Carrongrove Mill

The precise date of the establishment of Carron Grove Paper Mill is not known.  A Carron watermark found in white wove foolscap printing paper in 1819 is ascribed to Thomas Burns at the mill and by then it employed 25 people making a coarse paper board from old tarred rope (Inveresk plc 13, 28).  The mill was built between the Herbertshire Paper Mill and Tamaree Meal Mill, making use of the same water lade.  This necessitated agreements to safeguard the water supply to the former – both as regards quantity and quality.

Around 1825 the mill was taken over by Gavin Glenny and operated one vat in the manufacture of writing, cartridge and coloured paper.  Gavin Glenny seems to have been a colourful character, respected for his support for the poor of Denny.  On 28 February 1829 he became frustrated by the control of his water supply exercised by the owner of Tamaree Mill and consequently trespassed on the lands there and forcibly raised the sluice.  Using threats he said that he would control the sluice whenever he wanted in the future.  Unfortunately, on this occasion, he raised the sluice too far and the resulting cascade of water burst a retaining wall on the lade.  Gavin Glenny lived at Milton House in Dunipace, where he died on 2 March 1858.

Carron Grove Mill was put up for sale in 1833 and was bought by Robert Lusk.  The New Statistical Account for Denny provides us with interesting information:

Mr R.B. Lusk’s mill at Carron Grove, for manufacturing millboard, and different kinds of coarse paper.  The workers employed are, 15 men, 2 women, 2 lads, and 6 boys; wages are paid every fortnight, and average about L.27 every fortnight [in total].  The materials used are almost exclusively old tarred ropes, of which one ton, on an average, is used daily.  No rags are made use of in this manufactory.  The goods manufactured are almost exclusively millboards, which are used for the boards of books, of which from four to five tons per week are manufactured.  Sometimes a little coarse paper is made, used for sheathing ships and other purposes, as also some large coarse millboards, used by engineers for making steam-joints tight.  The mill is lighted by gas, and the manufactured goods dried by steam and heated air.  The excise duty paid is from L.300 to L.400 every six weeks.

On 8 January 1841 the paper mill was discovered to be on fire in one of the upper stories.  Owing to the inflammable nature of the materials, the fire increased with such rapidity, that in less than half an hour the roof fell in and the whole building was one general blaze.  Lusk’s property was not insured, and he had upwards of £2,000 worth of paper on hand, which, together with the machinery, was entirely consumed and destroyed (Perthshire Courier 21 January 1841, 2).

The mill appears to have been rebuilt and in 1847 was acquired by Robert McRobbie.  He continued to manufacture pasteboard at Carron Grove until his death in 1850 when his brother, John, took over.  Five years later, in 1855, the mill was bought by Robert Weir of the neighbouring Herbertshire paper Works.  Robert Weir is often called a stationer in Glasgow, though he had many other business interests.  John Luke was brought in to manage Carron Grove in 1858.  Luke had learned the paper making trade with his father near the Crook of Devon and with Robert McRobbie at the Airthrey Mills, Bridge of Allan.  He was very capable and went on to found several paper works in the Denny area.

In 1860 the Ordnance Surveyors described Carron Grove Paper Works as:

A paper work of considerable extent situated about a mile and a half from the village.   The houses in connection with the work are from one to three storeys in height, all slated and in good repair.   Average number of hands employed is about 15.   Property of Robert Weir, Esq Randolphill.”

In 1866 Weir let the works to John Miller, wholesale and retail stationer of Glasgow.  Just three months later Robert Weir died at the age of 83 and his properties were put up for sale:

“Sale… The following SUBJECTS, which belonged to the late ROBERT WEIR, Esquire of Randolph Hill, Stationer, Glasgow, situated in the Parish of Denny, and County of Stirling, viz:-

1.  CARRON GROVE PAPER MILL, on the South side of the road from Denny to Tamaree Mill, with the Machinery and Plant therein, including Water Wheel, Waterfall, beating Engines, Rope Cutter, Steam Boiler, Steam Drying Pipes, Callanders, Dry and Wet Presses, Cutting Machines, Yankee Machine, & c.; also, the DWELLING HOUSE and GARDEN, and large pasture Field lying West of the Mill, all as occupied by Mr John Miller”

(Stirling Observer 1 August 1867,1).
Illus: The Weir across the River Carron used to feed water into the lade.

John Miller and Co Ltd bought Carrongrove and during their time there this part of his business was referred to as the Carron Paper Company.  At the same time Miller also bought the adjoining woollen mill tenanted by George Battye and before long it was incorporated into the paper mill.  Miller set about improving and modernising the works.  This included replacing the old iron water wheel which measured 24ft in diameter, 12ft wide, and weighed 23 tons, with water driven turbines.  A Bertram’s paper machine with an 81ins wire and eleven 4ft drying cylinders was installed.

In July 1869 Thomas Taylor, engineer, Kirkcaldy, brought an action against the Carron Paper Company and John Miller for injuries received from the explosion of a rag boiler on the premises.  He may have been there as part of the upgrade.  Despite being offered £20 and a permanent job at the works he continued the case.

The church still had a strong hold on the population and in June 1874 John Miller agreed to close Carrongrove Mill on a Saturday because it was a Fast Day.  He must already have been aware of his financial difficulties and in November 1874 he was declared bankrupt.  For two years the paper mill was run by Plummer and Henderson and produced 18 tons of newsprint and low grade printings each week.  The weekly wages of a beaterman at this time were 25s and for machinemen 27s 7d.  Despite such output the mill was back on the market in 1877:

“That PAPER MILL, & c, commonly known as the CARRON PAPER WORKS, situated near Denny, in the County of Stirling: together with the Water Rights and privileges connected therewith, and the whole MACHINERY, Fixed and Movable, at present within the Works: and whole Houses and pertinent used and possessed in connection with said Mill, including Tamaree Flour Mill, with excellent Water-Wheel and Machinery therein…”

(Scotsman 4 April 1877, 2).

In April 1877 Carrongrove Paper Works were sold, along with Randolph-hill House, for the upset price of £25,000, the purchaser being T J Finlay (Falkirk Herald 3 May 1877).  A new company, the Carrongrove Paper Company Ltd, was formed to operate the mill and James Johnston was appointed as the manager.  Johnston had been the manager of James Brown’s Esk Mills in Penicuik.  Under his supervision, production and profits increased.  Johnston was a partner in the company and worked hard to ensure its success.  To maximise the use of the water power and the equipment, three shifts were worked.  Johnston lived in Randolphill, just up the hill from the mill and developed a routine of visiting the mill around midnight.  On one such occasion, on 20 June 1885, he evidently stumbled on his return journey and was drowned in the lade.

Illus: 1896/97 Ordnance Survey Map showing the various mills fed by the single lade at Tamaree Lin (National Library of Scotland).

Johnston was succeeded by William Walker of Kevock Mill in Lasswade.  He supervised the installation of a steam boiler plant, a main drive engine, plate glazing calendars and a second paper machine.  Two years later Walker was replaced by George Johnston, who was a nephew of the late James Johnston.

Illus: Carrongrove Paper Works looking south-east with the wooded valley of the River Carron on the left and Tamaree Cottage in the foreground.

“the Carrongrove Paper Company acquired the business [in 1877] and under their auspices, it has developed with remarkable rapidity.  In fact, during the last sixteen years, they have doubled the productive capacity of the mills and the weekly output is now averaging 80-tons.

During the past few years, the company have devoted their attention to several specialities in the way of papers now so popular, for which they are noted throughout the trade.  Among these may be mentioned their well-known tinted writing papers… cartridge and drawing papers, papers for enamelling and cream laid papers for account books.  They also produce printing papers and glazed envelope paper, as well as other varieties.  The works cover an area of 27 acres and are admirably arranged and organised throughout.  Upwards of 250 hands are employed.  A siding from the Caledonian Railway runs right into the works, thus affording excellent facilities for transport purposes… water power is largely utilised in driving the machinery in the mills…  They have… built up an extensive and influential connection not only at home but in the Colonies and America and upon the Continent.  The manager of the Company is Mr George Johnston, a gentleman of long experience in the trade, to whose energetic supervision, the success of the enterprise is in no small measure due”

(Clapperton 1895, 11)

The expansion of the various paper works along the banks of the River Carron greatly increased the amount of waste material being dumped into the waterway.  Prompted by a committee from the Eastern District Commissioners set up to reduce this pollution, a new evaporator was installed at Carrongrove at a cost of £2,000.  This equipment concentrated the spent liquor which was discharged from the esparto grass boiling process.  Previously this material had been put straight into the river.  After leaving the evaporator, the concentrated liquor had a tar-like appearance and was fed into the back of a rotary furnace.  The resulting gray ash was a crude form of sodium carbonate and was used to manufacture caustic soda.

Illus: The Rural setting of the Mill comes out in this scene looking north-west. c1920.

The last quarter of the nineteenth century was a profitable one for Carrongrove and its shares earned good dividends.  With the increase in the scale of production, the water supply continued to provide problems.  A large reservoir was constructed to the west of the mill to provide at least two days’ supply.  However, this interfered with the company’s obligations to provide the quantity and quality of water to its neighbour down the lade.  In 1889 Sir William Collins of the Herbertshire Paper Works brought a successful action to ensure its water.

Part of the success of the Carrongrove Paper Company lay in its use of piece-work rather than setting a standard wage.  This system often meant over-production and the company arbitrarily imposed upper limits without agreement or warning.  This came to a head in April 1891 when the ceiling was unknowingly set at 23s 9d.  The company dismissed one of the girls in the finishing department for insisting on being paid for the work that she had done over the previous fortnight!  They were paid every second week.  The remaining 40 girls walked out asking for a set wage of 14s a week and the reinstatement of the sacked woman.  As a compromise the management agreed to pay all future piece-work and (possibly) to reinstate the girl (Falkirk Herald 4 April 1891, 6).

George Johnston was forced to retire as the general manager due to ill-health in 1898, and indeed died shortly thereafter at the age of 41.  He was replaced at Carrongrove by William M Wallace.  The company had great plans to expand the works and in order to raise further capital it became a joint-stock company in April 1902 and was quoted on the Edinburgh Stock Exchange.  The following year William Wallace was appointed to the Board of Directors.

The expansion plans were delayed when, in September 1905, fire again broke out.  It was reported in the press:

A disastrous fire, which might have had far-reaching effects, occurred in the Carrongrove Paper Works, Denny, last night.  The fire broke out between eight and nine o’clock under the floor of the engine house, and the wood, saturated in some parts with oil and as dry as tinder, burned with the utmost rapidity.  The engine-house was quickly enveloped in flames, notwithstanding the best efforts of the mill brigade with a copious supply of water.  However, the fire was by the merest chance confined to the engine-house, a building 70 feet long and 30 feet high, in which a 600 horse-power engine is located.  A strong breeze fanned the flames, which blew in an easterly direction from the main buildings.  Before the fire was fully checked the linings of the offices and machine-rooms were charred, and part of the Herbertshire Paper Mills, which stand to the east of Carron Grove, were for a time in jeopardy.  How the fire occurred is a matter for conjecture.  It must have been smouldering for a time before it burst forth.  The loss is estimated at £3,000 to £4,000; but the real damage to the engine cannot be arrived at till the debris is removed.  The mill employs 200 hands, who will be partially thrown idle for some days

(Edinburgh Evening News 8 September 1905, 4).

This was a minor set-back and in November 1906 the Carrongrove Paper Company bought the adjoining Herbertshire and Stoneywood Works in order to have complete control of the water supply and to acquire ground for the proposed expansion.  The price paid is stated as £14,420.  Herbertshire Mill was closed on 12 January 1908 with the loss of 80-90 jobs.  Demolition began on 1 February with the 168ft chimney stalk.  The mill owner’s house at Herbertshire, Glencarron, was converted into the main offices.  The massive new extension housed a 112ins paper machine, one of the largest in the country.  It was the third paper machine at Carrongrove.  In 1909 trees next to Glencarron were removed to allow electric cables to be laid to the extended mill.  A fourth paper machine and more auxiliary plant were installed in 1912.

Industrial action was on the cards again in 1912 but this time it was the coal miners striking.  Trouble had been brewing for some time and the Carrongrove Paper Company had laid in a stock of coal in preparation to last for several weeks.  Even so, it had to make people idle for a time.

One of the most memorable outbreaks of fire occurred at Carrongrove Paper Mill in August 1913, involving the entire loss of a large grass storage building.  The shed, which measured 180 ft by 60ft and was constructed of iron framework with corrugated sheeting and concrete foundation, contained between two and three thousand tons of esparto grass and a large quantity of caustic soda.  The outbreak occurred near the wall adjoining the driving plant house, containing the 1100 horse-power turbines and electric plant, and an immense cloud of smoke was the first indication of anything being amiss.  The fire horn was sounded, and aid summoned from Glasgow and Falkirk.  The interior of the shed become a hot mass, and the heat buckled the iron structure.  The flames spread through the stored material, and holes were battered in the walls to gain access, but the heat beat the men off.  The entire store was soon enveloped.  The employees of all the mills were on the ground, and there was no lack of willing assistance from the outside.  The corrugated sheeting glowed red hot, and the interior became nothing short of a furnace.  Owing to the nature of the structure, devoid of woodwork, the danger to the surrounding sections was lessened.  The walls of the plant room cracked under the intense heat, and the making departments also gave signs of collapse.  The grass was worth around £3 10s per ton and the damage was estimated at about £15,000.  The greater number of the three hundred and fifty hands employed at the mill were temporarily thrown idle (Dundee Evening Telegraph 11 August 1913, 4).

The First World War saw a degree of government control imposed and naturally held up further development.  In 1922 Carrongrove had three large paper machines using Esparto grass to produce writing papers, capable of producing 22 tons per week, and a fourth machine making other paper.  The Esparto Paper Mills Company was formed in 1923 with a capital of £1,500,000 to take over the business of the Carron Grove Paper Co.  Improvements were made to the machinery and railway lines were laid within the works.

Illus: 1913/18 Ordnance Survey Map (National Library of Scotland).

Just two years later it was taken over by the Inveresk Group and in 1924 the name of Carrongrove was restored.  The new company continued the investment of its predecessors and by March 1925 there were four coating machines in operation.  Weekly output grew to 200 tons of plain paper and 230 tons of coated.

Up until the Second World War much of the paper had been taken by rail to Grangemouth Docks for coastal transport to London.  In the war it became necessary to complete the journey by rail and this continued thereafter.  Italian POWs were employed at the mill.  William Wallace died in 1946 and was succeeded as manager by his son, Morgan Wallace.  Morgan retired in 1967 and was replaced by his younger brother, Alen.  Throughout the seventy years of direction by the family the mill grew in favourable economic conditions and by the 1960s was employing over 600 workers at Carrongrove, the Coating Plant and Stoneywood Mill.

The 1970s saw a worsening of conditions for paper production in Scotland with greater competition from abroad and a world-wide recession.  Carrongrove Mill started to lose money and a succession of managers – J B Henderson, Jim Donald and Gordon Hall – was forced to rationalise and modernise the works.  Paper machines 1 and 2 were closed and automation increased.  Machines 3 and 4 were rebuilt and their capacity doubled.  Staff numbers dropped to 377 by 1977.

The Inveresk Group sold out to Georgia Pacific Corporation in 1981.  For a while it looked like the mill might be closed and there were 70 redundancies in 1984.  However, the following year a three-year investment programme began which saw £3.5 million spent on new machinery and technology to produce quality board for game cards, greetings cards, cosmetic packaging, record, video and CD sleeves for the new markets.  The board game called “Trivial Pursuit” sold well and helped to turn the mill into profit.  By 1989 staff numbers had fallen to 230 but mill capacity rose from 23,000 to 35,000 tonnes per year.

In October 1990 a £40 million sale saw Georgia Pacific hand over the mill to Inveresk plc.  The new firm had four papermills at Carrongrove, Cadwells. St Cuthberts and Westfield.  Three years later the company was floated on the stock exchange.  £4 million was invested in new machinery at Carrongrove and by 2000 it was producing 40,000 tonnes of coated paper per year. 

It ceased production in November 2005.

Sites and Monuments Record

SMR 484(NS 794 830)

G.B. Bailey, 2022