Ted McKie, from Innerleithen Community Trust, takes a look back at the story of local textile mills

Apart from one sorry remnant, all evidence of the factories generating Innerleithen’s once vibrant textile industry has completely vanished.

When it was constructed, the original five-floor block of Brodie’s Mill (later Caerlee Mill) was probably the earliest industrial textile unit of its type in the Scottish Borders. It was built between 1788 and 1790 at a cost of £3,000 at the behest of Traquair-born entrepreneur and philanthropist Alexander Brodie to manufacture woollen cloth.

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. Change came in 1839 when the factory was purchased by the Galashiels company Messrs Gill & Sime. Robert Gill, a knowledgeable and innovative textiles manufacturer, took over, modernised and enlarged Caerlee Mill, adding steam-power to that provided by the water-wheel. By then, exclusively Australian or foreign wool was being used to make tweeds, tartans and flannel shirting.

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.

In 1871 the brothers, George, James and Henry Ballantyne, built the Waverley Mill on land south of Miller Street. The railway had arrived in Innerleithen in 1864, finally being linked to Galashiels and the greater British rail network in 1866. The rail link greatly facilitated the import of materials and machinery required for the construction of the mill, which was sensibly sited adjacent to the station and had its own sidings for ease of loading and unloading.

Unlike the other mills in Innerleithen, Waverley Mill was not dependent on 'The Dam' (mill lade) for power or washing water. Pure clean water was drawn from an artesian well in the centre of the mill complex and stored in a special roof tank built over the engine shed. Steam was the source of power while coal provided the necessary heat.

Waverley Mill was equipped with state-of-the-art machinery for the manufacture of woollen textiles, capable of processing raw wool through cleaning, carding, spinning and weaving to produce jackets, uniforms and blankets. In 1919, the company merged with D Ballantyne & Co, proprietors of March Street Mills (Peebles) and Caerlee Mill, to form D Ballantyne Bros & Co, thus becoming one of the largest woollen manufacturing companies in the Borders.

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.

The Third Statistical Account, compiled by pupils of St Ronan’s Secondary School in 1963, states that 400 people, both men and women, worked in 'the hosiery' (as Ballantyne Sportswear was known locally).

During the 1920s carding and spinning operations were expanded in Waverley Mill but the downturn in trade in the Depression years of the 1930s resulted in a major rationalisation and reorganisation of the manufacturing processes. Subsequently, the Waverley dealt with all the carding and spinning, and March Street was responsible for the weaving, making and finishing of garments.

In the 1950s Waverley Mill employed between 250 and 300 workers.

Following the closure of the railway in 1962 the fuel for the boilers was switched from coal to oil. In the later 1960s the Ballantyne consortium was swallowed up by Dawson International who, in the process of rationalisation, closed the Ballantyne Spinning Co and all the workers at Waverley Mill were sent home. A catastrophic loss of Innerleithen jobs was staved off thanks to an enterprising and successful approach made by local management to Clough Mills Ltd, which specialised in the spinning and dyeing of man-made fibres, keeping the mill and 300 workers in business until the Millennium.

Latterly, parts of the mill premises were utilized for storage and workshops. The end came in 2007 with the complete demolition and clearance of every brick and beam of the factory. Housing now occupies the land.

The end came to Innerleithen’s textile industry when Caerlee Mills Ltd, with a payroll of 40 employees still producing high end cashmere goods but overburdened with massive overheads, went into liquidation in 2013. The site has been cleared for housing except for the listed Brodie’s Mill, now a sadly dilapidated and mournful reminder of past industrial glory.