The Calder Glen Woolen Mill
The ruins of an old mill can be found at the north end of Calder Street, past Bridgend, in the village Lochwinnoch. Local historians have recorded that the business activity at the Calder Glen mill was the carding of wool. There are several variations of the story but this is generally correct with regard to the early activities of the business. The business did grow to become a manufacturer of wool blankets and a significant source of employment for the village.
Other than the foundations and chimney, the structure at the far right in this black and white photo is all that remains of the mill. In this photo, dated about 1940, are Agnes Hepburn and her friend Miss Wilson.
Elizabeth Anderson writes;
“Another mill which must be mentioned is the one finally known to us as “Whitton’s Mill”. It was erected in 1814 by the side of the Cloak Burn just before the confluence of the Calder. Two Crawford brothers employed 22 workers for carding and spinning. It was on the third floor, the two other floors being a complete mechanically and efficiently run corn mill.”
The Scottish Women Rural Institute (SWRI) history of Lochwinnoch provides additional details…
“In 1814, Crawfurd built a carding and spinning mill here, driven by the Cloak Burn. He bought his raw material in the highlands, Argyll and the Isles, and had it shipped to Port Glasgow, from where it was carted over the hill to Lochwinnoch. Local carters and farmers helped with the work and their ‘fee’ was paid on Fair O’Hill Day.
This yarn was sold to the Kilmarnock carpet manufacturers. When this mill was built, the under part was one of the most complete corn mills in the country. After the dried oats were put in the hopper, there was machinery for the whole process of shelling, winnowing, grinding, sifting and preparing for bags and market, manual labour only being necessary to supervise machinery. This mill was later a laundry.”
The source of much of this foregoing information would appear to be the ‘Cairn of Lochwinnoch Matters’ by Andro Crawfurd written between 1827 and 1842. Crawfurd makes reference to this mill on three occasions. In Volume VI, pages 348 and 349, he writes;
“The Crawfurds have taken the mill from Col. Harvey – driven by the Cloke burn – near the millhouse. William goes to collect the raw material, ship it and disembark it at Port Glasgow. Humphray Barbour, Alan Gilmore, Jamie Storie each frequently bring it with their carts up. They sell their yarn to the Kilmarnock carpet manufacturers. They sent their carts every fortnight thither. One of the partners accompany their carts. They employ 22 spinners, piecers, carders, etc forby [sic] themselves. Their mill was erected by Mr. Adam in 1814. He sold it to Harvey."
The Cairn reference is believed to have been written about June of 1836, based dates found in adjacent materiel in the volume. The Crawfurds or Crawfords referred to here were brothers, John and William. The author of the Cairn makes no link between himself and this family. John and William were born in Beith (there were a lot of Crawfords in Beith), John being older by five years. It appears that John died some time between 1851 and 1861. John was shown on Calder Street (wool carder, manufacturer) in the 1851 census with his wife Janet and daughter Mary but his wife is shown in the 1861 census as an ‘annuitant’. The author is actively trying to trace the various Crawford lines represented in Lochwinnoch and would welcome any input.
William Crawford’s grandson, James Hepburn, tells us more about the mill and the family in his unpublished autobiography “A Story from Memory” written about 1950.
“My mother’s name was Jessie Brodie Crawford before marriage in 1871 at the age of twenty-two to my father. She was born and raised at Lochwinnoch in Renfrewshire – about twenty miles southwest of Glasgow. Her father was William Crawford, the owner of a wool mill in that town, who employed at one time about one hundred and fifty employees. The three story mill was on the banks of the River Calder in what is now called Calder Glen where the ruins of the stone walls are still standing in places. It was one of the first mills in Scotland to employ a water turbine for driving the machinery. Later they had to put in boilers and a steam engine to provide additional power when more machinery for weaving was installed. Blankets were the principal product. I was only six when Grandpa Crawford died in 1881. I remember him well.
My mother had a brother, William Crawford Jnr., who was three years older than herself. He died in 1880 when only 34 years old and unmarried. He had an office on Buchanan St., Glasgow for the sale of the output from the wool mill. I still have a leaf of the office stationary. It is headed, ‘William Crawford & Son, Woolen Manufacturers”. It was through Uncle Willie that my father was invited out for a weekend to Lochwinnoch where he met my mother. My father was then working as a salesman in the firm of Marne, Byars & Co. in Argyle St., Glasgow just around the corner of the street from the Crawford office. This was before he took up the business of a grain merchant and farm machinery agent.
Grandpa Crawford had been married twice. There was a daughter of the first marriage; my mother’s step-sister Mary. She was much older than my mother. She married a Mr. Wright, an Englishman, who had been a clerk in the office at the woolen mill. They left for Manchester when my mother was a girl. I never met any of the Wright family. They never came back to Lochwinnoch as there was a coolness between my grandfather, grandmother and them. I believe my grandfather was not in favour of the marriage. He did not think well of Mr. Wright perhaps because he was English. Their descendants are still in Manchester, I believe. Mr. Wright was present at my Grandfather Crawford’s funeral in 1881. He made himself disagreeable after the reading of the will when he found that the most part of the estate had been willed to Grandma Crawford and my mother.
Uncle Willie got a good education at the local school and in a school in Glasgow. I have forgotten which one. My grandfather took a partner into the business when capital was needed for expansion. Mr. Robert Williamson from a monied family of the district bought a share in the business. It was a bad move.
Bob Williamson was a man, able enough in himself, with a good head for business but without much moral scruple. He was always surrounded in his spare time by a young crowd of the better class in the town. They frequently met in some back room of a hotel or a Freemason’s haunt. Whiskey and wine were used freely as a binder in the hilarious meetings. Uncle Willie got entangled beyond his depth. He had come in contact with his partner Bob Williamson both in the office and outside. After my mother had married and she had left Lochwinnoch her influence with her brother Willie stopped he became a complete addict. Finally, due to the neglect of his health he contracted a form of consumption or lung trouble and became an invalid.
When Uncle Willie died, Grandpa sold his share in the woolen mill to Bob Williamson. He ran it for a while and then turned the whole works into a steam laundry which seemed to pay better than woolen milling. He was never forgiven by Grandma and my mother for his share in Uncle Willie’s downfall. They passed him on the village street with cold and averted faces. He continued to booze until his elderly years but never overdid it that anyone noticed. He never married and boarded with two old maids at Burnfoot a part of the village across the River Calder and carried on the laundry more or less successfully. There was some talk of an affair between he and his office clerk, a florid young lady but she disappeared from the village when things got too hot for her. Eventually the body of Bob Williamson was found in a pool of the River Calder – close to the old wall of the woolen mill. I was a young man then designing parts for a new Daimler car in Coventry, England. I was not much interested in laundries and I never heard how the poor bibber managed to get into the river. It was considered suicide but may have been accidental.”
Reproduced with permission David Williams, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada