Larbert Mill (2)


Larbert Mill stands on the north side of Stirling Road on the south bank of the River Carron.  Despite its location it does not use the water from the river to provide the power.  Rather, it utilised the water from the Lightwater Burn which comes from Tamfourhill.  This water was stored in a mill pond on the south side of Stirling Road and it was the drop from there to the river which provided the gravitational energy.

It will have been noticed that the mill, being on the south side of the river, is not actually in Larbert parish.  The name has been attached to this mill at a relatively late date, probably when the old mill at Larbert was forced to close due to the construction of the weir on the River Carron for Carron Company in the late 18th century.  However, the use of the site for a water mill is older than that and this was probably formerly known as Carmuirs Mill.  As such it was one of three baronial mills within the barony of Callendar.

Illus 1: 1860/61 Ordnance Survey Map (National Library of Scotland).

From 1527 comes notice of “the Mill of Estir Carmure in barony of Calender” (Reid 2005, 38).  The earliest recorded miller was John Ewing who was there in 1629.  One of the feudal duties imposed on the tenants of Carmuirs was the maintenance of the mill and it often took the orders of the Barony court to enforce action.  Carmuirs Mill appears on several occasions in its records.  In 1639, for example, the Court :

Ordanes the haill tennentis of the barrony of Callender that is obleist to big and hald watertight the Carmwre Mylne to do the samyn or then the samyn to be done be the fermoreis of the said mylne upon thair expensss.” 

In 1640 the tenants of Wester Carmuirs were ordered  to thatch their parts of Carmuirs Mill and, having previously failed to do so, were given eight days to get it done otherwise it would be contracted out and they would have to pay the cost.  Then in 1643 John Gray and George Turner, tenants in Wester Auchingean, were each fined £5 for not helping to transport a millstone to Carmuirs Mill, having previously been notified that their services were required.  In 1646 the tenants of Bogton, Wester Carmuirs and Wester and Easter Auchingean were ordered to repair the damhead and pond

as they have beine in use and wont and to uphold the said mylne ilk persone under the paine of fyve pund incaice they dissobey being wairnit be the officer for that effect.” 

The following year these same tenants were asked to thatch the mill “with hedder” i.e. heather.

In 1651 the baronial mill at Lady’s Mill which served the town of Falkirk was under repair and the indwellers of the town were ordered to take their malt and other victual to Carmuirs Mill instead.  Failure to do so meant the confiscation of part of the crop.  Previously John Gray of Blackfaulds had been fined £5 for going to the mill at Jaw near Slamannan instead of that at Carmuirs to which he was thirled.

The corn mill and shilling hill at Carmuirs is last mentioned in 1745 when the Duke of Hamilton was temporarily in possession of it.  The mill came into the ownership of William Forbes in 1783 when he purchased the Callendar Estate.  Three years later the tenant of Stenhouse Mill, Lewis Bother, wrote to Forbes asking to take a let of Larbert Mill along with two or three parks (Forbes Papers 259/28).

In 1823 it was decided to rebuild Larbert Mill and John Hamilton, the overseer for Callendar Estate, was tasked with getting the work done.  The first job was to remove the sitting tenant, John Russell, who was too impoverished to pay his rent but had nowhere to go and refused to resign his lease which still had two years to run (Forbes Papers 1123/25).  An inspection in September that year of the mill, kiln and house showed that they were “all in a very ruinous state and would all require to be thoroughly renewed at his removal” (ibid 1124/23).  The Road Trustees were consulted and it was agreed to raise the level of the road using the new building as a retaining wall.  A cast iron trough was to be used to carry the water under the road from the pond to the water wheel.  (It appears that the Road Trustees used their powers to get the road widened and this was done by running it over vaulted rooms attached to the new mill.)  In March 1824 James Hardie of Falkirk produced an estimate for a two storey building of stone with a slate roof.

“with regard to the Estimate for Larbert Mill I have got Hardies and also two for the Machinery part   both the Mill Wrights agrees as to the dimensions of the Mill 36 feet long and 22 feet wide   James Hardies Estimate for Mason, Wright, Slater Plaster work and a Cast Iron Kiln head for drying the grain also for a dwelling house and Stable of the dimentions according to the ground Plans you saw when at Callendar last   Hardie to get all the old Materials except Tyles

His Estimate is:£657.00.00
If a Dwelling house was put up the same as (H. Reid at) Haining it would be –£693.00.00
The above to be all Foreign wood and also Slated.
If the front of the Mill was laid in courses it would cost 8 pounds More,
The Mill without the (Dwelling) house or Stable according to J. Hardie is£503.00.00″

Two estimates were obtained for the machinery:

“For the Machinery A. Clark offer is£325.00.00
    Do.   do.        Walter Potters offer is£236.04.05”
(Forbes Papers 1131/14).

By the end of July the walls were almost completed when it was suggested that an additional storey should be added – the upper floor being used for the hoppers.  This was agreed to and consequently the finished building had two storeys facing the road and three facing the river.  Clark’s offer for the machinery was accepted and in October he suggested using a pair of French Bur stones at a cost of around £35 (Forbes Papers 1131/35).  The walls of the dwelling were plastered and provided with cornices.  It was December before the Carron Company was able to cast the sheets for the kiln head and the troughs.  The trough was installed in January 1825 and cost £123.6, weighing 5tons 2cwt 3qtr.  The dam was enlarged and finished with a stone embankment and the sides faced with turf.  The last job was for Hardie to put a shade or lean-to shelter over the water wheel.  As finished, Larbert Mill was a mill for manufacturing meal and barley with two pairs of stones, one pair of ballglass stones and one pair of French Burs and a barley stone.  It was advertised for let.

Illus 2: Larbert Mill looking north-east in 2010.

Illus 3: The River Façade of  Larbert Mill in 2010.

Peter Johnston offered to take the 19 years’ lease, agreeing to maintain the building and dam but not taking any responsibility for damage caused by the river flooding.  Immediately he asked for an additional mill to be added to it for grinding flour, offering to pay 5% per annum of the cost.  Things did not work out and in 1829 the lease was again available;

“Mills and farms in the Barony of Callendar, in the parish of Falkirk and County of Stirling.  To be let by auction, within the Red Lion Inn, Falkirk, on Friday 13th February 1829 at twelve noon,

1.  LORD ALEXANDER’S, or LARBERT MILL DWELLING-HOUSE, and OFFICES, within three miles of Falkirk, on the Stirling road…

The entry to Lot 1st will be at Whitsunday next, for a lease of ten years… The above Mill, which was recently rebuilt and fitted up with machinery of the newest and best description, is situated in a populous and extensive corn district”

(Edinburgh Evening Courant 9 February 1829, 1).
Illus 4: The East Gable of Larbert Mill showing the better quality ashlar at the base adjacent to the water wheel. The circular groove cut into the stone by the wheel can also be made out.

In 1837 the mill was taken on by William Menzies and entered a long period of stability and profitable operation.  Menzies employed several men in the operation and the mill earned a widespread fame for its products.  William Menzies was occasionally called upon to act as an expert witness in thefts involving meal.  His experience was such that he could usually identify which mill had processed the material.  One of his employees was James Finlayson, grinder, who in his spare time hunted otters in the adjacent river.  Another was Mr Hinshaw who worked at the mill for almost 50 years.  The foreman, Mr Bain, was there for 40 years.  In March 1873 William Menzies retired due to ill health.

“CORN AND BARLEY MILL. To be LET, for such a Term of Years as may be agreed upon, with Entry at Whitsunday first, LARBERT MILL, near Larbert Station, containing Three Pair Stones and One Barley Stone, all driven by Water Power, with the Dwelling House, Offices, and Fields belonging to the same”

(Falkirk Herald 6 March 1873).

Amongst the material that he sold off were two sets of large beams and scales, and 6cwt of weights, one pair new barn fanners, with the whole of the sacks, scoops and mill furnishings, as well as one pair of French burr mill stones of 4½ft diameter. 

Robert Lang was the next tenant.  In July 1874 the nightmare of all millers occurred when his three year old son, Benjamin, drowned in the mill pond.  Robert Lang continued working Larbert Mill for another twenty years and in October 1874 he purchased the grain mills at Bonnybridge for £400.  He moved there but in 1897 handed the tenancy of Larbert over to his two sons Andrew and Robert.  Robert Lang had also run the mill profitably and when he died in February 1913, he left £6,122 in his will.

By 1911 Robert Wright Todd was the tenant at Larbert Mill still employing a number of staff such as James Malloch, foreman.  As well as flour and oatmeal he advertised high quality animal feed – pure bean meal made from China beans or safe beans, Scotch bean meal, Indian meal and pea meal made from sound grain only.  There was also horse feed, mixed grain, chop, hay and straw; poultry feed; cattle cake and calf meal; dried grains, Cummins, treacle, bran and thirds.  In 1913 he opened the Larbert Mill Meal & Flour Store in 6 Bank Street, Falkirk, as an outlet for his products.  The early adverts mention oatmeal at 8d to 2s per stone; fine, medium and rough cut flour from 1s 8d to 2s 2d per stone; pot barley, pearl barley, peas and lentils; poultry food, bird seed; horse feed and so on.  Over the years the mill building was gradually extended eastwards using the retaining wall for the road as the south wall.

In April 1915 a fire broke out at the mill.  It seems to have been caused by the buckling of one of the iron plates of the kiln.  There were sufficient mill workers on hand to get the fire under control and by the time that the Falkirk Fire Brigade arrived it had been confined to the kiln house whose roof collapsed.  The damage was estimated at £20-£30.  Like many small mill operators Todd had been finding it hard to compete with the larger mills and decided to cease production at the mill but to keep up the shop in Bank Street, now specialising in poultry equipment, with his partner, Mr Dunlop.


18hp electric motor by Greenwood and Batley; bruiser, with shafting and belts and spare roller; cwt hand baler by Dickie, mill cart, mill-stone crome, bean washer, weighing beam, weighing machine weights, block and tackle, grindstone, wheelbarrow, Minimax fire extinguisher, 3 sack barrows, turning lathe, 19 mill picks, ladder, lamps, fork, gralps, shovels, scraper, scythe, riddles, hammers, caluts, etc; garden shears and lawn mower, line sprayer, pails, oil and drum, paints, pots and brushed, emery, etc; riding saddle and bridle, intensive poultry house (Torrance), 2 small chicken houses, 3 chicken coops, railway sleepers, 60 stobs, 3 clothes poles, wire netting, paraffin stove, vice, joiner’s bench and vice, desk, office stool, small tables, copying press, trellis work, with small wood and iron gates, etc…”

(Falkirk Herald 13 November 1915).

Peter Webster seems to have operated Larbert Mill until his death in May 1917, after which it was taken over by John Stewart, meal miller.  John Stewart was a native of Cumbernauld and had 18 years’ experience in the trade.  A bus garage was built nearby and when, in July 1935, one of the buses caught fire, the Falkirk Fire Brigade was able to use water from the mill dam to prevent the garage buildings from catching fire.  Two coaches were completely destroyed (Falkirk Herald 10 July 1935).  It was probably in the 1930s that a brick and steel extension was added onto the north side of the mill building.  On his death on 17 September 1947 John Stewart was described as a “grain merchant” and was probably buying in much of his stock but was still processing material at the mill.  His son Peter took over.  In 1950 he rebuilt the garage on the opposite side of the road from the mill and this slowly became the centre of the operations.  The mill pond was filled in around the mid-1960s.

1629John Ewing
1646James Davie
1773William Dobbie
John Russell1824
1826Peter Johnston
Archibald Cowie
1837William Menzies1873
1873Robert Lang    1897
1897Andrew & Robert Landc1910
c1910Robert Wright Todd1915
1915Peter Webster1917
1917John Stewart1947
1947Peter Stewart
John Stewart
Illus 5: Extract from the 1913/17 Ordnance Survey Map (National Library of Scotland).

Sites and Monuments Record

Larbert Mill II (Carmuirs)SMR 1031NS 8605 8174

G.B. Bailey, 2022