Garvald Mill

Garvald was for several generations a small estate possessed by a branch of the Bruces of Airth. However, it was John Forrester “of Garvelmylne” who held the tenure of the mill in 1653 when it is first noted.  John Brown, the miller at “Garvald Miln” acted as attorney for Rebecca Bruce, the widow of Hugh Forsyth of Garvald, when the estate reverted to her.  In 1799 James Hay was born at Garvald Mill.  He went on to become a successful grain and hay dealer as well as a farmer and built Hayfield House in Denny where he died in 1895 (Falkirk Herald 2 February 1895, 8).  By 1803 there were two mills and both the Upper and Lower mills were described as “Char Mills” (Reid 2004, 72).

Illus 1: The two Mill buildings are shown, but not named, on Grassom’s Map of 1817 (National Library of Scotland).

Both mills stand on the bedrock on the south side of the River Carron.  By all appearances the upper mill is the older.  The substantial stone weir for it follows a natural ridge of rock and the mill has a simpler lade system than that c40m downstream.  The building now stands to a maximum of 2 m tall now. Beside it is a terrace with a road leading to the second mill.

This Lower Garvald Mill is the larger complex.  The remains of its weir can be seen as a series of iron rods embedded in the natural rock at a point where the valley narrows considerably.  From thence a tall stone-lined lade leads to the mill.  A well-engineered road leads from the west end of Fankerton to the mill. As it crossed the Garvald Burn it passes at a high level over a single arch bridge of the late eighteenth century (NS 7859 8325).

Shortly after 1803 Lower Garvald became a paper mill. William Smail, paper maker in Denny, owned Garvald Mill in 1806 and by 1822 it had passed to Thomas Burns and John Muirhead, at which time it was damaged by fire.  

Illus 2: Bridge carrying the road to the Garvald Mills over the Garvald Burn.

When Burns died in 1826 Muirhead was joined in the venture by Rev John Burns of Morningside and Garvald.  Before long Burns was on his own and seems to have rebuilt the weir of Lower Garvald Mill.  In 1835 he was contemplating extending the lade from the paper mill along the bank of the river in order to erect a barley mill there (Forbes Papers 1220/21).

It was Rev John Burns who advertised the mill for sale in 1836.  In the following year it was still being operated as a paper mill by Alexander Jack but by 1841 it had reverted back to a charcoal mill.  In that year the minister reported that

The uppermost are Garvald mills, there are two of them, and both are employed in grinding charcoal for moulders, & c. Each mill has a miller at £2 per week of wages and a man, horse, and cart, to bring charcoal to the mills, and to carry the ground produce to the moulders. The carters have each 12s per week.”

Illus 3: 1861/62 Ordnance Survey Map (National Library of Scotland).

Upper Garvald Mill was converted to a dyewood mill by a Michael Benny, chemist, between 1855 and 1861.  This is reflected in the Ordnance Surveyors’ description of Garvald as:

A farmsteading, one storey, slated and in good repair.  On the same farm are two mills, the one a dyewood mill, and the other a char mill.  The last named is used for the manufacture of blacking.   The whole the property of Mr Burns, Broad Street, Stirling.”

William Anderson was born at Upper Garvald Mill in 1858 and started work there when only nine years old.  It was then described as a drysaltery.  He later moved to work at the Stoneywood Paper Mill where he served as an engineman for several decades and was still working there when he died at the gatehouse at the age of 86 years (Falkirk Herald 2 September 1944, 6).

The 1881 Census shows black millers at both mills.  In both cases members of their families living with them worked in the paper mills further downstream.

WilliamDOWNIEHeadUnmarried36Black MillerDenny
AbigailDOWNIESisterUnmarried34Paper Mill WorkerDenny
IsabellaDOWNIESisterUnmarried31Paper FinisherDenny
AgnessDOWNIESisterUnmarried26Paper Mill StorekeeperDenny
JohnO’ NEILHeadMarried25Black MillerKilburnie, Ayr
ElizabethO’ NEILMarried20Airdrie
JohnO’ NEILSon2Cleghorn
MargaretWARRENSister in LawUnmarried17Paper Mill WorkerMillhugh

In 1883 the char mill at Lower Garvald was operated by Alexander and James Cumming.  As a temporary measure they hired John Toal, a miller from Chartershall near St Ninians, to look after the mill but he accidentally broke the spur wheel causing £2 8s of damage which was repaired by Fletcher & Co, millwrights, Denny.  Shortly thereafter a minor fire charred the floorboards which loosened the bed-stone in the floors, requiring further work.  Toal was dismissed!

The Upper Mill was shown as unroofed on the 1897 Ordnance Survey map.  A mill was still being valued here for the minister’s stipend in 1906 but the 1913 Ordnance Survey map shows both mills as disused.  In September 1922 the building materials from the demolition of the black mill and the associated cottage were advertised.

Sites and Monuments Record

Upper Garvald MillSMR 492NS 7846 8347
Lower Garvald MillSMR 485NS 7855 8341

G.B. Bailey, 2022