Cotton at Stanley Mills, Perthshire.

Stanley Mills.

(Photograph courtesy of Visit Scotland)

Just above the north west corner of Fife and to the north of the city of Perth is a large old cotton mill called Stanley Mills. It’s now owned by Historic Scotland and part of it has been restored into a museum.

By the 1850s, the cotton industry in Scotland was based mainly in Glasgow, Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire. A weavers’ village was founded in 1705 in the Carlton area in the east of Glasgow, where many weavers were involved with serious industrial and political disputes. The mills at Stanley were built more than 200 years ago on the banks of the River Tay. The power of the river drove machinery that manufactured fabrics from 1787 until it closed in 1989. The original Bell Mill at Stanley was designed by Richard Arkwright who invented different machines to speed up the process of making cotton fabric.

Cotton was imported from India and America and shipped to Glasgow. The bales then travelled eastward by road to Stanley Mills. It was then cleaned and spun into yarn before woven up into cloth. Stanley was one of the first mills in Scotland to use power looms. The finer better quality cotton was make into handkerchiefs and underwear while the thicker cotton was made up into coarser jackets, book covers or used for sale cloth.

This is a beautiful old mill in a lovely setting. Many of the old buildings have been converted into apartments and offices, but it is still a lovely place to walk on the banks of the River Tay. I spent some time last year working with Historic Scotland, running ‘discovery days’ for primary school children making visits to the mill. The children had a tour of the mill, learnt about the people who worked there (many of them children themselves) and then had a go at weaving on small looms. It was great fun.