Mills of the Town

Gone but not Forgotten

Apart from one sorry remnant, all evidence of the factories generating Innerleithen’s once vibrant textile industry has completely vanished.

When it was constructed, the original five-floor block of Brodie’s Mill (later Caerlee Mill) was probably the earliest industrial textile unit of its type in the Scottish Borders. It was built between 1788 and 1790 at a cost of £3000 at the behest of Traquair-born entrepreneur and philanthropist Alexander Brodie to manufacture woollen cloth.

Brodie's Mill 2016

To begin with the enterprise was not a commercial success. This was due mainly to inexperienced management and a lack of skilled hands used to working in factory conditions.

Caerlee Mill c.1935

Change came in 1839 when the factory was purchased by the Galashiels company Messrs Gill & Sime. Robert Gill, a knowledgeable and innovative textiles manufacturer, took over, modernized and enlarged Caerlee Mill, adding steam-power to that provided by the water-wheel. By then, exclusively Australian or foreign wool was being used to make tweeds, tartans and flannel shirting.

Caerlee Mill was sold in 1868 to J.W.Walker & Co. and in 1886 to John, James and Henry Ballantyne, sons of Henry Ballantyne of Walkerburn, later becoming part of D. Ballantyne & Co. of March Street Mills, Peebles. In 1919, it was amalgamated along with Waverley Mills and March Street Mills under D. Ballantyne Brothers & Co.

Waverley Mill c.1935

In 1871 the brothers, George, James and Henry Ballantyne, built the Waverley Mill on land south of Miller Street. The railway had arrived in Innerleithen in 1864, finally being linked to Galashiels and the greater British rail network in 1866. The rail link greatly facilitated the import of materials and machinery required for the construction of the mill, which was sensibly sited adjacent to the station and had its own sidings for ease of loading and unloading.

Unlike the other mills in Innerleithen, Waverley Mill was not dependent on “The Dam” (mill lade) for power or washing water. Pure clean water was drawn from an artesian well in the centre of the mill complex and stored in a special roof tank built over the engine shed. Steam was the source of power while coal provided the necessary heat.

Waverley Mill c.1970

Waverley Mill was equipped with state-of-the-art machinery for the manufacture of woollen textiles, capable of processing raw wool through cleaning, carding, spinning and weaving to produce jackets, uniforms and blankets. In 1919, the company merged with D. Ballantyne & Co., proprietors of March Street Mills (Peebles) and Caerlee Mill, to form D. Ballantyne Bros & Co, thus becoming one of the largest woollen manufacturing companies in the Borders.

After the First World War, Caerlee Mill switched over to the production of knitted hosiery goods using fine cashmere wool. Over time, Ballantyne Sportswear, later Ballantyne Cashmere, came to rival factories in Hawick in the production of a whole range of cashmere and intricate intarsia garments, gaining a worldwide reputation for quality and awards for enterprise.

The Third Statistical Account, compiled by pupils of St. Ronan’s Secondary School in 1963, states that 400 people, both men and women, worked in “the hosiery” (as Ballantyne Sportswear was known locally).