr Valley :

The port of Kippford did have a paper mill, which operated for a short time in the 1860s near Orchard Knowes, loading and unloading at a wharf near Shennan Creek. Details on this are still being collected.

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Dalbeattie Internet's owl Designed and managed for pleasure and profit by
Richard Edkins.
Site commenced 29th December 1997,
last updated 10th November 1999.