Headswood Mill (Denny Paper Mill)

Illus: 1896/97 Ordnance Survey Map (National Library of Scotland).

In 1869 John Luke leased the old bleachfield at Kirkland and converted it into a paper mill called the Denny Paper Mill.  Despite being at Kirkland it soon became known to the locals as Headswood because the main access for the works was by a bridge across the river from Headswood.  John Luke’s father ran a paper mill at Crook of Devon and John had gained much experience there, arriving in Denny in 1859 to manage the Carrongrove Paper Mill for Robert Weir.  At Headswood John Luke manufactured board – Duplex Mill wrappers and lapping.  Old rope was bought through dealers who gathered it from shipyards and ports and delivered it to Headswood.  In 1877 the cost of this material was 10s 3d per cwt.

Large quantities of water were used in the papermaking – the bleaching and boiler processes taking around 400,000 gallons a day, with extra to provide power.  An awful accident happened in June 1882 when workmen were carrying out maintenance work on the water wheel and repairing its buckets.  Having more or less completed the work, the wheel was set in motion but one of the men, John Cameron from Saltpans, was still working on the underside and was crushed and died a couple of hours later.  He was only 35 years of age.

The low-lying location of the Headswood Mill meant that it was prone to flooding.  Several floods are recorded:

March 1875Bridge carried away
December 1888Work suspended for over a day.
February 1897Operations suspended due to backwater from the floods.
January 1903Workers unable to cross the flood water in order to get to work.
March 19063ft of floodwater inside the buildings caused a stoppage of only 12 hours.
January 1909Considerable damage with some material washed away.
November 1912Floors covered and operations suspended.
February 1913Extensive flood waters interfered with work.
February 1920Bridge compromised and machines flooded.
February 1928Water entered the machine hose and work suspended for a day.
August 19493ft of water in parts of the mill.  The electric motor for driving the turbine circulating pump submerged.
October 1954Machine house and a store flooded.

John Luke died on 24 March 1898 aged 72 and his sons continued the business as part of the Vale Paper Company.  On 13 March 1900 the office and oil stores at Headswood Paper Works were completely consumed by a fire.  A cart way separated these buildings from the machine rooms of the mill and the paper stores and so, with a plentiful supply of water available and the assistance of the Stoneywood Paper Mill Fire Brigade, it was possible to confine the fire.

Illus: 1913/18 Ordnance Survey Map showing the increase in size of the buildings (National Library of Scotland).

The Luke family were seen as hard but fair employers.  At the other paper mills in Denny the workers were paid fortnightly and were expected to provide a fortnight’s notice of leaving their employment.  At Headswood wages were paid weekly.

The mill at Headswood went through a massive programme of reconstruction in 1934.  This was timely, for in 1936 the two mills of the Vale Paper Co Ltd, Denny, were brought under the control of the industrial combine known as Associated Paper Mills Ltd.  The mills were completely reorganised and new plant introduced. 

Illus: Aerial photograph of the Denny Paper Works looking north-east, c1935.

August 1943 saw a troublesome fire start among the baled waste paper at Headswood.  It was stored in a brick, iron and concrete building, measuring about 150ft by 50ft, with much glass on the roof – and it was discovered by the beaterman on duty, who raised the alarm.  On the call being given, the Denny unit of the National Fire Service was on the scene in a short space of time, and before long there were five pumps and several jets from the surrounding area to tackle the blaze.  Estimates give the amount of waste paper involved at about 60 tons, and a large quantity of this was destroyed or rendered into a sodden mass ready to break into flames at the least disturbance.  Efforts of the firemen were to a large extent concentrated in preventing the flames attacking the main buildings of the mill and in this they were successful.  Besides the destruction of the waste paper and a quantity of pulp, considerable damage was done to the building.  The damage was estimated at £600.

Illus: Aerial view of the Denny Paper Works, c1960.

Fire remained a problem.  In December 1951 fire broke out in another store made of corrugated iron and steel at the north end of the works.  The alarm was raised and the workmen present rescued a pony stabled there.  Upon release it went straight back into the burning building and had to be retrieved a second time.  The firefighting units from Falkirk (two), Carrongrove, Denny, Grangemouth and Slamannan, focused on preventing the fire from spreading and there was no interruption to production.  Three stores – one 50 yards long and two over 30yds long – were demolished, and two adjoining brick buildings, including the old beating mill, were also slightly damaged.  It was estimated that this represented £15,000 of damage (Falkirk Herald 19 December 1951, 7).

Illus: 1960/61 Ordnance Survey Map (National Library of Scotland).

Despite the floods and fires, papermaking at Headswood continued into the 1970s.  Final closure came in c1978.  Most of the buildings of the paper mill were demolished in the 1980s and the brick ones were utilised as part of an industrial estate.

Sites and Monuments Record

(Kirkland Bleachfield)SMR 491(NS 827 825)

G.B. Bailey, 2022