TEXTILE MANUFACTURE IN LANGHOLM
Spinning, the creation of yarn by twisting fibres together, and weaving, the interlacing of warp and weft yarns to make fabric, have been practised as hand operations since earliest times.
Each town and village would have its complement of spinners and weavers producing yarn and fabric for local consumption from locally produce fibres, usually wool and linen.
The industrial revolution in the second half of the eighteenth century brought a spate of inventions which turned textiles into a factory based industry using power driven machines. The spinning inventions, Hargreave’s Spinning Jenny, Arkwright’s Water frame and Crompton’s Mule brought huge increases of production per worker. In weaving the development of a successful power loom occurred later, and did not give such large multiples of production increase as spinning. As a result hand loom weaving continued to be viable for a considerable part of the nineteenth century.
Large spinning mills, employing thousands of workers and processing cotton, were established in Carlisle and the yarn that they produced was hand woven into fabric in Carlisle itself and in many towns and villages within a 20 to 25 mile radius. Langholm was one of these and was renowned for the quality of its output. The first mill in Langholm for spinning cotton and linen yarns, Meikleholm Mill, was built in 1789 for a group of Carlisle merchants. This was followed by Ewes or Whitshiels Mill in 1797 for producing woollen yarn.
During this period various fibres, wool, cotton and linen, were processed and the yarns used for both weaving and knitting. Eventually production in Langholm, settled on yarns spun from wool and woven into woollen fabric – tweed. It was fortunate that Langholm chose to turn to tweed manufacture. This product could be made and sold on the basis of quality and design. By contrast, in Carlisle, where bulk manufacture of cotton continued, a vast over capacity in weaving caused, in the years following the Napoleonic Wars, a drop in wages of about 80% and extremes of poverty and deprivation.
Alexander Reid was the first to develop tweed manufacture on a sizeable scale. He was joined by Joseph Taylor as a partner in about 1850 and the firm of Reid and Taylor, (still in business today, 2004), was born. Power loom weaving was introduced by them from 1855. The 1860s saw the building of quite a number of mills. The arrival of the railway facilitated the movement of raw materials and finished products.
Demand in textiles was always volatile, influenced by wars and rumours of wars, booms and times of financial crisis. This resulted in some failures with mills changing hands, sometimes with a change of name and a change of product. The zenith of Langholm’s woollen industry was probably around 1890 with over 1200 people employed in it.
In the early 1890s the McKinley tariffs were introduced by the US to protect their own growing woollen industry. The US was a major market for the Scottish industry and these tariffs virtually doubled the landed price of Scottish cloth. Other export markets followed the US in applying similar tariffs. In the twentieth century two world wars and their aftermaths produced high demand followed by periods of recession. The number of companies diminished steadily. In the second half of the century changes in fashion towards less formal wear, the introduction of new technology and the transfer of manufacturing operations to lower wage rate areas of the world combined to reduce the number of workers employed. The figure stands at 220 in 2003.
Notes on the more significant mills of Langholm
Meikleholm Mill: Built in 1789 for a group of Carlisle merchants. Situated at the west end of Eskdaill Street. Used for spinning of cotton and linen yarns. Later became a corn mill. Demolished 1891.
Ewes or Whitshiels Mill: Built in 1789 for Irvine and Co. . Situated one mile noerth of Langholm. Used at different times for spinning wool and cotton and for knitting. Several different owners. Destroyed by fire 1872.
The Factory:William St. David Reid and Sons were producing on the site in the 1820s. Alexander Reid, joined c 1850 by Joseph Taylor, formed Reid & Taylor. Large new building erected 1854. Mill did spinning and weaving. Fire in 1933 destroyed much of the mill after which spinning was given up. The company was successful after the second world war under R R Scott Hay. It was sold in 1964 to Allied Textile Co Ltd. Now owned by a multinational group.
Byers Mill: Built in 1858 for Andre Byers and Sons. Situated off Buccleuch Square. Used for weaving. Bought by Arthur Bell in 1888 and sold the next year to R B Milligan. Used for several different purposes. Largely destroyed by fire in 1949.
Eskdale Mills: Built in 1860 for Thomas Lightbody. Situated of Maxwell Road. Used for weaving. Closed in 1927 and used thereafter for various purposes including agricultural store and engineering workshop. Demolished in 1990s to make way for housing..
Wauchope Mills: Built in stages between 1859 and 1867 for George and Andrew Bowman. Situated between Henry Street and Eskdaill Street. Used for dyeing, spinning and weaving. In 1873 became Peter McLaurin and Son. Sold in 1890 to Wilson and Gilchrist and operated by Gideon Wilson (spinning), Craig, Scott & Co (weaving) and Andrew Butler (dyeing). Largely destroyed by fire in 1896 and demolished in 1902..
Waverley Mills: Built for James Scott & Sons in two stages, 1865 and 1871. Situated in Glenesk Road and used for spinning and weaving. Sold to Allied Textiles between 1969 and 1973. Closed in 1975 and sold to Langholm Woollen Crafts Ltd, which later became Edinburgh Woollen Mill Ltd.