Stanley Mills – Our Industrial Heritage

Stanley Mills – Our Industrial Heritage.

Part One . 1786  to 1813 . Why the Mill was built and why the Weavers played  such a vital part in Scotland's changing society .

( we acknowledge the information published by Historic Scotland and Wikipedia and used in the  foregoing account of this unique treasure ) .

Stanley is a town ( or perhaps a large village ) named after  Lady Amelia Stanley, the daughter of James Stanley, 7th Earl of Derby. In the 1600s the area around Stanley was part of the estate of Earls of Atholl and was also the location of Inverbervie Castle. In 1659 the castle was renamed Stanley House in honour of the wedding of John Murray, 1st Marquis of Atholl and Lady Stanley. When the village was built in the 1700s it took the name Stanley after the nearby house.

No , it’s not quite in Strathearn but  a close neighbour lying just north of the Fair City that is Perth . The Stanley Mills were founded  over 200 years ago  by a group of Perth merchants  with technical  and financial support  from Richard Arkwright  , the “ father “ of the English cotton industry . The Bell Mill  which was the original cotton mill , is probably  the best  surviving example   of an Arkwright  - designed  mill  anywhere in the World . 

Textiles were manufactured  here almost continuously from 1787  through till 1989 . Over the years  buildings were added , rebuilt  or  demolished  as demands changed. Likewise the machinery  used came and went . These  were initially powered  by water and  eventually as technology developed , by electricity generated  by  water  power  from the Tay .

Why  did this enormous complex  come  about away back at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in 1786 ? Perthshire  including the areas around Perth  and Strathearn were an important  hub  of the  traditional hand loom weavers . In the 18th century , towns such as Crieff had over 40 % of the working population engaged in hand loom  weaving . This  was  a cottage industry and the weavers  were  an important part of the social and political  development not only of their  own towns or villages  but of the country as a whole .The traditional wool gave  way  to flax  and  eventually to cotton imported in its  raw state  from the southern  states of what was  to become the USA .
For decades through the early 18th century, Scottish hand loom weavers  could  be termed ,in modern parlance, middle class . Research into the Crieff weavers  carried out during an Open University thesis undertaken  by myself in the 1990s showed  that they worked in many instances a  four day week and found  time a plenty  to engage in social and political chat .The Weavers Guilds throughout Scotland were  prominent in political and electoral reform  by the late 18th century. This coincided  not only with the onset of the Industrial Revolution but also with  a large influx of Irish weavers to the West of Scotland and Glasgow in particular and a forcing  down of the “ going rate “ for the production of hand  loom woven  cotton . The Calton Weavers Strike of 1787 was a prime example.

It was the earliest major industrial dispute in Scottish history, when troops fired on demonstrators, killing six. The Calton weavers became Scotland's first working-class martyrs. Ultimately the strike contributed to a workers movement which achieved fundamental changes in the relationship between workforce and employers. The Calton Weavers massacre of 1787 is commemorated in a panel by Scottish artist Ken Currie in the People's Palace, Glasgow, commissioned on the 200th anniversary of the event.
Calton at the time of the strike was a hand weaving community just outside Glasgow in Scotland. At the peak of Calton's prosperity, wages had risen to nearly £100 a year and weavers had risen to high places in society. However, mechanization and growth in the labour force had since then severely depressed wages.

In the summer of 1787, the journeymen weavers of Calton marched in organized processions through the streets of Glasgow to protest a 25 percent wage cut and lock out. The dispute grew bitter, with the strikers cutting the webs from the looms of weavers who continued to work, and making bonfires in the street from the contents of warehouses. On the 3rd of September the city magistrates, with a force of officers, went to the Calton but were driven back by the mob. A detachment of the 39th Regiment marched under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Kellet, and a pitched battle occurred at Parkhouse, in Duke Street. A volley of musket fire killed three of the weavers. Three other weavers were mortally wounded. Further disturbances later in the day were quickly suppressed by the troops. On the following day more looms were wrecked, but the riots quickly subsided.
In 1788 James Granger was tried in Edinburgh as the ringleader of the strike. He was aged 38, married and had six children. He was found guilty of "forming illegal combinations" and was sentenced to be publicly whipped through the streets of the city at the hands of the Common Executioner, and then to banish himself from Scotland for seven years. James Granger later returned and took part in the 1811-1812 strike. He lived to the age of 75.

The part played  by many weavers in the fight  for equality fair representation both here in Scotland and indeed in the North of England  has been much underplayed . The " Radical War " of 1820 again featured weavers as the  main characters. 

On 5 April 1820 a group of striking weavers was intercepted on the way to the Carron Ironworks, after being infiltrated by government agents. The men, who were protesting following a period of economic hardship and unrest were intending  to capture weaponry  from the works but were ambushed by an armed force outside the village of Bonnybridge near Falkirk. In the ensuing struggle, at least four of the weavers and a lieutenant and sergeant were badly wounded. Three of the rebel leaders - Andrew Hardie, James Wilson and John Baird were arrested and later executed. Nineteen men were transported to the penal colony of  Botany Bay as  punishment .

It is perhaps not surprising that Stanley Mills were erected in 1786 as hand loom weaving was in turmoil and decline from a variety of pressures. Why was this particular locus chosen? It was a far distance from the West of Scotland ports which brought the raw cotton from the Americas but had one very important supporting factor in its choice. The River Tay is the fastest flowing river in these islands and at Stanley it drops 6.5 metres or 21 feet as it snakes around the peninsula on which the mills were built.

Who was behind the development at this particular location ? It was the local land owner – John Murray , 4th Duke of Atholl who realised that by tapping the power of the mighty Tay , he would  have water power in abundance .A key figure in  determining that such an enterprise would indeed  be viable  was the local MP George Dempster . Dempster visited the first ever water powered cotton mill at Cromford in Derbyshire . Here he  met the owner Richard Arkwright and persuaded  him to be involved at both Stanley and at New Lanark .A company was established ( The Stanley Company ) with seven partners  including Arkwright , Dempster and Luncarty bleach works owner William Sandeman. 

William Arkwright 

The new  enterprise required a considerable labour force and some 80 families were 
" recruited " from the Highland counties of Scotland . This again  was utilising a somewhat desperate situation  to benefit  the entrepreneurs . These  families  were, by and large , the victims of the notorious clearances which have  cast a dark shadow over our past history .

A family and the remains of their deliberately demolished house 

In Perthshire , the Clearance had involved the Atholl and Breadalbane Estates , when families had been evicted from their tenanted homes  to make way for the more profitable sheep farming.

By 1795  some 350 people were working  at the Stanley Mills . Of this 350 persons some 300 were women and children under 16 years of age .

Arkwright's  involvement with Stanley had  ceased  in 1787 . The Mill however  
thrived until a double " whammy " hit it in quick succession . The French Revolution and the ensuing wars had a serious  effect on trading creating an economic slump  . On top of this set back , there was a serious  fire in the East Mill forcing the Mills  to close down .

The Mills  were  bought in 1801  by James Craig, a Glasgow muslin manufacturer for
 £4, 600 . Craig was bank rolled  by David Dale , the " father " of the Scottish cotton industry and founder of the mills at New Lanark .Stanley was at this time  managed  by Robert Owen , Dale's son in law . 

Robert Owen

Owen  was a Welsh social reformer  who had  met and married Dale's daughter .He ran the Mill in New Lanark prior  to coimg to Stanley . At New Lanark , about 2,000 people had associations with the mills, 500 of whom were children brought at the age of five or six from the poorhouses and charities of Edinburgh and Glasgow. The children were well treated by Dale, but the general condition of the people was unsatisfactory. Many of the workers were in the lowest levels of the population; theft, drunkenness, and other vices were common; education and sanitation were neglected; and most families lived in one room. The respectable country people refused to submit to the long hours and demoralising drudgery of the mills.

Many employers operated the" truck system" and paid workers in part or totally by tokens. These tokens had no value outside the mill owner's "truck shop". The owners could supply shoddy goods to the truck shop and charge top prices. This abuse was stopped by a series of "Truck Acts "  (1831–1887), making it an offence not to pay employees in common currency. Owen opened a store where the people could buy goods of sound quality at little more than wholesale cost, and he placed the sale of alcohol under strict supervision. He sold quality goods and passed on the savings from the bulk purchase of goods to the workers. These principles became the basis for the cooperative shops in Britain, which continue in an altered form to trade today.
Owen's greatest success was in support of the young. He can be considered as the founder of infant child care in Britain, especially Scotland. Although his reform ideas resembled those of European innovators of the time, he was probably not influenced by such overseas approaches; his ideas on ideal education were his own.
Although Owen achieved  renown as a social reformer  , his acumen as a mill manager was perhaps not quite as able . The Stanley Mills closed  down in 1813  with debts  totalling  some £ 40 000 .

Part Two : This covers  the re opening of the mill in 1826 and traces its history through to its eventual closure in 1989 .


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