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Grandholm Mill

Grandholm, a village, with woollen works, in Old Machar parish, Aberdeenshire, on the left bank of the Don, opposite Woodside, and 2 miles NNW of Aberdeen. Grandholm Cottage, long the residence of James Hadden, Esq., the principal proprietor of the Mills, and Provost of Aberdeen, stood on the brow of a rising ground commanding an extensive view of the Don's valley, and about 1849 was replaced by a handsome edifice. Grandholm House, an older mansion, stands higher up the Don, 2 miles N of Auchmill, and is the seat of William Roger Paton, Esq. (b. 1857; suc. 1879), who holds 1745 acres in the shire, valued at £2050 per annum

Gordon's Mills are presumably earlier than 1639, when William Gordon of Gordon's Mills was reportedly wounded at the Battle at the Bridge of Dee (Milne 1911, 228). According to Milne, the Mill or Mills were 1st of all for meal. Later they became a woollen manufactory and subsequently a paper mill. G M Fraser asserts that Gordon's Mills was the site of the 1st paper mill in Aberdeen, opened by Patrick Sandilands in 1696 and that by 1703 it had become a textile mill referred to as `Northmills at Gordon's Mills' (Fraser 1986, 185-6).

James Gordon - Map of Aberdeen 1661

The map of Scotland drawn by Robert Gordon of Straloch in 1654 depicts what appears to be a settlement called Gordon’s Mill, while the map of 1661, by his son James Gordon of Rothiemay, shows Gordon's Mill. Gordon's Mills appear on Taylor's map of 1773, where several buildings are shown, including some which seem to be in the northern part of the present site. On the first Ordnance Survey map made of the area, in 1867-69, the woollen mill is shown in the northern portion of the area, situated partly within and partly outside the present site, while an additional corn mill is depicted approximately 250 metres to the south-east, next to the riverbank. By that date, if not before, the name Gordon's Mills seems to have come to refer to the area around and between the woollen mill and the corn mill.

On the 1926 Ordnance Survey map, the woollen mill still occupies the northern portion of the area, while Donside Paper Mills is represented to the south-east by an extensive complex of buildings. 

Thomas Leys of Glasgoforest
Provost Leys was a son of Baillie Francis Leys, who died in November 1788 by his wife Elizabeth Ingram a daughter of William INGRAM, merchant in Huntly. The Provost’s parents were married in 1755, and, besides himself, there was a daughter who became the wife of Provost Alexander BREBNER in 1783. Provost Leys was unmarried, and died on the 24th October, 1809 at the early age of 45 years, much regretted, as he had given great promise of public usefulness. In 1749, the Provost’s father, as a member of the firm of Leys, Still and Co., afterwards known as Leys Masson & Co., started a manufactory for linen thread and cloth at Gordon’s Mills, now known as Grandholm Works. In this business the Provost was actively engaged along with his brother-in-law, Provost Alexander BREBNER, and Provost James HADDEN as partners. On his father’s death in 1788, the Provost succeeded to his interest in the works, and also to the estate of Glasgoforest, in the parish of Kinellar. He was, at he time of his death, Convener of the County of Aberdeen.

Grandholm Works Flax Spinning
Before Crombie’s time, Grandholm Works was the largest linen works in the country. It was set up as a flax spinning mill in 1792 by Leys, Still & Co. (who later became Leys Masson & Co.)  The firm was among the largest flax spinners in Scotland, but went bankrupt in 1848, and apart from a brief period in 1849-50 when it was operated by Alexander Hadden of Hadden & Curtis, the Mill lay empty.  It was a troubled era: the now Leys Masson’s neighbours, Gordon Barron & Co., went out of business as cotton spinners in 1851, partly due to a long-running litigation about water rights on the Don. Their opponents in the case were Leys Masson & Co. of Grandholm Mills. Despite its period of inactivity, Grandholm was one of the few textile factories to survive the economic crisis of the 1840s and 1850s when Aberdeen’s textile industry collapsed – in 1859, J & J Crombie took over Grandholm from its receiver, Major Paton, and made a success of it.   

Grandholm Mill

The Fittie fishers a' forsook
Creel, yawl and coble, net, and hook,
And spinners left the Poynernook,
For the Bridal o' Balgownie.

The Spittal wabsters qiiat their looms.
The Gran'holm queans their reelin rooms,
To shak' their hochs and knack their thooms.
At the Bridal o' Balgownie.

The Braidgate sparks cam' braw and spruce,
Frae counter-board and countin' hoose.
And Bailies big and Deacons douce.
To the Bridal o' Balgownie.

They cam' frae north—they cam' frae south,
Frae yont the Month, and Tap o' Noth,
To cram their craps, and slock their drouth,
To the Bridal o' Balgownie.

John Imlah

In 1859 Crombie's took over the Grandholm woollen mill of Leys, Masson & Co and it remained in Crombie family control until 1893.

The company prospered under the direction of Alexander Ross and his son John, who established an excellent reputation for community service. The firm's customer list included not just the British Army but the Russian and Confederate Armies as well. A progressive company, Crombie employed 1,200 and provided paid holidays and sick pay in the 1930s.  In 1983 a Visitor Centre opened, but in later years the site was scaled down. This Plan shows 5 Lades (races) passing through the Mill Complex to rejoin the river downstream

Grandholm Mill made woollen cloth. The mills opened in the 1790s and closed 1991. Like many cloth mills Grandholm was beside a river. It is on the north bank of the River Don, close to Tillydrone. When it was 1st built it used water-power to drive its machinery. Large water wheels were turned by water taken from the river. The wheel powered machines in the factory. Later a steam engine was used and later still electric motors.
Situated in rural surroundings on the bank of the river Don 3 miles from Aberdeen, the Grandholm Mill is the home of the world famous Crombie Cloths. John Crombie founded the business nearly 200 years ago, and travelled to London on horseback to sell his wares.In the past there were textile mills in Aberdeen. Textile mills are factories which make cloth.  The mills in Aberdeen made cotton, linen and woollen cloth. The first textile mills were built beside rivers because they used water to turn huge wheels which powered the machinery in the factory.

Grandholm Mill was beside the River Don. When it was first built it used water-power to drive machinery. Grandholm Mill made woollen cloth. The mill was owned by J & J Crombie. Crombie cloth is famous around the world.

The heavy coat is called Crombie because J and J Crombie made the cloth. They had a woollen mill at Grandholm. Crombie cloth is world famous. It was made using the highest quality wool. Cheviot, Merino and Cashmere wool was used. The cloth was very warm so it was good for clothing in cold climates - such as Aberdeen's.

The early flax mills were unsuccessful and were stopped at the time of the Russian War. After a time they were purchased by the proprietors of Cothal Mills near Fintray and converted into a cloth manufactory.

Fine woollen cloth, by the Messrs Crombie, at Cothal Mills, which was begun about the year 1798, under a different firm, and has been carried on since that period without intermission. Mr John Crombie has conducted it since 1806. It produces, on an average, from 7500 to 8000 yards per annum, of the value of from 14s. to 24s. per yard. This branch of business, principally owing to the number of complicated and variable processes, through which the material must pass before it be brought out in a finished state, is attended with several difficulties, and is almost confined to 3 or 4 counties in the west of England and Yorkshire. These difficulties have been overcome here, by encouraging English operatives to settle in this country; and the business is now managed by an English foreman over each different department, having under his inspection Scotch and English labourers, who perform the operative parts. The advantages which attend the manufacture of cloths here, are a plentiful supply of excellent water, and a powerful waterfall, which saves the expenses of steam-power. Wages are also lower here than in manufacturing districts where provisions are high. Considerable encouragement has been given to this manufactory by the Board of Trustees for the Encouragement of Manufactures in Scotland, who have annually given considerable premiums, in the gaining of which the Messrs Crombie have been very successful.

The Grandholme Mill’s waterwheel was claimed to be the largest in the world when it was built in 1826 by Hewes & Wren of Manchester: at 25 feet in diameter, the wheel weighed 100 tons and generated 200hp. Once the steam engines were installed, the giant water wheel took on a life of its own. It was kept ‘in reserve’ at Grandholm until 1897, but rather than going for scrap, it was bought by Alex. Pirie & Sons, who owned Stoneywood Papermill. They earmarked it for their Woodside Works, where they carried out rag-breaking, so the wheel was taken apart and moved a few 100 yards upstream to Woodside, where it earned its keep until 1965.

By then, the 140-year-old wheel was the largest of its kind left in Europe – a remarkable survivor from the earliest days of the Industrial Revolution – and the Royal Scottish Museum was determined to save it. The wheel was painstakingly dismantled for a 2nd time, and loaded on lorries which took it south to Chambers Street in Edinburgh, where it is still on display.

Cothal Mill
The managers at Cothal Mills, Fintray, finding that their clothing machines were particularly well adapted to the manufacture of this article, by working finer wools than were generally used for these goods, soon produced stuffs that found a ready market in London as well as in Scotland. The consequence has been, that, from the steady demand, they have been enabled to double their production, and of course the number of hands' has been increased.

Since the year 1836, a branch of manufacture has sprung up in the South of Scotland, which has had the effect of considerably decreasing the consumption of fine cloths throughout the kingdom. The article alluded to is plaid, or what is now more usually denominated "tweed."

Crombie Heritage

J & J Crombie – the firm who make the famous woollen overcoats. They were founded in 1805 and worked in the city for almost two centuries, until (having long since passed out of Scottish ownership) they were shut down by owners Illingworth Morris in 1991, and production moved elsewhere.

Another woollen mill also owned by Illingworth Morris and similarly shut down, then unceremoniously flattened: Huddersfield Fine Weavers, at Kirkheaton. the connection between Crombie and Illingworth Morris they were bought over decades ago, when Illingworth Morris was owned by the wife of James Mason, the famous British actor.

Woollen blankets were made by Crombie  - Gordon Highlanders during the War, and fought in the Palestine, used to wear Crombie greatcoats.

Links with Russia are established which persist to the present day.  Crombie entered the Russian market in 1880 with the "Russian Coat" - a heavy pile coat specially designed to shield wearers from the harsh Russian winter. Crombie soon established a favourable reputation in Russia, and became the fabric of choice for Tsars, the Russian Imperial court, and later even the Politburo. When the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev stepped onto British soil for the first time at Heathrow in December 1984, television commentators observed that he was wearing his British Crombie coat.

Crombie turns its expertise to lighter weight coats, suits and morning coats for markets opening up in France, Germany and Belgium.  The Crombie "Beaver-Raised" woollen overcoating proved an international success, particularly for gentlemen's wedding attire. The cloth, made from merino wool, was given a secret finish that imparted a mirror-like gloss

During the 1st World War, Crombie temporarily switched its production to military officers' uniforms.  Such was the extent of Crombie's production that 1/10th of all greatcoats worn by British Officers were made from Crombie cloth. The term "British Warm" was coined at this time to describe the coat made from Crombie cloth.

James William Crombie was born in Aberdeenshire, the eldest son of John Crombie of Balgownie Lodge.  He attended the Gymnasium School, Old Aberdeen and went on to the University of Aberdeen where he obtained an MA Degree. He also studied in France and Germany.  In 1895 he married Minna, the daughter of Eugene Watson, MP.  They had one son and a daughter.  Crombie’s father was a member of the manufacturing family the Crombies of Cothal Mills and Grandholm and in 1880 Crombie followed him into the family business, becoming a Director of J. & J. Crombie, Ltd, woollen manufacturers, the company founded 1806 by his grandfather.

In 1892 he resigned from the business to take up politics.

Crombie was elected Liberal MP for Kincardineshire at the 1892 General Election.  At this election Crombie faced a Liberal Unionist opponent, J Stephen. Crombie held the seat for the Liberals with a majority of 1,068 votes.

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Last modified: 01/09/2013