Culture and Heritage

Welcome to Innerleithen - the home of pride & passion

You are here:Home>Culture & Heritage>Textiles

Textiles

Ballantyne's Mill Ballantyne's Mill GR Photography

Innerleithen's industrial heritage was built on the secure foundations of a thriving textiles industry spanning the 18th to the 21st century, and this development transformed Innerleithen from a small rural village into a significant mill town. Manufacturing high quality wool and yarns for leading High Street brands culminated in the town's reputation as a producer of world class cashmere and knitted garments, most notably Ballantyne's.

1846 saw the building of Dobson's Mill (later Leithen Mills) on the west bank of Leithen Water about 300 metres north of the River Tweed and also in that year George Roberts & Son built St. Ronan’s Mill a mile upstream, which produced yarn to be spun in Selkirk. This was fitted out with the latest carding and spinning machinery driven by an enormous water-wheel 26 feet in diameter and 9 feet across. The mill was later enlarged by Becket & Robertson who conducted a successful spinning business there.

Innerleithen had already been equipped with one of the earliest custom-built woollen mills in the Borders. In 1788 the philanthropist Alexander Brodie, originally a blacksmith from Traquair, paid £3000 for the construction of Caerlee Mill, a well lit T-plan building of four flats to provide employment for local people. Proper industrialisation, however, did not arrive until 1839 when Robert Gill bought, enlarged and added steam power to the original works, thus enabling around 100 people to be employed.

Power and water for washing for all three mills were channelled via the mile and half long mill lade running from the weir by the present day golf course and parallel to Leithen Water, flowing into the Tweed a few yards upstream from the confluence of this river and its tributary. Before the advent of steam and electrical power two farms, two sawmills, a meal mill, an engineering works and a printing works also used the swift flowing water from the lade to drive their water-wheels. Nearly all traces of these have disappeared but today Robert Smail’s Printing Works, now in the care of the National Trust for Scotland, remains almost unchanged from its heyday in the early twentieth century. A replica water-wheel can be seen on the premises.

In 1871 George, Henry and James Ballantyne, sons of Henry Ballantyne, who had founded the woollen manufacturing village of Walkerburn in the 1850s, built Innerleithen’s largest mill, Waverley Mill, beside the railway sidings, utilising artesian water for washing and steam for power. The mills processed raw wool – cleaning, carding, spinning and weaving – to produce woven material for garments, uniforms and blankets.

During the early 1900s Caerlee Mill in particular began to diversify into the production of cashmere goods, initially hosiery and underwear, using yarn spun in Leithen Mills. Innerleithen’s mills survived the vicissitudes of the markets well into the twentieth century, thriving particularly on government orders during both world wars. After a series of mergers in the 1960s and stiff overseas competition in the 1970s woollen manufacture in Innerleithen suffered a gradual but relentless decline. Today the town’s industrial base has all but disappeared but, along with Hawick, Innerleithen continues to be the world leader in the manufacture of high quality cashmere garments.

Sadly, with the decline of the industry in late 20th century, mills began to close down and the last of these, Ballantyne's, the town's largest employer, closed in January 2010, trading as Caerlee Mills Ltd with a greatly reduced workforce for a few years until finically closing and demolition work began of the factory buildings in 2015 to make way for new housing. The main mill remains and is hoped to be upgradable to residential properties.