Inside the boxes

Wed, 06/20/2018 - 13:02

Welcome to the first blog from the Archive volunteers who are based at Dunfermline Carnegie Library and Galleries. Each Wednesday morning they investigate the contents of  deed boxes , list and catalogue the contents and then find out the stories the boxes contain. The first box we investigated was from Pitencrieff estate and has papers dating back to the 1700s

The first installment of the blog is from the Pitencrieff Box                                               Return to the Local Studies Pages

                                               The Millport Spinning Mill

When a twelfth century Abbot of Dunfermline Abbey built his burgh of Dunfermline he included in his plans at least two water mills, powered by an elaborate system of leads (water channels). One of the Abbey’s mill sites was on the slope between the Abbey precinct and the Tower Burn, but the mill we are concerned with was situated at the top of what was then called Collier Row (now Bruce Street). At some point one of the town’s ports (gates) was built next to this mill, after which it was known as either the Collier Row or the Millport Mill.

This section from a plan of Dunfermline made in 1771 shows the mill with its mill Dam (pond) and lead. (A Tesco store now occupies the site of the Dam.). We pick up the story in 1824, when the grain-grinding mill was replaced by a new building with a totally different purpose. Among the papers of the Hunt family of Pittencrieff held in the Dunfermline Local Studies Library (Reference EB1/3) is a small packet of letters, invoices and other items that document the transformation of the mill.

In March 1824 James Hunt of Pittencrieff, who owned all the Dunfermline mills, the Dam and the leads, leased the Millport Mill for 21 years to a Bridge Street baker, John Malcolm, who was planning a career move. Under the terms of the lease Malcolm would demolish the old barley mill and build a yarn spinning mill on the site, mill-spinning being an important industry in Dunfermline at the time. The new mill would be partly powered by a water wheel, but the lease included permission for a pipe of not more than three inches in diameter, to be led from the lead, to supply water to a steam engine. The old mill that was  demolished was almost certainly not the original one built for the Abbot seven centuries before, which would have been so often repaired and altered over the years that little if any of the original fabric would have been left.

John Malcolm was working in partnership with his brother-in-law John Wilson, a linen manufacturer, and the mill they had built was described in 1833, when the Dunfermline spinning mills were investigated by the Royal Commission on the Employment of Children.

Medical Report on the Wet and Dry Flax Spinning-factory (chiefly wet) of Messrs Wilson and Malcolm, Millport mill, worked by steam and water power.
The factory is situated at Millport, in the north part of the town; the neighbourhood is open and free. The building three stories high. The height of the working-rooms is from ten to twelve feet; and their average temperature 72o of Fahrenheit. They are ventilated by means of sash windows and apertures in the roof. The drainage is covered and sufficient, and the cleanliness of the factory respectable. The general atmosphere of the rooms is much less disagreeable than at the other wet mill….The building is also well constructed.

(Wet spinning produced finer thread than dry spinning but working conditions could be very disagreeable. At the Millport Mill everything possible was done to protect the workers from spray.)

The mill had been built by Robert Bonnar, one of the Bonnar dynasty of Dunfermline builders, who at that time was aged about 30. As the years passed his business expanded and by 1851 he was employing 20 men and was an influential personage in the town. Bonnar’s invoice for the main mill building seems to have been lost but the one for the final stage of the work, June 1824 to January 1825, finds his men cleaning and repairing the mill lead, laying pavements, putting up a stair to Mr Malcolm’s office and building the boundary dykes. These dykes took two masons and two labourers seven days to complete, the builders being paid 1/3d a day and the labourers 10½d (although labourers on other jobs earned a bit more than that). The mason who repaired the lead was paid 3/4d for five hours work.

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