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Friday, 13 April 2018

Down at the Mill - Sepia Saturday

This week’s Sepia Saturday's prompt photograph shows a young lad at work pushing a wheelbarrow, but  my eye focused on the background feature - the factory with the tall chimney.  So take a look here at the local history story of  Rhymer’s Mill in my own village of Earlston in the Scottish Borders.


 For over 200 years, textile production was an important part  of the local economy.  

We have one of the earliest descriptions of the village  in "The First Statistical Account of Scotland, 1791-1799," edited by Sir John Sinclair, where  Parish Minister Rev.  Lawrence Johnston wrote:

 "The principal manufacture is linen cloth.  There are between 40 and 50 weaver looms mostly employed weaving linen........ We have only one woollen manufacturer,  though no place could be better  situated for carrying out that branch of trade.   The Leader Water runs along the west and there is plenty of wool to supply 20 manufacturers."]
 In the 18th century, RHYMER'S MILL was  a corn mill before being transformed by the Whale family into a textile mill where  the  manufacture of gingham was introduced by Thomas Whale, succeeded by his two enterprising  daughters Christian and Marion.    

A carved inscription on the old mill building, 

with  the names C & M Whale clearly visible.

The 1851 Census identified Christian  Whale as a 64 year old manufacturer of gingham and cotton, employing 60 workers, mainly weavers and winders of cotton. Also in the business was her sister Marion aged 56.  

Rutherfurd’s 1866 Directory of the Southern Counties, commented
 Earlston produces quantities of the Earlston ginghams. There is no other place in the country where the same class of gingham is made”.

Two surviving examples of the Earlston Gingham  in the collection of Auld Earlston.

 Rhymer's Mill later became a dye works run by a firm called Sanderson and the path  alongside the Leader Water is still referred to as "The Tenters" where the dyed wool was hung out to dry.  In 1911 the premises were taken over by John Rutherford & Sons,  agricultural engineers, who operated at the mill until the business closed down in 2014. 
 In the 1851 Census, at MiD MILL Charles Wilson was owner

""of the firm of Charles Wilson & Sons,  blankets and plaiding manufacturers employing 18 men 7 women and 19 girls".  Ten years on, the business had extended to making tweeds, and employed  "28 men and 44 women, boys and young women". 
Young workers listed in the censuses include:
Piecer in a Woollen Factory   (a 13 year old boy)
Machine Feeder in a Woollen Factory (15 year old girl)  - sounds dangerous!
Steam Loom Weaver of Wool (18 year old girl)

Subsequently Simpson and Fairbairn took over the business and greatly extended its operations. It appears that the firm later adopted the name of Rhymer's Mill. The local heritage group Auld Earlston is fortunate to have a collection of photographs of the mill dating from the early 1900's . 

Mill Road  where houses were built for the workers

Rhymers Mill  weathered the storm of global depression in the 1920's and 30's.  The Mill was fuly employed on service and  utility clothing during the Second World War.   and the post war years saw  a boom time for the Borders as world wide stocks of clothes had to be replaced, with the firm employing more than 300 workers, making it  the  mainstay of the Earlston economy. 

But by the late 1950's and early '60's, the old problems of cheaper competitors and vulnerability to changing fashions had returned.  The decline could not be stemmed and tidal wave of workers along Mill Road turned to a trickle.  The mill finally closed in 1969 when a workforce of almost 100 was made redundant.  

Earlston's role in the  Borders textile industry came to an end.    

A current street sign in Earlston reminds us of the village's past 


Sepia Saturday gives an opportunity for genealogy bloggers  
to share their family history and memories through photographs.


Click HERE to see how other Sepia Saturday bloggers 
have been hard at work this week . 


  1. Fascinating factory/mill photos. Some of my ancestors worked in the glove industry in upstate New York, USA, and I love looking at photos of the glove shop sewing and cutting rooms from the industry's hey-day in the early 20th century.

  2. I enjoyed the history and the photos.

  3. As you know relatives on my father's side worked in the cotton mills in Blackburn. Sometimes dangerous work whether young or old. But I do love gingham prints, and of course wool plaids can be gorgeous. Earlston's Rhymer's Mill had a long run and in the top picture is shown as a rather handsome building. :)

  4. I find the history of industrial communities fascinating, from both the workers' and the owners' perspective. Looking at your photos of the work spaces I can hear the factory noise, the whirring hum of belts and pulleys, the grinding crunch of gears and levers.

  5. Very interesting pictures and history of the weaving industry in your area. My husband's Neilson ancestors were weavers from Alva and Alloa in Clackmannanshire before they emigrated to Australia in the early 1850s.

  6. My parents in law met while working in a woollen mil at the outbreak of WW2. I really enjoyed reading the history of your local mill. 2014 is very recent for the mill to be closed.


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