(Stripeside Mill)

These works were located on the Brouster or Browster Burn (also known as the Toll Burn) at Stripeside.  This is probably the lint mill described as

part of West Boreland called Custonhall with a portion of land called Torbrex on the west side thereof and Lint Mill thereon.”

(Reid 2004, 74).
Illus 1: 1896/97 Ordnance Survey Map (National Library of Scotland).

In 1837 it was a chemical works operated by James Benny of Over Inziebar Farm in the parish of Torryburn.  The 1835 plan of the Estate of Herbertshire, surveyed by John Wilson, shows that Scrogg Mill on the River Carron was on land owned by a Mr Benny and it is likely that the works moved at this period.  Scrog is Scots for brushwood and so it would seem that the earlier mill was involved with the distillation of wood to make wood vinegar.  This required a mill to break up the wood.  The Custonhall works also conducted this line of business as noted in the New Statistical Account of 1841 which states that :

lower down the rivulet there are chemical works, for making pyrolignous acid and its compounds, in which its waters are useful for keeping the metal conduits cool.”

Michael Benny inherited the works some time before 1845.  In 1850 he and Robert Benny of the Underwood Chemical Works subscribed 10s 6d each towards the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace.  He also became a director of the Denny Junction Railway, investing £1,000 in shares.  Michael Benny died on 20 September 1864, aged 56 years.  He was succeeded by his nephew, Robert.  The day to day management of the Custonhall Liquor Works, as they were known locally, was left to George Henderson.  It was probably during this period that a black mill was added to the complex at the works.

Illus 2: Stripeside Bridge looking west with the Liquor Works on the extreme right, c1910.

The 1881 Census shows the following living at Custonhall House:

RobertBENNYHeadMarried53Wood acid & charcoal manufacturerDenny

Robert Benny died on 18 November 1892 and Custonhall Chemical Works fell to his son-in-law, Donald D MacRae, though it retained the name of Robert Benny, Ltd.  MacRae was a native of Glamis and had come to Denny as the stationmaster, a role he performed for twelve years.  In 1909 MacRae introduced gas to the works, supplied by the Town Council, “for lighting purposes and for starting his suction plant.”  He was unfortunate in his luck and during his proprietorship he suffered a fire, a miners’ strike and industrial sabotage.  The first of these occurred on 1 December 1907 when fire broke out in a two-storey building used as a store and still-room.  Although the burgh fire brigade was able to stop it spreading to adjacent buildings the damage was estimated at almost £150 and was not covered by insurance.

The miners’ strike occurred in 1912 and in desperation MacRae bought coal dross from A & G Anderson of Glasgow to tide him over.  He found that it did not burn to the requirements of his work, but still had to pay £39 2s for the 28 tons 8cwts that he had ordered.

The sabotage was the most amazing of the incidents.  On four separate occasions the blacking mill was entered in the night, dynamite was placed on the pan mills, and the resulting damage either stopped or considerably reduced production of blacking.  The dates involved were the 29 June 1914, when damage was done to the value of £25; on 25 August 1914, damage £5; 3 December 1914, damage £60; and 1 December 1916 when the damage amounted to £45.  As a result of the damage done on the last occasion the amount of blacking was reduced by a half for two months and customers were seriously affected.  Eventually the Stirlingshire Police brought successful convictions against two miners, James Lang and William Lang, father and son, miners 31 Pleasant St, Pollockshaws, (but originally from the Denny area).  It was alleged, but not proven, that they did so at the behest of William Cumming who was also a blacking manufacturer with works at Camelon, Maryhill, Chesterfield, Middleborough and Birmingham.

The pan mill, which was used for rough grinding, was an open building – i.e. a shed without walls so that it was well-ventilated.  After the first attacks it was surrounded by a fence on the advice of the police.  In the inner pan two rollers revolved, these weighing about two tons.  Only a day shift was worked, and the night watchman at the chemical works paid occasional visits to the blacking mill.  Normally five tons of blacking were produced a day and it was sold to ironfounders in the Falkirk and Glasgow districts.  The firm claimed that it was, perhaps, the first to make this blacking, and in 1908 the works was greatly increased.

On 29 September 1927 there was another fire.  A workman who happened to be passing the works about 4am observed flames and smoke issuing from a shed in the rear of the premises.  He immediately gave information as to his discovery, and the Carrongrove Paper Company’s Fire Brigade were summoned by the blowing of the fire siren at the mill.  The summons not only had the effect of bringing the brigade together in a short space of time but awakened a large number of the inhabitants from all parts of the town who made for the scene.  The fire was confined to the shed where it originated – a brick building about 20 x 18ft, with a tile roof used for the storage of bags of blacking.  The origin of the fire was supposed to be due to spontaneous combustion.

Illus 3: Stripeside Bridge looking west towards Stoneywood, c1920. The Weir can be seen on the right.

Donald MacRae died in January 1936, aged 82 years.  His house, at Broompark, was occupied by his sister until her death and then, in accordance with his will, was left to the church for use as a manse.  The works continued to struggle on into the Second World War with parts used as a sawmill.  By 1945 they were largely unused and some vandalism occurred.  In 1947 the site was purchased by Denny Town Council in preparation for improvements and the firm sold off the remaining equipment.

The site is now a pleasant, grassed area with trees growing on the banks of the burn.  The adjacent hump-backed bridge remains.

Sites and Monuments Record

Custonhall (Stripeside Mill)SMR 1214NS 8049 8271

G.B. Bailey, 2022