Paper Mills


The first paper mill in Scotland was set up in 1590 by foreign expertise but during the following century the paper industry in the country seems to have struggled.  With improvements to the technology and increased demand, the eighteenth century saw a great expansion.  The earliest recorded paper mill in the Falkirk district was at Larbert and was already established when mentioned in 1754.  At that time the raw material used was old rags.  Copious quantities of water were essential not only for providing the motive power for the machinery but also for the washing and shredding operations and the liquid in which the pulp was suspended.  The Larbert Paper Mill was not successful and the machinery was dismantled in 1761.  However, the soft water of the River Carron was found to have been suitable for the paper making process and in 1788 the owner of Herbertshire Estate, William Morehead, invested £500 in establishing a paper mill on the south side of the river at the western edge of his lands at Denny.  There the river passed through a narrow glen and provided a good fall of water.  Morehead then leased the premises to professional papermakers.  Nothing is known about the first weir and lade, but they clearly did not provide sufficient water for the mill to operate successfully and five different operators came and went in the first twelve years.  The construction of a new weir upriver at Tamaree Linn in 1801 changed the fortunes of Herbertshire Paper Mill and thereafter the tenants stayed longer.

A normal tenancy agreement was for a term of 25 years.  This allowed the tenant time to recoup any modest investment in machinery and improvements to the property.  These improvements could then be passed on to the next tenant.  With the great strides in technology being made in the paper industry such modest additions were not always beneficial as greater scales of economy were demanded.  When, in 1834, Andrew Duncan arrived at Herbertshire from Aberdeen, where his father was a quill manufacturer and subsequently a paper maker, he realised the importance of significant capital investment and immediately set about installing the latest equipment.  The tenancy agreement made much of the advantages of having machinery already in place but Duncan saw this as a hindrance as it was already antiquated and inefficiently took up vital space.  His agent in Glasgow wrote to the new owner of the mill:

Glasgow 16 March 1836

                        I believe you are aware of the terms of the lease of Carron paper mill lately held by Mr. Robert Moir and now assigned to Messrs. Hart & Duncan.  Of this lease 23 years are yet to run. It contains a clause by which machinery to the amount of £498 left in the mill by W. Morehead was to be left at the end of the lease or if the same machinery was not in existence, machinery of a proper description was to be left in its place. The landlord was also bound to take machinery to the extent of £200 additional if the tenant had it in the mill.

         By the improvements which have taken place in machinery used for making paper, all the machinery left by W. Morehead so far as it is not decayed is rendered rather injurious than advantageous to the tenants. Besides, the houses in which this machinery was placed are not only insufficient in size, but ill constructed & unsuitable. Now Messrs. Hart & Duncan are willing & in fact are inclined not merely to erect the additional buildings that are necessary but also to erect the requisite machinery for an extended work upon the very best plan, providing anything approaching an adequate remuneration is made to them just now or relief afforded at the end of the lease.

           I believe you will admit that the principle upon which Messrs. Hart & Duncan are disposed to act is a fair one, and therefore I have to propose that you make yourself acquainted  with the facts before anything whatever is either done or promised by you. For this purpose I beg to suggest that you wd. require your manager in Stirlingshire to inspect the premises of Messrs. H&D to ascertain the quantity of value of the machinery thrown out & to be thrown out by them, to satisfy himself of the advantage & cost of the houses they are already erecting & to learn from them the cost & advantage of the machinery & houses they wish to erect – & to report the whole to you. My client will then be disposed to leave to yourself whether you shall allow them remuneration at present or relief at the end of the lease- and from what I have learnt of the mode in which you act towards your tenantry I am inclined to think that they cannot be in better hands.”

(Forbes Papers 1230/9).

Originally the paper had been made by hand with few mechanical devices and hence a low output.  In the nineteenth century this rapidly changed.  Engineers and boilermen were just as essential as papermakers in the industry.  Manual labour was still needed for much of the process and large numbers of women were employed to perform the routine tasks.  A description of the papermaking process at Herbertshire Mill in 1858 gives a good idea of this mix of hand and mechanical work as well as the conditions under which it was performed:

“We shall now attempt to conduct our readers over them, commencing with the raw material and closing our survey with the manufactured article, ready for the market.

The first place, then, to which we solicit their attention is the rag store, a chamber of considerable extent, where rags of all sorts and dimensions, from all parts of Great Britain, from Ireland and Russia, are stowed away in bags.  All is fish that comes in the net of the rag gatherer, as a matter of course, and in these capacious bags the coarse and the fine, the white and the black, the valuable relatively to their destined use, and the less valuable are indiscriminately mixed.  Before the bleaching process by chloride of lime was discovered, it was necessary to select from the mass white rags only, if white paper was wanted, but chemistry has made this no longer necessary.  The rags, however, are still sorted; and attached to the rag store, but on a floor at a lower level, there is a sorting-room, where women prepare the rags for the cutters.  In the Herbertshire works there are three cutting-rooms, the largest of which is 80 feet by 35.  The rags are cut by women exclusively.  Strong wooden benches run along the entire length of the rooms, and to this strong board sharp knives are fixed, the blade projecting upwards at an acute angle.  With these the rags are cut in small pieces, and handed over to the dusters to undergo their first operation in cleaning.  The duster is a hollow cylinder which revolves with great rapidity.  The cut rags are placed in it by women, and the rapid motion shakes a portion of dust out of them.  They are then placed in another hollow cylinder of large diameter, surrounded by wire gauze, and having rows of teeth inside of it.  The machine is called a willow, and here the rags are finally dusted; after which they are considered in a fit state to be handed over to the boilers.  In the boiling-house there are eight large cast-iron boilers, and in these the rags are boiled for twelve hours.  By this time they are comparatively clean, and, after undergoing a process of washing, they are ready for the rag engine-room, where they are converted into pulp.

The rag engine or breaker room is a spacious and handsome apartment lighted from the roof, which is supported by iron girders painted blue, the other portions not glazed being painted white.  On each side of the apartment there is a row of engines or breakers.  These are oval pans, divided laterally in the centre with an iron partition.  The division, however, does not extend the whole length of the pan, as, in the process of breaking, it is necessary that the rags be kept in constant circulation.  The breaker which is fixed in the pan just described is a revolving cylinder furnished with rows of sharp teeth which act upon similar teeth fixed in the bottom of the pan under the cylinder.  We have said that the rags are kept constantly in circulation; this is effected by means of water, which, before being admitted to them, passes through a series of fine wired sieves and woollen bags, in order that it may be divested of every foreign or impure element.  The rags pass through between the teeth of the revolving cylinder and the fixed teeth under it, the former being lowered by means of a screw as the rags are reduced, so that they may be thoroughly broken.  The breaking process takes generally about three hours for completion.  As it is necessary, in order to secure pure pulp, that the impure water be removed while the operation of breaking is going on, this is effected by means of an Egyptian Wheel placed on the side of the pan apposite to the breaking cylinder.  This wheel is in constant revolution, and lifts up the dirty water from the pan, emptying it into a pipe, whence it passes into the Carron.

We have already referred to the bleaching processes.  It is at this stage of the proceedings that it is had recourse to.  The rags, after having been subjected to so many purifying operations, are now, after having been reduced to a pulp, comparatively white.  In order, however, that it may be finally qualified to produce paper, it is now exposed to the action of chloride of lime for fourteen hours.  It is then pressed in a hydraulic press of fifty tons pressure, and come from that operation in white caked masses, bearing no sort of resemblance to the unsightly and unsavoury rags which we saw in the cutting rooms.  It then passes to the intermediate engine, where the liquor is thoroughly washed out of it; the size is then introduced, after which the pulp passes into two circular tanks called beaters, where it is kept in constant motion by means of a contrivance appropriately designated the agitator.  The pulp is now fast approaching the machine which is to convert it into paper, but it is necessary to purify it still further.  From the beaters it passes into the sand-boxes, thence to the strainers, where it gets a last purifying touch; and finally, it is conveyed through a pipe under the floor to a tank connected with the machine.  The latter is an elaborate and beautiful piece of mechanism, which, without the aid of diagrams, we could not fully describe.  On the end of the machine, next to the tank, where we have now conveyed the pulp, there is a long frame with a revolving cylinder at each end of it.  Over these cylinders, which revolve in the same direction, there is an endless web of brass wire cloth.  In the tank there is an opening along its entire length whence the pulp flows out upon the wire cloth, which, being in motion, conveys the pulp in the direction of the machine.  The web moves slowly forward, a tremulous lateral motion being communicated to it by means of eccentrics, which, as it were, weaves the pulp, while, at the same time, it secures an even thickness of that substance over the breadth of the sheet or web.  Near the end of the frame over which the web of wire is stretched there is the suction pump which extracts the water from the pulp, when the substance begins to assume the appearance of paper.  This substance now passes on to what is termed a felt, thence under a highly polished brass press roller, then under and over a series of rollers to the drying cylinders – huge metal rollers, five in number, heated by steam – whence it passes on to the reels, smooth, white, beautiful paper.  Although we have taken some time to narrate the passage of the pulp from the tank over the endless web of wire cloth and through the machine till it is reeled off the latter as paper, the passage is in reality a brief one.  The machine is driven by an engine of ten or twelve horse power, and such is the celerity with which it does the work that 78 feet of paper per minute can be, and very frequently is, made.  The machine goes night and day, and since such is the feat it can accomplish in the minute, our readers, or the curious of them in these matters, may calculate how many miles of paper it is capable of producing in 24 hours!  The machine was made by Bertram, of Edinburgh, and the engine which drives it, a condensing one, is the workmanship of Mr Steven, engineer, Glasgow.  From the making machine the reels or webs of paper are taken to the cutting machine, and cut up into sheets of the appropriate size.  Twelve reels can be cut by this machine, which is driven by water power, at once.  In a room adjoining the cutting machine a man was busily engaged in the manufacture of envelopes, and a number of women and girls were glazing paper.  This is done by alternating sheets of copper with sheets of paper and subjecting the mass to a heavy pressure.  From the cutting room the paper is hoisted to the finishing room, where one body of women are engaged in sorting the paper – that is, in separating those sheets which may have been soiled to any extent in going through the previous processes.  After being sorted, it is counted by another set of women, when it is made up into reams by three men.  It is then passed through the hands of the excise officer, who fills up and subscribes the label on the ream wrapper.  It remains two hours under the supervision of this official, when it is despatched from the works to the buyer.

As details connected with these works, we may mention that there are about 200 hands employed, male and female, who perform their duties under a set of strict but admirable rules, printed upon a board placed in a conspicuous position outside the works.  In addition to this great power of manual labour, there is, besides the engine already mentioned, and water-power to a considerable extent, an engine of 250 horse power connected with the works.  The efficiency of this Titanic piece of mechanism is maintained by three enormous boilers, self-feeding, which consume among them upwards of sixteen tons of coals daily.  The engine has a very handsome residence for herself, where she plies her ceaseless task, communicating life and motion to all sorts of machines, placed in every part of the establishment.  Just before Mr Duncan became tenant of the works, and when the paper was made by hand, twenty-five reams could with difficulty be turned out daily.  At the present moment the daily product amounts to 5400 lbs, reamed and ready for the market!  The produce of these works, we learn, is sent in nearly equal portions to London, Edinburgh, and Glasgow, many of the chief publishers in these cities being amongst Mr Duncan’s customers.”

This account may be compared with that given in 1841 for the Statistical Account of the parish (see the entry for Herbertshire Mill).  A ream of paper is a quantity of sheets of the same size and quality, usually standardised as 500 sheets.  There were twenty quires in a ream.

Illus 2: One of the Cutting Machines at Carrongrove operated by a number of young women with the male mechanic alongside, c1920.

Herbertshire was not the only paper works in the district.  Around 1815 it was joined by the Carron Grove Paper Mill.  The agreement that William Morehead had reached with Archibald Napier, who owned the Lands of Randolphill to the west, to construct the weir at the Tamaree Linn had been possible because Napier intended to construct a meal mill at Tamaree.  It stipulated a canal or cut five feet wide and two and half feet deep to deliver water with a height or fall of at least ten feet above the surface level of Herbertshire Mill.  It also included the phrase “the said parties shall have full power and liberty to erect such mills as they shall think proper upon the sides of the said Canal each of them within his own property.”  This allowed for the immediate construction of Tamaree Mill and left the door open for the Carrongrove Paper Mill between the Tamaree and Herbertshire Mills.

Such was the fame of the Herbertshire Paper Mill that many visitors requested tours through the works and were given a friendly reception.  They generally took away a good impression of a sophisticated and industrious complex with good working conditions.  The cultured company of the Alloa Society of Natural History and Archaeology visited in June 1875 and after going around the works they:

were conducted to a splendid hall, where a number of young ladies were engaged counting the paper into quires and parcelling up into reams.  The principal kinds of paper here made are the finest book paper, chart, music, and printing papers.  The sight altogether was a very interesting, instructive, and memorable one

(Falkirk Herald 5 June 1875, 2).
Illus 3: No. 2 Papermaking Machine at Carrongrove, 1903.

In 1858 the owner of Carrongrove brought in an experienced papermaker, John Luke, from the Airthrey Paper Mill at Bridge of Allan to manage his works.  Luke left in 1869 and set up the Denny Paper Works at Headswood.  With his sons he went on to create the Anchor Paper Mill in 1884 and the Vale in 1892.  Each mill specialised in the production of different types of paper or board and they were established at times when the markets for them were in their infancy.  Similarly Herbertshire spawned Stoneywood in 1877.

AnchorJohn Luke junior & Co Ltd (1884-1911)
Vale Paper Co (1911-1920)
BroomhillJ Liddell & Co (1863- 1871)
Oswald & Hall (1872-1903)
CarrongroveThomas Burns (1819?)
Gavin Glenny (1825-1833)
Michael Glenny
Robert B Lusk (1833-1841)
Robert MacRobbie (1841-1851)
John MacRobbie (1851-1855)
Robert Weir (1855-1867)
John Miller Ltd (1867-1875) – Carron Paper Co
Plummer & Henderson (1875-)
Carrongrove Paper Co Ltd (1877-1922)
Esparto Paper Mills Ltd (1922-1924)
Inveresk Group (1924-1981)
Georgia Pacific Corporation (1981-1990)
Inveresk plc (1990-2006)
GarvaldWilliam Smail (1803-c1821)
Thomas Burns & John Muirhead (1822-1826)
John Muirhead & John Burns (1826-?)
John Burns (1834-1836)
Alexander Jack (1837-1839)
HeadswoodJohn Luke (1869-1894)
Vale Paper Co (1894-1936)
Associated Paper Mills Ltd (1936-1945)
Vale Board Mills Ltd (1945-1978)
HerbertshireJames Liddell (1788-1790)
Daniel Macdonald (1790-1791
Edward & Richard Collins (1791-1795)
Francis Strachan & Gilbert Laing (1795-1797)
Adam Grieve (1797-1800)
Charles Laing (1801
John Andrew, Robert Weir & Gilbert Kennedy (1817-1824)
Robert Weir (1824-1835)
Robert Moir (1833)
Hart & Duncan (1834-c1840)
Andrew Duncan (1834-1863)
Alexander Duncan & Sons (1863-1887)
Sir William Collins (1887- )
Carrongrove Paper Co (1906)
LarbertRichard Foxcroft (1754)1750?1761
StoneywoodAlexander Duncan & Sons (1877-1881)
Sir William Collins (1881-1892)
John Collins, Ltd (1892- )
Georgia Pacific Corporation (1981-1984)
ValeJohn, Alexander & Robert Luke (1892)
Vale Paper Co (1894-1936)
Associated Paper Mills Ltd (1936-1945)
Vale Board Mills Ltd (1945-1978)
Table: List of Paper Works in the Falkirk district.

It will be noticed that apart from Broomhill all of these paper mills were located on the River Carron.  There was a paper mill at Linlithgow Bridge on the River Avon, and another at Westfield on a tributary to that river, but both of these were on the West Lothian side and so are not included here.

The fine writing paper produced at the Denny mills required the use of a large quantity of water to pass through the pulp and the quality of the water was crucial.  Crude filtration was conducted from the beginning to remove floating matter.  After a storm the river carried more sediment and the following day’s production would have a brown tint.  Then, in 1887, it was announced that the new Falkirk and District Water Bill proposed to augment the river’s waters in the summer from a new reservoir on the Earl’s Burn.  Its waters were more peaty and that spelled problems for white paper manufacture.  John Collins of the Herbertshire and Stoneywood Mills gave evidence at the hearing connected with the Bill, objecting to the additional water.  Already the company was bleaching its papers with chloride of lime, making the water unusable below the mill.  The peaty water would require the use of alum as a purifier – but that would injure the fibres reducing the quality of the finished paper (Falkirk Herald 14 March 1888).

The leading figures in the papermaking industry at Denny placed it at the cutting edge of technology with money re-invested to provide constant updates in the machinery used.  John Luke of Headswood even patented one of his own inventions.  By this invention a paper web of inferior or stronger quality was veneered by a film of a finer texture and of any colour.  During the process the core could be coated on both sides by the finest pulp so as to form a single web (Falkirk Herald 22 August 1878, 5). 

Likewise, Carrongrove filed a patent.  Carrongrove Paper Mill made extensive use of esparto grass and it developed labour-saving methods of working the material.  One of these was relatively straight forward and related to the method of transferring the boiled esparto grass from the boiler to the breaking machine.  Boiling had no effect in disintegrating esparto or other grasses but left each blade of grass at its full original length, which might vary from 12 inches to two feet according to the quality of the grass used, with nothing removed from it except the non-cellulose substances.  About 2½ tons of grass were dealt with at one boiling and what was left in the boiler at the conclusion of the operation was described as a tangled, matted mass – the mass of interlocked fibres holding together tenaciously forming a cylinder.  It had to be forked out of the boiler by manual labour, the operation necessitating the employment of two or three men for an hour to an hour and a half.  For some years endeavours had been made to discover some way of removing the boiled grass by mechanical means from the digester.  Around 1895 Carrongrove discovered that it was perfectly easy to wash it through the discharge pipe to the breaker by directing water under pressure through the opening in the top of the boiler and it patented this method.  In 1921 it was found that Tullis, Russell & Co (Ltd), paper manufacturers, Auchminty Paper Mills, Markinch, Fife, were using a similar method and so they were taken to court.  It turned out that this practical discovery was made independently by them about mid-summer 1917, when, under the necessity of war conditions they were compelled to economise on labour and turned the fire hose on to a digester.  The court found that the patent was insufficiently detailed and so general as to be incompetent (Scotsman 28 April 1921, 2).

As the mills expanded piecemeal it became necessary, from time to time, to reorganise them for the sake of efficiency.  This applied not only to the papermaking machinery but also to the power supplies.  New equipment could mean great savings and this is reflected in the claim of Henry White, against John Collins, Herbertshire Paper Mills, Denny, for £287, which he alleged was due to him as his share of the saving in chemicals, coal and oils, consequent on the introduction of new machinery there (Falkirk Herald 16 February 1889, 8).

The ever increasing demand for power meant that larger and larger steam engines were required and the role of water-power was diminished.  One large boiler was more efficient than several small ones:

“To keep pace with the requirements of the present day, and with a view to a saving in money and labour, Messrs John Collins, Limited, Stoneywood and Herbertshire Paper Mills, have introduced into the Herbertshire works a magnificent, well up-to-date type of the marine compound engine, 350 horse power, built by Messrs Duncan Stewart and Co Ltd of Lonn Road, Glasgow, to designs by Mr Motion of Messrs Stewart, and Mr J S Napier, manager, Herbertshire.  The cylinders are 19 ½ and 33 inches by 34 inches, and the engine moves at the speed of 80 revolutions to the minute, and a 9 rope drive has direct communication with the main shaft.  The engine is fitted with Corliss valves and improved “trip” gear to regulate the steam supply automatically, so as to have the maximum power with the minimum waste.  The whole reflects credit on the buildings, and a special word of praise is due Mr Napier for his indefatigable exertions towards the accomplishment of so excellent a piece of work.  Previously the motive power in Herbertshire was sub-divided, causing an immense waste of steam, and consequent expenditure for coal, as well as labour, and it is fully expected that a great saving will result from the concentration effected in the new engine” .

(Falkirk Herald 26 March 1898, 7)

The raw materials for the mills varied depending upon the product and the date.  Rags, old rope, old paper and esparto grass were all used.  Initially all this material was delivered by cart but from 1850 onwards the railway system was slowly extended so that most of the works had their own sidings.  All goods entering or leaving the various works would have been weighed at the gatehouses.  A cartload of rope would weigh about 17cwt.  The 1841 account of Herbertshire noted that two men and 4 horses were constantly employed carting rags and coals to the works, and finished paper to Grangemouth for shipment to London. A somewhat comical incident happened in 1869 when Alexander Robertson, a carter, was despatched to Herbertshire Paper Mills with a cartload of straw.  On reaching Denny he sold twelve stones of the straw to a publican for half-a-crown and then he and another man spent the money on drink.  To make up the deficient weight the carter’s companion was packed away in the straw, well covered up, and on the cart being placed on the steelyard at the paper mill the weight corresponded with that of the invoice.  Something, however, was observed moving in the cart, and afterwards a man was seen to leave it (Dundee Courier 28 June 1869, 2).

Illus 4: Bales of Esparto Grass in the Store at Carrongrove, 1920.

Rags were gathered throughout Britain and also imported from abroad.  The 1858 account of Herbertshire specifically mentions Ireland and Russia.  The use of second-hand rope had its drawbacks as the agents scoured the coast for material.  The shipbuilding yards had to guard their stocks of new rope and the ship operators had to be wary of its employees selling off rope before its expiry date.  With the expansion of the paper industry there was a shortage of rags.  Esparto grass for the manufacture of paper was first introduced into this country in 1860, and from then on was used for the making of high-class paper at the various mills.  It was imported from Spain and Africa through Grangemouth Docks.  Esparto grass is wiry and tough making it a suitable and economic source of fibre.

The use of old newspapers and magazines in the early 20th century brought about an unforeseen activity.  Some of the mill workers started to cut out coupons for special offers such as free railway tickets.  This was deemed to be illegal and they were taken to court.  In the Second World War it was the children who discovered what a rich resource the recycled material could provide and the stores were raided for books and, more particularly, for comics.  Again, prosecutions followed.

Illus 5: Carrongrove Paper Mill Fire Brigade, c1941.

Esparto grass was particularly prone to what was called spontaneous combustion – the emission of heat during decomposition which when stored en masse could readily ignite the material.  The most memorable incident concerning this material was in 1913 when the large store at Carrongrove containing around 2,500 tons of grass caught fire resulting in an estimated £20,000 worth of damage.  The grass alone was worth around £3 10s per ton.  It resulted in a partial closure of the mill, though on examination it was found that many of the bales were only singed on the outside and much material was salvaged.  Upwards of 200 men applied themselves with forks to clearing away the smoking grass from the shed and heaping it on the opposite banking below Corthy Brae.  Other firms with large stores also stepped in with offers of esparto grass.

As with all mills, fire was a constant threat.  From an early date Andrew Duncan introduced a fire engine at Herbertshire Paper Mill.  As well as dealing with outbreaks at the mill it also attended fires throughout the Denny area.  This saved not only property but also lives.  In February 1863 it was essential in quelling a fire at the pithead of the Anchor Ironstone Pit which, had it got out of hand, had the potential of trapping miners underground.  The fire engine was kept up to date and after 1906 was maintained by the Carrongrove Paper Company.  The last appliance, a Dennis engine, is preserved in the collection at Beaulieu in Hampshire.  The Vale Paper Company also had a fire engine.  The crews were thoroughly trained and earned extra money for attending fires.  It was only with the start of the Second World War that the burgh of Denny got its own full time fire service.

Illus 6: Grangemouth Docks – drowned ship (Jim Summers).

The spontaneous combustion of esparto grass occurred again in the 1950s on a ship importing the material through Grangemouth.  The ship was deliberately sunk to extinguish the fire.

Herbertshire & Stoneywood1888150

When Herbertshire Mill was first established the paper was made by hand and the tradesmen formed a sort of craft guild.  Scarcity of skilled men meant that there was much agitation for high wages.  As the Denny minister put it in 1841

Combinations among operative paper-makers were, at that time, a frequent cause of great annoyance to masters, and of misery to many innocent families.  The improvements mentioned [mechanisation] have put an end to combinations among paper-makers.

By the late nineteenth century the paper mills in Denny employed hundreds of people.  Herbertshire and Carrongrove were the two largest employers, with the combined total for the three mills of the Vale Board Group just behind.  Generally, relations with the proprietors were amicable and there was mutual respect.  John Collins of the Herbertshire and Stoneywood Mills was particularly active in the community and was instrumental in establishing the Denny Cottage Hospital.  John Luke sat on numerous committees for the welfare of the population of Denny and was involved in everything from bridges to the water supply. 

Apprenticeships within the paper mills allowed tradesman to become more skilled and with the growth of the industry in Scotland this provided them with greater employment possibilities.  The workforce learned on the job and encouragement was given for them to take a pride in their achievements.  A rather unusual arrangement was made in September 1862 whereby Alexander Duncan & Son paid for the mechanics and wrights employed at its Herbertshire Paper Works to visit the International Exhibition in London.  This was quite an experience for those involved and a visit to the capital city was not something that most people from Denny could expect.  The excursionists were given a daily allowance during their stay in London (Stirling Observer 11 September 1862).  Almost a quarter of a century later the employees of John Collins at Stoneywood and Herbertshire Paper Mills went to the Glasgow Exhibition – not quite so exotic!  They numbered about 150 and their train fares and the expense of admission were paid by the firm (Falkirk Herald 30 June 1888).

With large numbers of employees at each mill it became common for there to be social soirees and an annual work’s outing.  For the outings the mill would close down for the day and the staff were taken, initially by brake, to what were then noteworthy tourist destinations just hours away.  The excursions of the workforce of Oswald & Hall, papermakers at Bonnybridge, were typical:

  • June 1890 – Alva Glen
  • June 1893 – Crieff
  • June 1895 – Portobello
  • July 1896 – Castle Campbell & Dollar
  • June 1897 – Doune
  • June 1899 – Castle Campbell
  • June 1902 – St Andrews

Works’ sports days were held.  Clubs were also established for curling, rifle shooting, football and so on.  So many people were employed that Carrongrove had to initiate a house building programme at Stoneywood and Fankerton – hence Grove Street (after Carrongrove) and Wallace Street (after the manager, William Wallace).  The close proximity of these families fostered a close community spirit.

There were, however, moments of conflict and by and large better working conditions were only achieved by protest against a background of full employment.  On New Year’s Day 1872 it was announced that, agreeable to a requisition presented by the workmen in the employment of Alexander Duncan & Son, Herbertshire Paper Works, for a reduction of hours in their labour, Messrs Duncan intimated that from and after that day the hours of the men employed on the day and night shifts would be, alternately, 72 and 66 hours per week.  The machinery department would thus stop at 6pm on Saturdays instead of 9pm as previously.  That was a reduction down to 72 hours a week!

The workmen of Stoneywood, Herbertshire, Headswood and Carrongrove Mills, peacefully demonstrated for even shorter hours in November 1889.  Unfortunately the workforce got more time off than they wanted in March 1912 when most of them had to be laid off due to a miners’ strike.  No coal meant that there was not enough power to work the mills.  They were again affected by the miners when in May 1926 the General Strike was called and the National Union of Printing and Paper Workers called them out at short notice.  The workforce of all of the Denny mills, except Headswood, loyally followed the request, causing the proprietors heavy losses.  The Headswood Paper Mill was a non-union mill, and despite an attempt at picketing, the workers remained at work during the strike.  As a consequence of the way in which the strike action had been introduced, the management at Carrongrove, Herbertshire and Vale decided to ban membership of that union.  Notice was given that the workforce was dismissed and that they were to be provided with the opportunity to be re-engaged on the same terms but not as members of the National Union of Printing and Paper Workers.  The owners of the Carrongrove and Stoneywood Mills backed down, but the Vale Paper Company adhered strictly to the notice, and its employees refused to return.  A further intimation was made to the Vale Paper Company’s workers to the effect that having failed to return, the firm took it for granted that the workers were not desirous of continuing in the employment of the firm.  If such was the case the workers were asked to lift their insurance cards by 10am or else intimate by that hour that they intended to resume.  In the event of the workers not wishing to resume their employment the firm would advertise and fill the vacancies.  The Vale Paper Company explained that they did not wish to debar their workers being members of any union.  The firm, however, would not recognise the union mentioned in the notice.  In response to this intimation the men duly reported and were re-signed for work (Falkirk Herald 22 May 1926).

Unions were necessary not so much for maintaining wages but for ensuring the implementation of health and safety protocols.  Moving machinery and dangerous chemicals made the paper mills a hazardous environment.  The firms paid insurance premiums for the services of the local doctors and the Cottage Hospital.  Here are just a few of the reported incidents that occurred in the local mills:

9 July 1844: a young woman in the employment of A. Duncan & Sons, Herbertshire Paper Mills, was working near a revolving shaft when part of her clothes got entangled in the machinery which made several revolutions before it could be stopped, and she was killed instantaneously (Stirling Observer 11 July 1844).

1 August 1870: A young girl, named McNicol, employed at Herbertshire Paper Works, was severely burned on the chest by scalding water which escaped from one of the rag boilers.  Dr White was sent for, and under his care the girl recovered (Falkirk Herald 6 August 1870, 3).

23 July 1873: James Turnbull was severely scalded and burnt over nearly the whole surface of his body by the bursting of a rag boiler at Bonnybridge Paper Mills.  Dr Cuthbertson, Denny, was quickly in attendance, but Turnbull died in the course of the evening.  He was twenty-four years of age (Edinburgh Evening News 25 July 1873, 2).

20 February 1879: Hugh Kelly was severely scalded by the bursting of a rag boiler in Bonnybridge Paper Mill and died three days later.  The water with which he was scalded was mixed with caustic (Bridge of Allan Reporter 1 March 1879, 3).

15 June 1882: John Cameron, paper-maker, Saltpans, employed at the Headswood Paper Works of John Luke & Sons, was, along with several other workmen, employed repairing the buckets of the water wheel.  He was working underneath and failed to hear the other men calling that they were going to set the wheel in motion.  He was drawn up between the wheel and the arch and was dreadfully crushed about the head and breast.  He only lived a couple of hours.  Drs Benny and Watt were shortly in attendance, but the nature of the injuries was such as to render medical aid unavailing.  He was 35 years of age, and unmarried (Stirling Observer 17 June 1882, 3).

16 May 1890: Henry Anderson died from injuries received at the Anchor Paper Works where he was the fireman.  A steam pipe burst causing him bruising and burning (Glasgow Herald 17 May 1890, 6).

3 May 1894: Thomas Neil, employed at the Anchor Paper Works, had his left arm seriously crushed by its being caught by the rag cutter, which he was at the time engaged clearing.  One of the female workers promptly threw the machinery out of gear, relieving Neil.  Members of the ambulance association rendered valuable assistance till medical aid arrived.  Drs Benny, Joss and Lumsden were soon in attendance, and Neil was removed to his home in Stirling Street where they found it necessary to amputate the arm a little below the elbow.  The operation was successfully performed (Falkirk Herald 5 May 1894, 7).

30 July 1896: Alexander Henderson, a lorryman, employed with Wordie & Co, had the base of his skull fractured through falling off his lorry.  He was engaged unloading esparto grass for the Carrongrove Paper Works at Stoneywood station and overbalanced when removing a bale from the wagon (Airdrie & Coatbridge Advertiser 1 August 1896, 6).

1 March 1900: John Wringin, employed at Herbertshire Paper Works, was erecting a flag on the top of one of the buildings when he overbalanced and his right arm passed through a plate-glass window.  It was badly lacerated and so he was taken to the Cottage Hospital, where his wounds were dressed by Drs Benny and Joss (Falkirk Herald 3 March 1900, 5).

2 October 1901: One of the doors of a grass boiler in Carrongrove Paper Mill was blown completely off, passing right through the roof, and sending grass and other debris in all directions, and causing the death of a boilerman named Alexander Gillespie (Edinburgh Evening News 2 October 1901, 2).

16 August 1905: Robert Neil sustained a severe bruise to one of his arms at the Anchor Paper Mill when he was crushed among revolving pinion wheels.  He had been leaning over one of the rag-cutting machines while it was in motion, with the result that his jacket was caught in the pinion wheels, and his arm drawn down in along with the garment.  The injured limb was severely crushed between the elbow and the shoulder on one side.  Dr Alexander attended and ordered his removal to the Cottage Hospital (Falkirk Herald 19 August 1905, 5).

8 April 1906: Peter Wyness, bleach-house worker, was working in the bleach-house at Carrongrove Paper Mills, being the only man in the department at the time.  It is not known exactly how he met with the accident, but he was found by another workman fixed round a revolving shaft, being swung round with it.  It is supposed that his apron must have become entangled with the shaft.  The alarm was raised and the engine stopped.  Wyness was then removed to the Cottage Hospital, where he was attended to by Dr Joss and Dr Livingstone.  He was found to be suffering from a compound fracture of the left knee and extensive bruises, while his head was lacerated.  He died in the Cottage Hospital the same day (Falkirk Herald 11 April 1906, 8).

26 April 1906: George Barnett, an assistant paper machineman, was in the machine house of the Anchor Paper Mill, on the platform between the strainers and the mixing vat, when the head machineman called to him to go and put on the connection at the stuff chests.  Instead of going down from the platform on the working side of the machine, he went down the steps leading to the driving side, and when at the top of the steps, which were eight in number, he slipped and fell on to a bevelled pinion wheel, which was revolving at the foot of the stair.  William Keddie, the head machineman, saw Burnett disappear, and immediately had the machine stopped, and proceeded to his assistance, finding that the clothing had been torn off the unfortunate lad, and that he was severely injured about the breast, abdomen, and thighs.  Medical aid was got at once, and Barnett was removed to the Cottage Hospital, where he was attended to by Dr Joss.  His injuries were so severe, however, that he died two hours later.  Barnett was only 16 years of age, and lived with his grandmother, whom he supported financially, in Stirling Street, Denny (Falkirk Herald 28 April 1906, 3).

29 May 1909: Daniel Brown, employed at Carron Grove Paperworks, when engaged at an elevator, accidentally touched a live wire and was electrocuted. Death was instantaneous.  Brown was nearly 70 years of age.  This was the third fatal accident in Denny in two days (Dundee Courier 31 May 1909, 4)

22 September 1909: Robert Mackay of Stoneywood was engaged as a labourer at the Vale Paper Works with two other men in loading a wagon with bales of pulp by means of a pulley and chain, which were fixed to a beam in the roof of the shed.  The beam, however, gave way, and struck Mackay who was standing on the top of the bales.  He sustained a fracture of the left leg at the ankle, and was attended to by Dr Joss, who ordered his removal to the Denny Cottage Hospital (Falkirk Herald 29 September 1909, 5).

6 November 1909: Alfred Peck, electrician, residing at Bonnybridge, on the staff of the Scottish Central Electrical Power Company, was engaged at the sub-station at the Carron Grove Paper Works, making a connection.  Having accomplished the work, he was carrying out an examination, when he fell.  His face came into contact with a live wire of three thousand volts.  Peck was frightfully burned about the head, hands and feet, and was removed to the Denny Cottage Hospital (Dundee Evening Telegraph 8 November 1909, 4).

7 January 1915: William Mack, residing at Saltpans, was caught by the belting of some machinery at Headswood Paper Mill and sustained bruises all over his body.  Mack was employed as a mechanic at the mill.  He was removed to Denny Cottage Hospital (Falkirk Herald 9 January 1915).

11 September 1917: Janet Allan, millworker, 4 Rosebank Court, Dunipace, employed with the Carron-grove Paper Co Ltd, was engaged with others packing up bales of wood pulp in a shed.  One of the bales, which weighed about 4cwt, when being discharged from a coal wagon into the shed, rolled further across the shed than the others, with the result that she was jammed against the other bales.  She was removed to the Cottage Hospital in the hand ambulance belonging to the mill, and examined by Dr Joss, who found her suffering from a simple fracture to the tibia bone of the right leg, and slight bruises on the left shoulder and wrist (Falkirk Herald 15 September 1917, 4).

25 July 1919: Thomas Hannay, Denny, was employed in the Vale Paper Mill as a labourer, and was working in the store.  When standing on the top of some heavy bales of wood pulp he slipped, and in doing so brought one of the heaviest bales on top of himself, crushing him about the neck.  His fellow workers immediately rushed to his assistance and managed to remove the bale.  Hannay was still alive, but was in an unconscious state, and died a few minutes afterwards.  He had served during the war in the RAMC and had been demobilised three months earlier (Falkirk Herald 26 July 1919, 5).

17 January 1924: In the Vale Paper Works a girl was seriously injured on the head while at work at the cutter (Falkirk Herald 19 January 1924, 4).

27 October 1938: James Wallace (32), assistant beaterman, residing at Hamilton Place, Denny, sustained a painful injury to his right eye.  Fears were entertained that the sight might be permanently affected.  He had been engaged in carrying out his duties in the Vale Paper Mill when a composition of starch boiled over and a quantity of the preparation hit Wallace on the face.  After receiving medical attention he was sent to Glasgow Eye Infirmary (Falkirk Herald 29 October 1938).

10 June 1939: William Bayne (64), 177 Stirling Street, Dunipace, died from injuries received as the result of an accident at Carrongrove Paper Mill.  He had been employed in the soda recovery department of the mill and when standing on a ladder adjusting a belt he lost his balance and fell between the soda pans, a distance of 16ft.  His skull was fractured (Falkirk Herald 14 June 1939, 7).

24 January 1944; Stoneywood Paper Mill, Denny, was the scene of a disastrous boiler explosion, as a result of which four workmen were seriously injured, and others received minor wounds. 

Illus 7: Beaters for making Pulp at Carrongrove, c1940.

The boiler was of the rotary type, measuring about 19ft by 7ft, with two man-holes, and was used for the mixing of raw material.  The boiler-house, a two-storey brick building was situated well towards the western extremity of the mill and was surrounded on three sides by other mill premises.  The violence of the explosion caused the boiler to somersault across the room before crashing against the wall at the west end.  This wall was demolished, together with a store and lavatory in the vicinity.  Debris, including heavy portions of the wooden parts of the structure, was hurled distances up to a hundred yards.  The heavy pinion driving wheel at one end of the boiler was smashed to fragments and strewn around.  From the manholes on the boiler there was also a general scattering of the contents, which comprised paper cuttings with a silver coating along with various chemicals.  This silver-coated paper was showered over the roofs of other parts of the mill close at hand, and trees nearby were given quite a Christmas tree effect with their consignment.

In the boiler-house there was general destruction, and it is surprising that the consequences were not even more serious.  Several of the employees had thrilling experiences, some being thrown through doorways many yards into adjoining parts of the mill.  Mr R M Thomson, manager, who happened to be in the boiler-house at the time, was amongst this number, and, although having an injury to his leg, he managed to clamber out over a heap of debris.  The explosion is thought to have been caused by an accumulation of gases from conflicting chemicals (Falkirk Herald 29 January 1944, 5).

8 December 1944: Jessie Henderson Gillespie, 16 Castle Terrace, was cleaning in the canteen at the Vale Paper Works, Denny.  Whilst in front of the open fire she turned to talk to one of her companions and her clothes caught fire.  She was so severely burnt that she died (Falkirk Herald 27 January 1945).

September 1945: Lachlan A MacGregor died as the result of an accident at Carrongrove Paper Mill.  He was helping to unload a consignment of bales of grass from a railway wagon and stepped back to get out of the way of a bale being lifted by a crane, falling 18ft (Stirling Observer 27 September 1945, 4).

By the 1890s it was recognised that the heavy pollution of the River Carron by the paperworks was unacceptable.  During that decade filters were introduced at most of the mills and greater attempts were made to salvage chemicals for re-use.  Even so, the river often ran with water coloured off-white. Machinery and technology increased in scale and cost as time went on.  To help to fund the necessary investment many of the family firms turned into public limited companies and issued shares to raise capital.  Not all such issues were successful and when, in 1902, Oswald and Hall of Bonnybridge attempted to do so the shares remained unsold and the company went into liquidation.

With some difficulty the paper works in Denny were kept going throughout the First World War.  Thirteen men from the Vale Paper Company enlisted in the Army and several others served in other units.  In 1916 Messrs Luke asked for exemptions to the call up for their clerk, three beatermen, a cutterman, a machine-man, and a papermaker from the Vale Mill and a foreman and two machine-men from the Anchor Works.  The applications for the machine-man and the papermaker from the Vale were rejected.

The brass plaque which used to stand on the east wall in the entrance porch to Carrongrove House (SMR 1189), and is now in Denny Library, commemorates 22 of the men from the Carrongrove Paper Works who gave their lives in the war.  A further 80 are listed as having served.

Despite the recession of the inter-war years the demand for paper products rose and the Denny papermills saw some investment.  It was a time when many industries witnessed the rise of combines and in 1924 Inveresk Group took over Carrongrove.  In 1936 Associated Paper Mills Ltd acquired the Vale Paper Company’s two mills.  Further specialisation ensued and the electrically driven paper machines became more sophisticated.  Vale Board Mill closed in 1975, Headswood in 1981, and Stoneywood followed in 1984.  At the time it looked as though Carrongrove was also to shut down but a takeover by Georgia Pacific was followed by major investment and then a management buyout, allowing it to survive until 2010.   Its closure spelled the demise of papermaking in the Falkirk area after over 250 years.

Illus 9: Bundling the paper sheets into reams at Carrongrove.


Inveresk plc2000Carrongrove: 200 Years of Papermaking.
Reid, J.           2004East Stirlingshire Mills: Part 1,’ Calatria 21, 61-89.
Reid, J.           2005‘East Stirlingshire Mill: Part 2,’ Calatria 22, 33-58.
Waugh, J.1981The Vale of Bonny.

Geoff B. Bailey, 2022

Click the mill names to read about them:

Anchor Paper Mill

Broomhill Paper Mill

Carrongrove Mill

Garvald Mill

Headswood Mill (Denny Paper Mill)

Herbertshire Mill

Larbert Paper Mill

Stoneywood Paper Mill

Vale Board Mill