IN this week’s feature, Ted McKie discusses the history of Innerleithen’s Caerlee Mill...

When it was constructed, the original five-floor block of Caerlee Mill was one of the earliest industrial textile units of its type in the Scottish Borders. 

It was built between 1788 and 1790 at the behest of Traquair-born Alexander Brodie for £3,000 to manufacture woollen cloth. 

He hoped it would provide a good living for local people and bring the benefits of the industrialization to Innerleithen and Traquair.

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.

Brodie, who had made his fortune supplying stoves to the British navy and who was based in London, left his nieces and nephews in charge of the mill, which they inherited after his death in 1811.

The factory was rented out to David Ballantyne in the 1820s and here his 18-year-old son, Henry, started his first weaving business. 

In the 1830s the Dow brothers manufactured tartan material and fancy shawls for the Glasgow market but this venture ultimately failed. 

When the Second Statistical Account was compiled in 1834, 50 people were employed in the mill. 

Working a 10-hour day, weavers earned only 14s (70p) per week; slubbers also 14s per week; piecers 3s (15p) and shawl-plaiters 4s (20p).

The mill remained the property of Brodie’s estate until 1839 when it was sold to 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 the 1860s the mill contained six sets of carding machines, 30 power and 20 hand looms, 4,200 spindles and employed more than 100 people. 

Exclusively Australian or foreign wool was used to make tweeds, tartans and flannel shirtings.

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.

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.

After the high point of the 60s and 70s, the textile industry in Innerleithen went into decline. 

The 21st century saw frequent changes of ownership and a diminishing workforce at Caerlee Mills. 

Even the Ballantyne name was sold to an Italian company and in 2010 JJ & HB Cashmere Mills was replaced by Caerlee Mills Limited. 

More than 400 workers had been employed at the mill in the 1960s, many of them supremely skilled. 

In 2010 there were just over 40. 

The end came just three years later when the cost of maintaining the large factory complex, most of it unused, became too great a burden and the liquidators loomed.

Apart from the listed Brodie’s Mill building, boiler house and chimney, the knitting flats that had seen the production of world-class intarsia cashmere garments were razed to the ground in 2015.