Airth Mill

Illus 1: Extract from the 1861 Ordnance Survey Map showing the location of Airth Mill and the length of the Lade (National Library of Scotland).

Airth Mill was located on the north side of the Pow of Airth just to the south-east of the old parish church.  The long lade began 1.75km to the west and may have begun life as a drainage channel to receive water pumped from the coal pits by a windmill.  The mill building lay on the west side of the road that crossed the Pow by the Airth Mill Bridge with the farmsteading of Airth Mill on the opposite side of the road.  When the route was upgraded to a turnpike between 1810 and 1820 it was realigned the road was placed on the east side of the farm.

Illus 2: Pont’s 1580s Map (National Library of Scotland). The Mill is indicated by an X within a circle just below Airth Castle.

In 1391 Robert II confirmed the gift of the church at Airth to Holyrood Abbey. This included “freedom to construct a mill“, which presumably was done shortly afterwards. Although it is depicted on Pont’s map of the 1580s, it was displaced to the south due to the large pictogram used for the neighbouring castle.  However, the first written notice of the mill appears in 1618. At that time the Mill of Airth was in the possession of Lord John Bruce of Airth.  For a substantial part of the 17th century Airth Mill was occupied by the Logan family.  As well as being millers the family seem to have held the mill in feu for in 1622 Major Alexander Bruce obtained a letter of disposition granted by John Logan with the consent of his father, George.

In the early 18th century the mill lade south of Airth Castle was incorporated into the designed landscape of that country seat.  Several plans were drawn up for the gardens and all of them included water features in the form of ornately edged ponds.  To the west of this formal element an estate wash-house and bleaching green used its waters.

In 1752 the landlord was complaining that meal for ale which should have been ground at the mill was imported instead (NLS ms10875 -197).  The tenant at this time evidently did not maintain the mill in the manner agreed in the tack for when, in 1773, Robert Archibald became the tenant it was necessary for the Grahams of Airth Castle to pursue the relatives of Archibald Hodge, the deceased previous tenant, for payment of repairs through the baron court (NLS ms10865 – 13; ms10876 -58).  An estimate for the required mason work was provided by Thomas Paterson of St Ninians, but the relatives claimed that this was for a new ashlar gable to replace one which was sound and was not leaning.  The estimate also  included work on the damhead, to which they countered that:

The damb was never the  work  of  a tradesman, but a parcell of stones thrown in as they appear at present, and the thirle is in use to uphold such, and a short while of a day will rickle it up as well as ever it was“. 

It was also noted that new doors were not really required by the conditions of rent which merely stated that the tenant was to maintain and leave in a good condition the miln, kiln, dambs & damheads.  The court decided that the condition of the mill was to be assessed by tradesmen appointed by the baron bailie

two skillfill men to visit and inspect the said subjects, and to report in writing what it will cost to put them in sufficient order & condition and that the Bailie will decern Hodge’s heir to pay you what ever sum the valuators shall report the expence to be…” 

The estimate of repair costs was to include thatch for barn, dwelling house, miln, big kiln, little kiln, house next to the dam (dryster’s?), three houses below the brae; also a pan for the big kiln and three houses.  It was also pointed out that the duties of thirle only included the annual cleaning of the miln dam and leading home of miln stones when necessary.  The last time that the thirles carried stones for the damhead had been some 47 years before, which meant that Archibald Hodge had never drawn upon this as a right during his tenancy.  100 carts of stones and 20 men were required to repair the damhead.

Illus 3: Roy’s 1755 Map (National Library of Scotland).

The new articles of set show just how extensive the mill, mill lands and houses at Airth were and that a proportion of the rent was still paid in kind:

“Articles of the sett of the subjects after mentioned  belonging to  William Graham of Airth Esquire, viz All and Haill the said Wm  Graham  his miln  and  kilns of Airth with the multures, sequels,  knaveship,  bannock  and other  dues  priviledges & services used and wont and  haill  sucken  belonging thereto with the houses, barns, stables, byres, cotehouses and yards belonging thereto, together with the whole lands & teinds thereof lately possessed by the deceast Archd Hodge tenant of the said Mills of Airth, except the rig called Hodge’s Rig, which is hereby declared not to be included in the said sett  but expressly excepted therefrom, and with the whole loans, ditches, stanks, grass, mill  and lands, as the same were lately possessed by the said  deceased  Archd Hodge & his cottars, & extending to thirty seven acres two roods & twenty five falls  Scots  measure or thereby, exclusive of Hodges Rig, with  the  piece  of grass ground between the two bridges called the Tongue and with the  priviledge of the moss and commonty upon the moss of Airth, for casting, winning,  leading &  away  taking  of peats, turves & divots for the service of  the  said  mill, kilns, house and hail other pertinents belonging or which were in use to belong to the said mills, lands, houses and others…

That  during the running of an half hour sand glass, the subjects  particularly before  mentioned shall be exposed to sett for the space before mentioned,  and sett up at the yearly rent following viz £24.6.8 sterling of  money  rent  90 bolls good and sufficient oat meal at eight stone Amsterdam weight each boll 32 bolls good & sufficient well dight bear, run mel with the said William Graham’s ordinary  firlot of the said Barony of Airth, with 15 capons or one shilling & sixpence for each undelivered capon, 23 hens or one shilling sterling for each undelivered hen, twelve chickens or sixpence sterling for each  undelivered chicken, four threaves of straw or tenpence sterling for each undelivered  threave, and ten creels of peats or fourpence sterling for each creel…

the  said  tenant  to assist in leading of miln stones to the  said  mill,  and casting  of the mill dams & leads, when desired, and do all other  services  at the said mill & kilns, conform to use & wont…likewise  to  uphold  and maintain the said miln, kilns  dams,  damheads,  mill leads, houses and others forsaid in a sufficient tenantable & habitable  condition, and to leave them so at the expiry of the said tack…”

(NLS MS10854 – 235).

As well as protecting their rights to thirlage the mill owners zealously guarded their rights to the water.  Any diversion of water upstream had to be seriously considered and so in the late 1770s William Murray of Polmaise was careful to obtain permission from the Grahams of Airth Castle for a temporary diversion for a scheme which was delayed until 1784 when he wrote again:

You may perhaps recolect that several years ago I spoke to you on the view I then had of running away moss through Mr Cunninghams Estate of Throsk for permission to take the waters of a well and what other waters  go from my grounds of Cowie to your mill at Airth at such time as you had  plenty of water so as to be able to spare them without infeiring your mill, the scheme for running away moss did not at that time take place: having now settled on  a plan  with Mr Cuningham for the running away the moss I beg leave to  renew  my application …” 

 (NLS MS10876 (285) dated 4 Dec 1784).

Water was still an issue in 1825 when David Nicol, the 73 years old steward and miller at Airth Mill considered that all the water of the different springs and groundless wells were the property of the Mill.  Those who had previously diverted part of this water were forced to remove their dams (NLS MS 10857 – 201).  The mill was also kept up to date and in 1812 James Russell of Loanhead provided specifications and an estimate for a new kiln for the mill as well as repairs to the main building (NLS ms10886 – 126-7).

Illus 4: Extract from the 1860 Ordnance Survey Plan (National Library of Scotland).

The Ordnance Survey Name Book describes it as

A farmsteading with a corn mill attached, partly thatched and slated, one storey and in good repair. The corn mill is propelled by water and the strength of which is from 7 to 8 horse power. Property of William Graham Esq., Airth Castle, Airth.” 

At that time William Boyd was the tenant.  In 1864 he sold a baker’s shop, bake-house and granary in the village.  He died in 1870 and the mill and mill lands were put up for let by the estate.    The farm consisted of 87.79 Scots acres of arable and 2.36 of pasture.  The next tenant appears to have been Thomas Graham.  He was still operating the mill periodically in 1886 for in October that year his second son was drowned in the lade whilst attending to the sluice.  John Graham was 28 years old at the time but was prone to epileptic fits.  On the fateful morning his father had decided to work the mill for threshing and around 10am he had closed the sluice so as to get the dam full.  However the father was delayed and so the water level rose too high and around 11.15am he sent John to open the overflow sluice.  He had not returned by 1pm and a search found his body lying in 2ft of water in the lade.  Thomas Graham remained at Airth Mill for another ten years when he too died.  His son, Robert continued to farm at Airth Mill but the mill seems to have been abandoned.  In 1907 the tenancy ended and at the consequent displenishing sale a large quantity of agricultural equipment was sold off but there were no items relating to milling (Falkirk Herald 28 September 1907).

Illus 5: Dormer Pediment built into the roadside wall at Airth Mill.

Over the following decades the lade between the mill pond and the Pow was filled in.  It was the 1970s before the mill building was demolished and the lade crossing the field to the west also filled.  The site is now used as a transit depot.  Apart from the lade, which can still be traced to south of Airth Castle, nothing remains of the mill today with the possible exception of a cut down dormer pediment built into the boundary wall facing the road (at NS 9025 8686). This is inscribed in relief:”1642/ RC.SH”.

1642George Logan
1644George Logan jnr
Walter Row1678
1678Archibald Row
1720sArchibald Hodge
Archibald Hodge1773
1773Robert Archibald
c1780David Nicol1825
1864William Boyd 1870
1870Thomas Graham1896

Sites & Monuments Record

Airth MillSMR 890(NS 9025 8676)

G.B. Bailey, 2022