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Jute Aspiring Weaver

Broadford Works 
~ A Dark Satanic Mill

The Linen and Jute Manufactory known as Broadford Works, of Richards, Ltd. The district name Broadford is reminiscent of a period when the condition of things was very different from what now exists, for at one time all the district to the right and left was covered by a large sheet of water known as the Loch.

The oldest iron-framed Mill in Scotland and the fourth oldest known to survive in the world (after others of 1796, 1804 and 1805, all inter- related). The adjoining South Mill may be the third iron framed building in Scotland. Built for Scott Brown and Co (of Angus), 1808, bankrupt 1811 and sold to Sir John Maberly MP, entrepreneur, speculator and introducer of jute to the UK. Maberley rapidly developed Broadford Works, adopting the first gas lighting of an industrial complex in Scotland, by Boulton and Watt in 1814-15, and Scotland's second power loom linen weaving factory in Scotland in 1824. Maberly was himself bankrupt and in 1834 the works passed to Richards and Co, who had a bleach works at Rubislaw and branches at Montrose, produced canvas tarpaulins and as a particular specialism, fire hoses. Latterly man- made fibres for carpet yarn etc has replaced flax. Employment peaked at 3,000, once the largest single employer in Aberdeen.

Richards and Company, from 1892-1921. Richards was a textile factory. It produced thread and cloth. The works were known as Broadford after the old district name and they opened in 1808. At one time 3,000 workers were employed there. Notices were pinned up in the factory. They told workers about holidays (they did not get many). Notices would also tell workers that they were going to be put on "short time". This meant there was not enough work. So they might only work a few days a week.
Richards & Co operated a thriving business from the site, employing over 3,000 people at the peak in the early 20th century, and claiming it the title of the largest single employer in Aberdeen. The company made permanent changes to the Aberdeen skyline with the first of the three tallest structures on the site in 1862-1864 when they built the square chimney at the North West corner. Additional weaving sheds, flax warehouses, joiner workshops, boiler houses and more would all be built in the time of operation and expansion by Richards & Co, including a complete re-roofing of the three main mills in 1922-1923. The second tall structure, the red brick tower, was initially used in the extraction of dust.  Jute fibre is also known as Hessian or Burlap During the 19th and early 20th centuries jute was indispensable. Its uses included: sacking, ropes, boot linings, aprons, carpets, tents, roofing felts, satchels, linoleum backing, tarpaulins, sand bags, meat wrappers, sailcloth, scrims, tapestries, oven cloths, horse covers, cattle bedding, electric cable, even parachutes. Jute’s appeal lay in its strength, low cost, durability and versatility.  Richards had two factory sites in Aberdeen. One was Broadford Works on Maberly Street, the other was at Garthdee on the bank of the River Dee. Later it opened a factory at Granitehill.

Hose Manufacture

In this day and age it’s hard to imagine the working conditions. Everybody would be covered in dust or what was referred locally as ‘stour’, clogging eyes, mouths and noses. The noise of the machinery created an ever-present, ear-splitting din, with the result that many workers went deaf. Women outnumbered men three to one in the mills, an imbalance in the labour market that gained the term Jute Mill for a Whore House. It created a unique and tough breed of women, born out of being the main providers for the family. The mill girls were noted for their stubborn independence. ‘Overdressed, loud, bold-eyed girls’ according to one observer and often ‘roarin’ fou’ with drink – characteristics that caused consternation among the ‘gentlefolk’ of Aberdeen.  Working alongside the women would be thousands of children. Again they commanded only low wages, and being so small meant they could pack the machines closer together. Children under nine would work as ‘pickers’, cleaning dust from beneath the machines.

Health hazards were unavoidable. The heat, dust, grease and oil fumes caused a condition known as ‘Mill fever’, which would lead to respiratory diseases like bronchitis. And there was always the risk of accidents with the machines, graphic descriptions of which were common reading in the local newspaper


I was born in 1917 and when I was 20 years of age I worked in Broadfords in Aberdeen making hosepipes, making material for the water bottles, and tarpaulins for the navy.  I worked at Broadford's for 46 years in total.  I enjoyed the war. I used to come to the Beach Ballroom in Aberdeen during all the war years and there were good dance bands. There was soldiers stationed nearby during the war and they would come to the dances and I really enjoyed it all.


Frances Fowler (Nee Sinclair) worked at Broadford's after the war and it was a disgusting, smelly, choking atmosphere to work in and despite that it employed many cigarette smoking women - She came home coughing and stinking of Jute which clung to her like a halo and permeated her clothes. A very dusty environment and they had to improvise to keep the dust out of their lungs with head scarves - stinking headscarves at that because of the raw Jute dust. As a former Broadford's worker she died of emphysema due to inhaling Industrial dust and her lifetime smoking habit.

baedeker_abd-det01_1900.jpgFroghall Terrace WWII -
certain Regiments were stationed at the Jute Works there opposite Jute Street (later to be Spencer's Paints). We can assume they were Gordon Highlanders. They were there prior to the Italian POW's who were kept in the Jute Works later in the war and were very behaved.

The Gordon Highlanders were stationed at Sunnybank School which backed on to the Jute Works.  There was no school for the children for some time because of this. Gordon Highlanders were also stationed in tents in the school playground. The eventual embarkation of sections of the Gordon Highlanders from Sunnybank School; led to their local women standing in the Spital with tears in their eyes. Some soldiers were marched off to Ports to be shipped out to North Africa before continuing to Sicily and Anzio in Italy.

Froghall Road. Aberdeen Jute Works


When weemin were wrochtin roon o’ the clock
At the
Jute Works or Broadford’s auld mills,
They’d set aff wi’ a shawl and a kwite owre their frock
To try to get owre a’ their ills.
By gaun ilka pay-nicht alang
To buy there o’ mair than ae size:
Sae tasty as kitchie, het, sappy and fine –
Jist ane o’
John Bendelow’s pie

Lord Provost George Stephen

From 1930's John Bendelow's Pie Shop was in the Spital area. It continued to be run by the Bendelow family until around 1960.

Oh, dear me, the mill's gaen fast,
The puir wee shifters canna get a rest,
Shiftin' bobbins coorse and fine,
They fairly mak' ye work for your ten and nine

Oh, dear me, I wish the day was done,
Rinnin' up and doon the Pass is nae fun
Shiftin', piecin', spinnin' warp, weft and twine,
Tae feed and cled my bairnie affen ten and nine

Oh, dear me, the world is ill-divided,
Them that work the hardest are aye the least provided,
I maun bide contented, dark days or fine,
There's no much pleasure living affen ten and nine

Broadford Works on Fire


Maberly & Co. of Aberdeen had two hundred power-looms erected for Linen Manufacture. The power-loom has been in uninterrupted use in the Broadford Factory, Aberdeen, and that firm may be credited with being the effective introducers of power-loom weaving in the linen trade.

Gathering flax at west Cullerlie, 1943.

Flax Manufacture
The manufacture of flax is carried on to a considerable extent in Aberdeen by three firms, all of which carry on the several branches of
spinning, bleaching, and the manufacture of linen of every quality, from the coarsest floor-cloth and Osnaburghs, to the finest shirting, and one of the houses is extensively engaged in the manufacture of sewing thread.

A Sundial dated 1692 on its rounded face and the letters 'WI' and 'LS' on its squared side. It was reportedly found at the site of Broadford's Flax Mill during demolition work in the 1st few years of the 20th century. Much rebuilding work has been done in that area in the years 1901-1912 with a large house and garden being demolished during that period. The sundial is 0.6m high and 0.38m wide, with a c5 sq cm socket in the base.

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Last modified: 01/09/2013