Ford Mill

The corn mill at the ford across the River Bonny at Bonnybridge was erected in 1754 (Waugh 1981, 131), just too late to appear on Roy’s Great Map.  A weir was constructed across the river to direct water into a lade which, with its tail race, cut off a prominent meander of the river.  At the time there was only a handful of buildings in the area of what became the village of Bonnybridge.  The mill was not a baronial mill but operated on a commercial basis.  The road climbing the hill on the west side of the mill was known as Ford Road, whilst that following the river westward became Lade Road.  It is probable that Lade Road had been the main road to the west prior to the construction of the road bridge after which the village takes its name.  Initially the mill was known simply as “the flour mill at Bonnybridge” or “Bonnybridge Mill,” and only seems to have become “Ford Mill” in the twentieth century.  Being on the north side of the river it was in the parish of Denny.

The mill was used for making flour as early as 1792 (Reid 2005, 37).  By 1836 it was in the possession of John Wilson.  At that time it acquired an adjoining sawmill as noted in the New Statistical Account for Denny of 1841 :

a considerable wheaten, flour, oatmeal, and pot-barley mill, with a small saw-mill, were built, some time since, at Bonnyford, in the eastern extremity of the parish.  The waters of Bonny not furnishing adequate power for meeting the demand for the manufactories here, a steam-engine is erected and put to work, when necessary.”

Illus 1: Extract from the 1862 Ordnance Survey Map (National Library of Scotland).

“MILLS AT BONNYBRIDGE FOR SALE.  There will be exposed to Sale by Public Roup, in the Red Lion Inn, Falkirk, on Thursday the 11th day of February next, at One o’clock Afternoon, The Mills at Bonnybridge, as these have long been tenanted by Mr John Wilson, miller.  The water-power is extensive, and the Mills presently used are adapted for Wheat, Corn, and Barley.  Wood-sawing had been carried on to some extent, and this branch might be largely increased.  There is also steam power on the premises.  For grinding of every kind the situation and water-power are admirably adapted, and, with a small outlay, the Property might be made very valuable.  A portion of the purchase-money may remain on the security of the Subjects.

Information will be afforded on application to Mr William Skinner, baker, 307 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow; or to Mr Robert Henderson, Writer, Falkirk, who is in possession of the Titles and the Articles of Roup.”

(Falkirk Herald 28 January 1864).

Mr Finlayson was the miller at Bonnybridge Mills in 1865 but in 1872 it was taken over by John Cousland.

“To be exposed to sale by public roup…the flour mill, meal, corn, barley and thrashing mills at Bonnybridge, together with the dwellinghouse, granaries, stable and other accommodations. A large sum was expended several years ago in putting the buildings and machinery into thorough order and repair. The mills are situated in the centre of a populous district, and the occupant, if possessed of moderate capital, may secure a pretty large trade. Present rent £45. Feu duty £6. Upset price (to ensure sale) £450.”

(Falkirk Herald 6 Jan 1872).

Cousland then advertised for a miller (Falkirk Herald 28 December 1872) and invested heavily in yet more machinery.  In May 1874 it was announced:

“DENNY. BONNYBRIDGE Mills. —Two highly improved and decidedly novel set-acting barley mills, the first of the kind put up in the West of Scotland, have just been erected for Mr Cousland in the Bonnybridge Mills by the makers, Messrs J. & J. Fletcher, Denny.  By the old system of making pot barley two men with a barley mill can produce on an average only eight tons of grain in a week of 24 hours per day, and frequent stoppages of the machinery are necessary to enable the millers to empty and refill the hoppers.  The new mill, again, with only one man to guide it, produces 34 to 36 tons of grain in a week of 12 hours a day.  It fills and empties itself mechanically, without stopping, by means of endless sheets, and by an ingenious contrivance the grain is carried in elevators from under the mill to the top flat, where it is dusted by a dusting machine.  The only work devolving on the miller is the filling of the hopper at the start, and the maintenance of a continuous supply.

(Falkirk Herald 2 May 1874).

John Cousland was evidently an enterprising man and made a point of producing the season’s first pot barley for the market.  Between 1869 and 1877 he was the first miller in central Scotland to sell this product using barley grown on local farms.  The exact date in August of these sales depended upon the harvest:

  • 1869    7 August
  • 1870    9 August
  • 1871    28 August
  • 1872    23 August
  • 1873    11 August
  • 1874    24 August
  • 1875    17 August
  • 1876    14 August
  • 1877    30 August

(Fife Herald 13 September 1877)

John Cousland died in 1893 and on 17 November that year Ford Mill was offered for sale in the Golden Lion Hotel in Stirling at the upset price of £1,000.  It failed to find a buyer and was put up again in September 1894 at the reduced price of £600.  There still being no offerer, John Cousland’s son, A R Cousland, decided to carry on the business himself.

“Grain Mills and Machinery for Sale. Upset price reduced to £800. There will be exposed to adjourned sale by public roup, within the Golden Lion Hotel, King Street, Stirling, on Friday, 21st September, 1894, at two o’clock afternoon, Bonnybridge Grain Mills and Machinery, as possessed by the late Mr John Cousland, Denny, comprising two water wheels, five pair stones, two barley mills, self-acting, driven by a powerful compound steam engine; one barley mill, driven by water; old flour mill, driven by water; also Pea Girdle; dwelling-house and stables. The works are situated in the centre of Bonnybridge, with first rate railway accommodation to Glasgow and elsewhere. The property is well adapted for a black mill. Mr George Millar, at the works, will show the premises.”

(Falkirk Herald 1 September 1894).
Illus 2: The Opening of the Footbridge over the River Bonny in 1887 with Ford Mill in the background.

Alexander R Cousland had been a black miller in Denny but had become bankrupt.  His bankruptcy was discharged in 1889 when he was working as a grocer’s assistant.

It was recognised that there was a danger of the public falling into the lade from Ford Road and so in 1895 a fence was erected at this point to the footbridge over the river.  Despite the fence, some fifty years later, a two-year old boy managed to get trapped in the subterranean water channel that connected the mill lade with the River Bonny just beside the iron bridge.  The son of the miller, John Struth junior, entered the silted up culvert from the river in order to rescue him (Falkirk Herald 5 June 1943, 7).

The mill became known locally as “Cousland’s Mill.”  In March 1920 it was bought by John Struth to manufacture poultry and pigeon feed.  He installed electric machinery to produce his own feed and an outlet in Falkirk was known as the “West End Grain Stores”.  The business catered for farmers and egg producers, also selling incubators, brooders and the like.  Grain was also stored in the mill and part of the complex used as paint stores for a local painter.  The housing belonging to the mill was leased out.

On 4 August 1935 damage estimated at over £3,000 was caused by an outbreak of fire at the mill.  It burned for eight hours, leaving just the walls standing.  The alarm had been raised around 9am but the fire soon engulfed the entire building.  Grain and cereals valued at over £1,500 also burst into flame.  Neighbours broke open a large door at the mill and succeeded in saving a motor car and lorry.  Six or so cats kept in the mill were thought to have perished.  Apart from the large quantity of grain that was destroyed, great damage was done to a large stock of poultry-feeding utensils, while heavy machinery used for preparing patent “feeds” was also damaged beyond repair.  The old mill building seems to have been re-roofed using the insurance money and John Struth junior continued the business whilst his father ran a grocer’s shop on Main Street opposite the Picture House.  In the mid-1940s the seed merchant and poultry feed supplies side was operated by Peter Stewart who later moved to Larbert Mill.

In May 1946 Joseph Johnston Grant of Broughty Ferry, sole partner of the Bonnyrigg Meat Co, asked for planning consent to establish a slaughter house for horses (a knackers’ yard) in premises at Ford Mill.  The application met with local opposition and in June it was withdrawn.  The mill was no longer powered by water and the weir was removed in order to alleviate flooding upstream but resulted in the water in the lade stagnating and producing foul smells.  Matters came to a head in January 1950 when the whole valley flooded and the bridge at the Ford had to be closed because the water rose above its footway.  The occupants of the dwellinghouse at the Ford Mill had to take to the upper storeys of the house.  Peter Stewart and his household had a strenuous night trying to keep the floodwaters in check at the Old Mill. 

Illus 3: The Flood of 1950 with the Mill to the right.

A wall adjacent to the pond was washed away, the culvert under the roadway being quite unable to take away the flood water (Falkirk Herald 20 January 1951).

The building sat empty for a number of years, latterly as a shell, until 1968 when it was demolished.

Illus 4: Ford Mill lies in the centre of this photograph, c1960.
1837John Wilson1864
1872John Cousland1893
1894A R Cousland
1920John Struth
1936John Struth Jnr.
1940sPeter Stewart

Sites and Monuments Record

Ford MillSMR1039NS 8241 8040

G.B. Bailey, 2022