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Grandholm Mill Jute & Flax Mills


Glenbucket 1781 - The women in this parish, 20 or 30 years ago, were chiefly employed in knitting stockings, that species of manufacture has now given place to spinning coarse lint, which is mostly brought for that purpose by our country shopkeepers, from manufacturers in Aberdeen and other places, for there is not much flax raised in the parish. This, though a more severe and more exhausting employment on account of the great quantity of saliva requisite, is deemed more profitable. The women here use all 2-handed wheels, as they call them; they are in general capital spinners, and bring a deal of money into the parish. Their common stint is from 20 to 40 cut hanks a day; but some of them on a stretch, it was said, could spin twice that quantity: For every spindle, or four 12 cut hanks spun, they receive commonly about 1s Sterling.  Double Flyer Spinning Wheel

So persistent is an ancient and primitive art of this description that in remote districts of Scotland - a country where machine spinning has attained a high standard - spinning with rock and spindle is still practised;' and yarn of extraordinary delicacy, beauty and tenacity has been spun by their agency. The 1st improvement on the primitive spindle was found in the construction of the hand-wheel, in which the spindle, mounted in a frame, was fixed horizontally, and rotated by a band passing round it and a large wheel, set in the same framework. Such a wheel became known in Europe about the middle of the 16th century, but it appears to have been in use for cotton spinning in the East from time immemorial. At a later date, which cannot be fixed, the treadle motion was attached to the spinning wheel, enabling the spinster to sit at work with both hands free; and the introduction of the 2-handed or double-spindle wheel, with flyers or twisting arms on the spindles, completed the series of mechanical improvements effected on flax spinning till the end of the 18th century. The common use of the 2-handed wheel throughout the rural districts of Ireland and Scotland is a matter still within the recollection of some people; but spinning wheels are now seldom seen.


The principal Manufactures carried on in the Town, prior to 1745, were, plaidings, serge, coarse woollen stuffs, and knit stockings, of which last, great quantities were sent to Holland and Germany; and to such perfection were the stockings made here brought, that those of the finest wool were sold at from 2-5 guineas per pair. The manufacture of coarse woollen-cloth was also introduced about this period, but, after languishing for a time, was abandoned, towards the close of the century.

From the late 1700s the British textile industry had begun to expand rapidly and rather more utilitarian whale oil lamps were widely used to light the interiors of the dark satanic mills where wool and cotton were spun and woven. Thanks to the Whale Oil the working classes could toil long hours and even through the night.

The Linen manufacture was originally introduced in 1749, by a company from Edinburgh, for the spinning of flax, the making of thread, and the weaving and bleaching of cloth, all of which were soon brought to a considerable degree of perfection. An extensive Mill for spinning flax was erected on the left bank of the River Don, in 1798, and also works for bleaching yarn and cloth; another was soon after erected at Broadford, near the Town, of which the machinery was driven by steam; and there were now 3 extensive establishments for the manufacture of linen, of every quality, from the coarsest Osnaburghs to the finest shirting, and for the making of thread of every degree of fineness. The manufacture of sail-cloth is also carried on, and likewise that of brown sheeting, of which large quantities are sent to the East Indies and America: tape is woven to a large extent, by the Aberdeen Tape Company. The number of persons employed in the flax manufacture is about 3000, of whom about one-half are females.

The Cotton manufacture was introduced in 1779, by Messrs. Gordon, Barron, and Company, who established a spacious bleaching and printing field at Woodside, where they also erected a large mill for spinning cotton-yarn, and weaving by machinery put in motion by the River Don.  By 1820 they were employing some 3000 workers but they closed in 1850

Woodside Cotton Mill, driven by water from by the River Don  (Inset - Later Piries)

Alexander Pirie & Sons Ltd., which had its origins in the paper-making business established by John Boyle and Richard Hydo of Aberdeen in 1770. The Pirie connection began in 1778 and the plant at Stoneywood was augmented by the acquisition of the Culter Mills, taken over in 1854 and worked for 10 years before the formation of a separate company there under Pirie auspices: the previous Cotton Mill at Woodside became the Pirie Woodside Works in 1856: and another Cotton Mill at Poynernook was later taken over to become the Union Works, Aberdeen.

Another spinning and cotton twist Mill was soon afterwards established in 1800 by Messrs. Forbes, Low, and Company, at Poynernook on the south side of the Denburn rivulet, the machinery of which was propelled by steam.  In 1838 there were 368 workers of which 200 were under 18 and spinners were paid by piecework for so many hanks of yarn.  There were now 4 Establishments in the cotton trade, producing every variety of cotton goods, and in 1 of them, thread, equal in quality and fineness to that of flax, is made in large quantities, and of all colours; the number of persons employed in the trade is about 4000, of whom a considerable number were females and children.

James Gordon - Map of Aberdeen 1661

In Gordon's Map of Aberdeen in 1661 the site of the Banner Mill is shown as an Island, with the Powcreek Burn and its tributary all round it.  The island was a Willow Plantation, and the houses shown in the map were wooden sheds for storing Willow Wands.  Access to the Island was got by a foot-bridge over the burn.  Banner Mill became the only cotton factory, but was so extensive as to employ above 650 hands. The Banner Mill in Constitution Street was built in 1830 for spinning cotton yarn when flax-spinning was given up, and it was set down near the Powcreek Burn to get water for condensing steam.  The Powcreek Burn was joined by a small tributary from the west side of the Broad Hill, the place of which has now been usurped by Urquhart; Road. When it ran along the east wall of the Banner Mill. From the place where it was built it was long called the Bog Mill.  Latterly the ponds at the Mill were fed by water from the Bansticle Burn, brought along the east side of the Broad Hill. After working over 70 years cotton-spinning became unprofitable and the Mill ceased to work in 1904. 

Robinson, Crum, & Company. (Cotton-spinners, Bannermill - Manager, Charles Sefton c.1853) Hardy Robinson (Partner)

Alexander Bannerman was also involved in banking, whaling, an iron foundry and a cotton mill. In 1832, he became MP for Aberdeen and continued to sit as a Whig until he retired in early 1847, never having faced a serious challenger.

Formerly Established in 1820 by Thomas Bannerman & Co.,  Manager for 9 years David Macdonald 1838 - 452 Workers of which 241 were under 18 and some under 13. Spinners were all females.  The boys would supply the rove and sweep the floor. Local Streets - Cotton Street, Bannerman Street

Spinning Mule

The spinning mule is a machine used to spin cotton and other fibres in the Mills of Aberdeen. They were used extensively from the late 18th to the early 20th century. Mules were worked in pairs by a minder, with the help of 2 boys: the little piecer and the big or side piecer; they mended broken threads and cleaned the machinery.  The carriage carried up to 1320 spindles and could be 150 feet (46 m) long, and would move forward and back a distance of 5 feet (1.5 m) 4 times a minute.  The spinning mule became self-acting (automatic) in 1830s. The mule was the most common spinning machine from 1790 until about 1900, but was still used for fine yarns until the 1960s. A cotton mill in 1890 would contain over 60 mules,

The Woollen manufacture, in the beginning of the 18th century, comprised chiefly coarse slight cloths, called plaidens and fingroms. These were made by the farmers and cottagers from the wool of their own sheep, by the citizens from wool supplied by country hillfarms, and were mostly exported to Hamburg.   The Woollen manufacture was introduced in 1789, by Mr. Charles Baird, who brought from England some carding-engines and spinning-jennies, with other apparatus, and erected a Mill at Stoneywood, for the manufacture of plaiding, serge, and the coarser woollen-cloths, by the aid of machinery. The aggregate woollen trade employs at least 600 handlooms, 230 power-looms, and 3000 or more persons: and annually produces upwards of 3,000,000 yards of fabrics.

The Hosiery Trade of Scotland began in Aberdeen, with which the African Company (1695) contracted for woollen stockings: and at the time when Pennant wrote (1771), 69,333 dozen pairs of stockings were yearly produced here, these being worth about 30s. per dozen, and being chiefly exported to Holland, for dispersion thence through Germany. But the trade has since dwindled into insignificance.

Woollen factories were established in the city about 1748: are still there of considerable extent: and belong to the same proprietors as factories at Garlogie and Don, with these consuming about 2,000,000 lbs. of wool per annum, and employing upwards of 1400 hands.  Several other factories were soon afterwards established, and the Messrs. Alexander Hadden and Sons, who had been long engaged in the stocking trade, created extensive works on the Green, in which they employed the most improved machinery, propelled by powerful steam-engines. in 1858 they had 700 workers 550 were under 18 years.  The manufacture of carpets is also carried on with success. The number of persons employed in the woollen trade is about 2500.  The carpet manufacture had an annual value of about £50,000, the tweed manufacture (at Grandholm employing nearly 600 hands) of more than £120,000, and the wincey manufacture of at least £250,000.

The woollen textile industry (the main British export before the rise of the Cotton industry) consumed huge quantities of animal and vegetable oils. The oil was added to the wool after it was washed and cleaned and before it was spun into yarn. To produce 100 yards of white cloth required 3 gallons of oil. Whale oil could not be used for the finest cloths, which it hardened and discoloured, but it was ideal for cheap coarse cloths. It was used extensively for military cloth, particularly during the Napoleonic wars.

Hadden's Mill on the Green - Spinning, Weaving and Carpet making.  Hadden's had more than 20 stocking machines wrought by 2 steam engines making frocks, mitts and all sorts of hosiery.  The application of machinery to woollens manufacture started in 1790.  Previous to that time the carding and spinning was done by hand.

Hadden's Mill on the Green - steam driven Spinning, Weaving and Carpet making.  Litho illustration  looking towards the 6 storey factory from a vantage point on old Windmill Brae west of the Bow Bridge over the Denburn which can be seen in the middle ground with its 2 opposing but perhaps more accurately recorded lamp standards.  There appears to be a bell tower on the factory roof to summon the workers and an active chimney stack.  The loft area is well lit from the many skylights.  This was built on the site of what was once known as the Carmelite Friars’ KilnThe Mill dated from the 1750s and for the next 200 years it was an integral part of the life of the Green. Initially the concern was owned by Messrs Hadden & Farquhar, later Alexander Hadden and Sons. (Hence the adjacent Hadden Street).  Note the presence of a Scaffie.  The Mill specialised in spinning and weaving and by the late 19th century was one of the biggest carpet manufacturers in Britain. As well as being business magnates, the Hadden family were very prominent in local politics. The sons of the family went on to dominate local politics, filling the office of Lord Provost of Aberdeen four times in the 19th century. 

Hadden’s Woollen Manufactory - The buildings of this factory can be seen on the 1867 and 1901 Ordnance Survey maps and had been demolished by the time the 1925 OS map was drawn.  Alexander Hadden & Sons opened in the late 18th century and by the 19th century employed between 300 and 400 people manufacturing hosiery. They were also large spinners of woollen and worsted yarns. According to Kennedy (Annals of Aberdeen, 1818) the Green Factory was opened around the end of the 18th century and was run by ‘2 powerful steam engines. They manufactured coarse stockings, mitts, frocks, cloths, and various other articles in the woollen branch, to a very considerable extent, both for home consumption and for the foreign market’.  Aberdeen Architects Walker and Duncan, the result of the merger of 2 rural firms specialising in Agricultural business, added floors and designed alterations to the now Rennie’s Wynd premises in 1891.  Hadden’s closed in the late 19th century, around the same time as the Bannermill.

Wauk-mill. A fulling mill

Fulling or tucking or walking ("waulking" in Scotland) is a step in woollen cloth making which involves the cleansing of cloth (particularly wool) to eliminate oils, dirt, and other impurities, and making it thicker. The worker who does the job is a fuller, tucker, or walker. The Welsh word for a fulling mill is pandy .  This is used in several place-names as in Tonnapandy.  Fulling involves two processes - scouring and milling (thickening).  These are followed by stretching the cloth on great frames known as tenters and held onto those frames by tenterhooks. It is from this process that we derive the phrase being on tenterhooks as meaning to be held in suspense. The area where the tenters were erected was known as a tenterground.  Originally, this was literally pounding the cloth with the fuller's feet (whence the description of them as 'walkers'), or hands, or a club. From the medieval period, however, it often was carried out in a water mill.  Fulling Mills from the medieval period, the fulling of cloth often was undertaken in a water mill, known as a fulling mill, a walk mill, or a tuck Mill. In these, the cloth was beaten with wooden hammers, known as fulling stocks. Fulling stocks were of 2 kinds, falling stocks (operating vertically) that were used only for scouring, and driving or hanging stocks. In both cases the machinery was operated by cams on the shaft of a waterwheel or on a tappet wheel, which lifted the hammerDriving stocks were pivoted so that the 'foot' (the head of the hammer) struck the cloth almost horizontally. The stock had a tub holding the liquor and cloth. This was somewhat rounded on the side away from the hammer, so that the cloth gradually turned, ensuring that all parts of it were milled evenly. However, the cloth was taken out about every two hours to undo plaits and wrinkles. The 'foot' was approximately triangular in shape, with notches to assist the turning of the cloth.

His coat an’ breeks war’ o’ a lichtly blue Weel waukit, an’ the pick o’ hame-grown woo'

A waulk mill or 'wak mil' . (Wauk milling - also written waulk, walk, wack or wak - is the process of soaking, beating and shrinking cloth to make it thick and felted.  It gives rise to the family name Walker.) Waulker, a fuller of cloth

The basic understanding of mediaeval wauk mills in that : there is a lade (a pool, trough or some other kind of reservoir) with a built entrance; there is normally a small building on the lade and a perimeter retaining wall; there are possible points at which a water wheel could be sited and water flow manage and which could serve as a pool for soaking cloth.  The process was performed by hand in the Hebrides until fairly recently to the accompaniment of rhythmic Gaelic songs to coordinate the movements of the waulking team.

waulking-board, a long grooved board on which cloth is waulked
waulking-frame, a frame, orig. of wicker-work, on which cloth was laid to be waulked.
waulkin-mill, a fulling mill, a mill in which cloth is shrunk.
waulking-song, any (Gaelic) song sung by a team of women engaged in waulking, one of which the rhythm suits the motions involved, different songs being used for different stages in the process.

Water is still taken off from the Denburn at the site of Gilcomston Dam and flows along a part of the original course; but it no longer enters the area of the ancient city, and it is now unfit for domestic use. The water- course runs along the south side of Whitehall Place to Albert Street, and then along the south side of Leadside Road. About the middle of the last century the stream of water ran open and was utilised to drive a large undershot wheel for a Wool Mill in Leadside Road, opposite Grosvenor Place, which was owned by a Mr Chadwick.

Francis Douglas, describing a ride to the country made in 1780, says the locality abounded with quarriers and beggars. The former were near their work, and the latter had not been permitted to reside in the city, though no doubt they lived off the inhabitants. Another inducement to live there had been work at a lint mill on the point between Jack's Brae and Leadside Road, erected in 1760. It gave place in 1849 to a meal mill still in operation, but the Denburn water is no longer fit to do all the work at the point, and it has been largely supplemented by steam and gas.

On the south bank of the Don, near Hayton, stands a conglomeration of houses called Gordon's Mills. Upwards of a hundred years ago there was here a corn mill, driven by water obtained from the Don by a weir crossing the river. It ceased to be a meal mill long ago, and became a woollen manufactory. It is now a paper mill. William Gordon of Gordon's Mills was wounded in the battle of Bridge of Dee, 1639 (Spalding's " Memorialls of the Trubles ").

James Young, Merchant in, and Provost of, Aberdeen, from Michaelmas, 1811, to Michaelmas, 1812, eldest son of James Young and Mrs. Elizabeth Black, was born in that City on 30th April, 1776.  While settled in Aberdeen, James was in partnership with his uncle. Provost William Young, and that gentleman's 2 sons, James and John; but, soon after the commencement of the French Revolutionary War, the Stocking Manufacture - for many years one of the staple trades of Aberdeen and its vicinity - the principal  district in Scotland for that branch of business - began gradually to decay; and. after the peace of 1814, Provost James Young removed, with his family, in the Autumn of that year, to Holland; and, during the last 20 years of his life, carried on business, successfully, as a General Merchant, at Rotterdam


The linen manufacture, introduced about 1745, soon grew so large as to pay some £5000 a-year in wages: and now, in the articles of thread, sailcloth, osnaburgs, brown linens, and sacking, employs between 2000 and 3000 hands. The thread manufacture was introduced at a later date than the spinning: was soon carried to great perfection: and employed 600 men, 2000 women, and 100 boys in 1795, when the sailcloth manufacture was commenced.  Several large flax-spinning factories were established on the Don, near Old Aberdeen, about 1800.

Aberdeen was built on 7 hills, like Rome, and the Port-Hill was the highest of the seven.   From the mid-18th century until as recently as 1960, this site was occupied by the huge Porthill Factory, originally manufacturing linen cloth.  Porthill Factory, erected in the 1750's and used by Milne, Cruden and Co. for the manufacture of linen thread.  Mr David Shaw was Clerk and Partner there.  The huge Porthill Factory (linen, textiles) stood on this site for about 200 years, from about 1750 until its demolition in 1960, and 1000's of Aberdonians must have worked there, but somehow it already seems to have been air­brushed from the collective memory.  the factory, which was by the 19th Century known as the Porthill Factory, was taken over by Samuel Willans,  stoneware manufacturer.

Linen manufacture was introduced to Aberdeen by Leys, Still & Co in 1749 and by the end of the century they were Leys, Masson & Co based at Grandhome Mills till they closed in 1848.  Between 1808 and 1811 the firm of John Maberley & Co had acquired land and Flax Spinning Mill at Broadford. 

The Porthill Factory was custom-built factories and were 1st owned by the Linen manufactory firm of Milne, Cruden & Company. The premises can be found on an early map of Aberdeen by Milne in 1789. at the northeast side of the Gallowgate by Seamount Place According to the local historian, Diane Morgan, in her book 'Round About Mounthooly' (Denburn Books, 1995),  Milne, Cruden and Company went out of business entirely in 1854. 

Milne, Cruden, & Co. Linen Manufacturers, Porthill, Windmill Brae, and Gordon's Mills

Flax is a vegetable fibre and the only natural fibre capable of being grown commercially in Western Europe. Flax is an annual plant, which when fully grown reaches a height of 50 to 100 cms. When approaching maturity (after 70 to 100 days depending upon weather conditions), blue (vulgare) or white (album) flowers are produced depending on the variety. Generally speaking the blue flowered variety produces fine, good quality fibre whereas the white-flower plant produces stronger but coarser fibre.  Flax is grown in wide areas of temperate and sub-tropical regions of both hemispheres. Flax fibre is obtained from the stems of  plant, belonging to the Linacea family.  The use of flax for weaving into "linen" cloth dates back to Egyptian dynasties over 4,000 years ago and from the latter part of the Middle Ages it became the most commonly used textile material in Europe. It was not until the early part of the 19th century that cotton began to challenge this premier position.

It was introduced to Scotland by the Romans. The botanical name for flax is Linum Usitatissimum. It is an apt description for every part of the plant has its use in industry. The name Flax is derived from ‘Flachs’, the German word for the plant, which in France is known as ‘Lin’ and in Italy as ‘Lino’ – and many years ago as ‘Lint’ in Scotland and Ireland. The cultivation of flax can be dated back to 8,000 BC. By the time of the Pharaohs, it was already a high art, and the weaving of it so fine, that they and their Queens wore it in Stately Ceremonies. Fine linen was an essential part of the rich garb of the Middle Ages and of the Renaissance Period. Today it is still one of the world’s luxury fibres.  Today flax production for commercial textile purposes (it is also grown widely for its oil-yielding seed, especially in North America) is primarily in France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Russia, Belo-Rus, Egypt and China

Flax is sown in April and takes about 100 days to reach maturity. It should be sown thickly and evenly to draw the plant up into a long stem two to three feet in length and to yield a good quality of fibre. When the flax is ready for harvesting in July or August, the stem begins to turn yellow, the leaves wither and the seed heads turn brown

The flax straw has always been pulled up by the root, never cut, as this gives a longer length of fibre. Rippling: As soon as possible after pulling and before retting, the seed heads are removed by drawing the flax through a coarse comb of iron spikes set in a block of wood. The seed bolls are then gathered on a winnowing sheet, which is placed on the ground.

The sheaves of flax are weighted and placed in clean running water for 10 to 14 days.  The warmer the weather, the quicker the retting takes place. Fermentation dissolves the vegetable pith and eases the separation of fibres from the woody outer straw. Immersion of the flax in running water breaks down the outer stalks leaving the fibres.  This method polluted the river or burn, quickly killing the fish, and was prohibited by the landowners. Flax retting ponds or lint pots were generally used and these man-made, clay-lined ponds were once a common sight in the East of Scotland.  Following the process of retting, the straw is dried and then scutched, a process which by mechanical means breaks down the pith, or "boon", and removes it as completely as possible from the fibre.

The flax was lifted out of the water to dry in the sun and was turned regularly. The sun reacted with the chlorophyll in the grass to produce bleaching of the flax fibre.  The strands of flax fibre are embedded longitudinally in the stalk of the plant, between the outer epidermis and the central woody tissue. The fibre, which is very high in cellulose, is extracted first by "retting" (rotting either by water or dew) and then by "scutching" the stalks.

The flax was bruised on a stone with a timber club to break up the outer straw and release the fibre. Hand scutching was done with an upright board, which had a slot at one side near the top. A handful of flax would be held in this slot and turned while the fibres were beaten down against the side of the board with a wooden bladed scutching tool. Scutching was the first stage in the processing of flax to be mechanised. Machine scutchers driven by water were introduced into Scotland in 1728. The knowledge and expertise had been acquired from the Dutch, who had successfully mechanised flax processing in the 17th century. By 1772, there were 252 lint Scutching Mills situated in Angus, Fife and Perthshire. 

This is the final process in the preparation of flax fibre for spinning. The bundles of fibre are drawn through a metal toothed comb to separate the tow of short and coarse fibres from the long strands of flax. Hackling is a combing process, which removes any remaining pieces of straw. By-products of the flax plant include linseed oil, tow and straw. The linseed oil was and still is a valuable commodity used by carpenters to treat wood. The residue of the crushed seeds is used to make linseed cake for cattle feed. Tows are the short strands of fibre which are left after the hackling process. These are dry spun to produce coarse threads, which are then woven into canvasses and carpet backing. Straw pieces from the flax plant can be used in the production of chipboard.

The use of flax for heavier grade purposes, such as canvas and towelling, has declined in recent times and its main use now is for finer fabric yarns (including blending with wool and synthetic materials). Lower grades are also used in the paper industry (largely for cigarette paper manufacture) and, in a chopped form, in the automobile industry and for insulation purposes.  There is not a standardized grading system. Sales are effected based on samples delivered from each annual crop.  There are, however, accepted "high", "medium" and "low" quality parameters.

The Scottish Linen Trade
There is no record of the introduction of linen weaving into Scotland, however the use of the cloth seems to have been widespread by the middle-ages. Certainly, by the 17th century, linen was at the centre of the Scottish economy. The Act of Union of 1707 gave new impetus to the trade, with duties on the import of Scottish linen into England being removed, and in 1727 a Board of Trustees was established to regulate and promote the development of the industry.  This body safeguarded the quality by inspecting and stamping all linen cloth that was produced for sale until 1823. Records show that 31 million yards were stamped annually, and of this 22 million yards were stamped in Forfar

By the 18th century the trade was concentrated in Angus, Fife and Perthshire. Angus specialised in weaving coarse linen known as plaiding, the finer linens or hollands being made in Fife and parts of Perthshire. Osnaburgs, a brown linen cloth taking its name from the town of Osnabruck in lower Saxony, was being produced in Arbroath by 1738 and in Forfar by 1746. The better quality of cloth superseded the brogues, rullions, strims and yard-wides, for which these towns had previously been renowned. The Scottish handloom weavers continued for longer than elsewhere with Kirriemuir, Laurencekirk and Dunfermline being centres of excellence for designing and producing the finest damask linen into the 1950s. The Angus Handloom Weavers were the sole survivors of the craft in the United Kingdom.

History of Aberdeen by Walter Thom

Kilgour & Walker - Knitwear Factory - Berryden

Kilgour & Co were a woollen mill in Old Deer

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Last modified: 01/09/2013