Lady’s Mill

Lady’s Mill was one of three baronial mills in the barony of Callendar and was the closest to the town of Falkirk.  It was located on the Meadow Burn which at this point becomes the Lady’s Mill Burn to the north-east of the town.  As the number of houses near the mill increased the neighbourhood derived its name from it.

Illus 1: Ordnance Survey Map, surveyed in 1860 and published 1864 (National Library of Scotland).

The first surviving historical reference to Lady’s Mill is in 1546 when Robert Oswald took possession of part of the townlands of Falkirk with the condition that he grind his corn at the Lady’s Mill.   It is depicted on Timothy Pont’s map, drawn up around 1585.  Duncan Brown, who is given as “at Ladeismilne” may have been the miller at that time.  Subsequent notices show that John Kaitter, who is also given as “at Ladiesmylne” in 1644, was certainly the miller then.

Repairs to the mill are frequently mentioned in the Court Book. They tend to focus on the maintenance of the mill dam and on the roof.  In 1646, for example, Robert Livingston and Robert Russell were ordered

to Theike [thatch] thair pairts of the Laydiesemylne with hedder [heather] betwixt and this dey 8 deyis ilk persone under the paine of 3 lib.” 

Other parts of the roof then needed attention and the Court:

Ordanes the tennentis of Glen Scheilhill and Greincraige to theik the Ladiesmylne with hedder suffitientlie all at ane tyme and to perfyte the samen betwixt and this dey 15 deyis Under the paine of fyve pund that failzies by and attor the theiking of the mylne.” 

The following year, 1648,

Compeirit Robert Russell and John Quhyte and obleist thameselffis to theik thair pairtis of the Ladiesmylne with hether betwixt and the first of august nixt.”

In 1651 Norman Livingston, one of the baron bailies, made due and lawful intimation to the whole indwellers within the town of Falkirk who were obliged and astricted to grind their malt and other victuals at the Lady’s Mill to pass to the Carmuirs Mill with their said victuals until the Lady’s Mill was rebuilt.  He also intimated to them that John Kaitter was now the miller there and that those who did not go to Carmuirs Mill would have to pay double multure and to pay for their unlawful action.

The rebuild seems to have solved the problem with the roof but periodically the dam still needed attention.  In August 1693 the Barony Court

Ordains the wholl inhabitants with in the toun of Falkirk or ther servants in their names shall yearly or swa oft as neid be cause and cleanise the Ladys Mylne damb and do all service theratt According as they have been formerly in use to do and that whensover they shall be advertised be the taxmen of ye myine or toun officers for doeing thereof, and whosoe faillzies after ther being adverteiced to pay fourtie shilling Scots for each absence and ordains the officer to poynd the defirrence for the sainen and ratifies all former acts made anent the samen.”

The Court Book for 8 August 1699 suggests that further periodic rebuilding took place:

John Aitkine maltman in Falkirk agt. Robert Johnstone maltman there, for £6 as price of 3 firlots malt, which RJ took out of the new miln in lieu of his own.”

The taxman or tacksman collected the charge made by the baron for the use of the mill.  Also known as the fermourer, he made sure that the tenant complied with the law.  In 1647 “John Burne in Lairbert fermourer of the myles of Lairbert and Ladiesmylne” brought a case against tenants for “going by the saidis mylnes”.

In 1783 the mill, along with the Lands of Callendar, was acquired by William Forbes.  The estate had been much neglected over the previous decades and it is not surprising to find that in 1801 Lady’s Mill was in a dreadful state as noted in the following correspondence:

“George Shaw called yesterday evening and informed me that the inside machinery of Ladies Mill is altogether failed. In the course of yesterday when the mill was working the inner wheels went compleately to pieces – He describes it as being past repairing, the main Axle of the water wheel being so decayed that new work could not be fixed to it – the Mill is now standing still –”

(Forbes Papers 717/22 dated 27 Feb 1801)

 “I have seen Lady’s Mill and am really afraid it is past repairing – The inner wheel which moves the machinery is totally gone to pieces – the main axle upon (which) it and the water wheel is fixed is quite decayed, so much so as to prevent new work being fixed to it – the water wheel is also decayed – The water gabel is so ruinous as to surprize me it does not fall – when you are present we can contrive what will be the best way of setting the Mill to work again –”

(Forbes Papers 717/24 dated 4 March 1801)

William Forbes was busy investing in and improving other parts of the estate and so decided that he would grant a 19 year lease for Lady’s Mill for a rent of only £60 which left the tenant with £100 to rebuild the mill (Forbes Papers 730/4 dated 29 June 1801).

The catchment area for the stream feeding the mill dam was not large.  The East Burn of Falkirk starts at Callendar Loch and passes through the Park to the foot of East Bridge Street and then through the Meadows.  Water shed from the Meadows used to augment that in the stream but in 1825 the owner of the Meadows, Mr Bell, put deep drains in these fields in order to dry them.  The drains bypassed the mill dam, emptying into the stream below it.  The miller complained (Forbes papers 1172/2 dated 2 June 1826).  The construction of a massive railway embankment across the valley in 1848 changed the drainage even further.

The lack of dependability of the water supply was answered by installing a steam engine at the mill.  In the 1840s the millwright, Peter Taylor, also doubled as an engineer in order to maintain this equipment.  Indeed he seems to have experimented upon it for in 1842 the Stirling Observer of 17 December announced that this young and ingenious inventor intended to patent a new valve which remedied one of the major defects of the steam engines of the time.

A very simple and effectual method of remedying this has been devised, which seems fitted very speedily to take its place among the most valuable efforts of skill, and prove at once of vast utility in many situations where power combined with economy is desired.  From a working model we have had the satisfaction of inspecting, we may simply state, that at the bottom of the cylinder there is fitted a conical valve through which the whole of the water injected by the jet is completely let off on the instant the piston is to descend, and the chamber remains perfectly dry when the steam is admitted for the next stroke.” 

The next miller at Lady’s Mill seems to have been James Cowie for in 1851 he sold off his animals along with a patent weighing machine, mill picks and barrows (Falkirk Herald 10 April 1851, 2).  The following year Thomas Gillespie was looking for an apprentice for the mill – “a stout active lad of about 18 years of age.”  Gillespie was the tenant of William Forbes who owned the fabric of the mill, but the fittings of the mill belonged to the tenant.  Having reviewed the operation of the mill Gillespie decided to sell off surplus equipment that was no longer used.  These included:

  • A WATER WHEEL, 17 feet Diameter by 4 feet Broad,
  • 3 COG WHEELS, 4 feet Diameter, with Pinions.
  • 1 Set of FANNERS, suitable for a Thrashing or Meal Mill,
  • 1 Set of Small MEAL FANNERS,
  • 1 Set of MEAL SEIVES and SCREE, with Shaft and Pinion, and
  • 1 pair of SHELLING STONES, 4 feet 6 inches Diameter.

These were said to have been very little used (Falkirk Herald 22 September 1853).

Illus 2: 1859 Ordnance Survey Map (National Library of Scotland).

By this time Lady’s Mill was a large building used as a meal and flour mill, with a storehouse for grain in the northern portion.  The bulk of the mill was of two storeys with a wing on the north side for the kiln.  The working part of the mill occupied the southern end of the building and here a large new wheel was installed and the gearing upgraded.  The northern end of the main building was used as a grain store.  The store held processed materials belonging to tradesmen in the town such as the bakers, farmers and flour merchants.  Separate and to the south of this was the boiler and engine house.

The Ordnance Survey Name Book of 1859 describes it thus:

“LADY’S MILL – This name applies to a farmsteading and a few dwellinghouses adjacent, together with a corn mill.  Which is worked by steam – wheel 8 horse power.   The buildings are all one storey, slated and in good condition.  Property of Wm Forbes Esq, Callendar House, Falkirk.”

In 1860 Thomas Gillespie sublet the mill to James Braes of the Burgh Mill at Linlithgow and he moved into the neighbouring dwelling.  Thursdays were market days in the town and James Braes would go there to sell his products.  He was there on 5 December 1861 at three o’clock in the afternoon when his men were operating the mill as normal.  A small fire broke out in the gearing of the mill, probably caused by the friction of the machinery which was covered by dry dust from the grain.  It did not take long to put out the fire and Mrs Braes, who had been at home, assisted.  When James Braes returned home he was told about the incident and went and checked the mill.  Everything being in order he locked it up for the night.  However, about 7pm a woman passing the mill noticed smoke issuing from it.  The alarm was raised and a large crowd gathered.  By 7.45pm the flames had extended along the entire roof, fanned by a breeze from the west.  About 8pm the roof fell upon the upper floor causing the fire to flare up and the windows to give way.  By this time many of the crowd were assisting to remove the sacks and barrels of grain and flour from the ground floor at the north end of the building – despite the fact that the flames were now devouring the floor above them.  Attempts to break open the wooden compartments in which more flour was stored were futile.  The heat was too intense for this to continue after 8.15pm and about 9pm the greater portion of the upper storey fell in.  The fire engine from Falkirk had arrived on the scene around 8.30pm and slowly it brought the fire under control.  By that time it was too late to save the building, apart from the end with the kiln in it and the boiler house to the south.  Most of the contents of the granary and the mill machinery were lost.

The machinery of the mill had been the property of Thomas Gillespie and was insured for £500 with the Provincial Welsh Insurance Company.  Fortuitously James Braes had taken out a separate policy for £1,000 to cover the stock in trade which included the materials stored for his clients.  The fabric of the building, however, had not been insured and so Forbes did not rebuild it.  The material rescued from the fire was taken to a granary in Grahamston and sold off and the money used to allow the businesses who had lost their stock to continue in operation.  The amount saved was:

  • 9 quarters of Wheat – slightly damaged
  • 10 quarters of Fine Wheat
  • 10 sacks of Superfine Flour
  • 3 barrels of Flour
  • 2 lots of damaged grain

Businessmen banded together to present James Braes with 25 sovereigns.  However, Henry Bell, blacksmith in Falkirk was found guilty of stealing a number of brass bushes from the steam engine the following March.  The rest of the engine and what could be salved from the mill were sold off:

“High pressure steam engine, water wheel, & c for sale at Lady’s Mill. Engine, crank overhead; cylinder, 15 inches and 2 feet stroke. Boiler, 30 feet by 4 1/2 feet. Driving wheel, 7 feet diameter, with strong shafting. Size of water wheel, 17 feet by 4 feet broad. Also, six score of kiln plates (15 in). Offers for the whole, or in separate lots, will be received by Thomas Gillespie, Pleasance, Falkirk, 22d July 1863.”

(Falkirk Herald 23 July 1863).

The mill was never restored.  William Forbes sought other uses for the site, including conversion to a slaughter house.  At this time Falkirk Town Council was exercised with the need to remove the existing insanitary provision from the town centre to a site outside of the urban limit.  Concern was expressed that the waste from such a slaughter house would pollute the burn.  However it soon became evident that the opposite was the case and that the stream was now so heavily laden with sewage from the town that it would be unsafe to place the slaughter house there.  This too had to be dealt with and around 1875 the mill pond was filled in and the stream culverted.  In 1878 a brass foundry was erected on the site of the old mill by Henry Russell.  It was not long before the whole area was built over with a sawmill occupying the area of the former pond.  Like the adjacent agricultural implement makers works it was powered by steam.

1580sDuncan Brown?
1644John Kaitter
1718Alexander Watt
1842Peter Taylor
James Cowie1851
1852Thomas Gillespie
James Braes
1647John Burn
1683John Livingstone
1684Thomas Burn

Sites and Monuments Record

Lady’s MillSMR 679NS 8963 8020

G.B. Bailey, 2022