Hill Mill

(Avon Steel Works)

The first reference to the lint mill at Hill, Muiravonside, occurs in 1800 at a time when consideration was being given to erecting a gunpowder mill adjacent to it.  Not surprisingly, the neighbouring landowner, Captain William Waddell of Crawhill, objected.  The proposal came from Archibald Colquhoun of Underwood Distillery near Bonnybridge (Forbes Papers 709/8 & 11).  The mill appears on Grassom’s map of 1817 and may have been one of the four unnamed lint mills mentioned in the Old Statistical Account as operating in the parish in the late 18th century.

The gunpowder mill was evidently not feasible in this location due to the close proximity of houses.  Instead, the existing mill was adapted for a spade forge.  It was powered by water and seems to have been funded by the landowner, John Calder. The tenants in 1841 were the Moore family, four of whom were listed as blacksmiths.

Illus 1: Extract from the Ordnance Survey Map of 1863 (National Library of Scotland).

The forge used steel and before long the site was converted into a steel works known as the Avon Steel Works.  This required a lot of investment in furnaces and forges.  In 1847 John Finnie and Company, steel manufacturers, was sequestered and the assets sold off.  This included cast and ingot steel at the mill.  The mill was still owned by the Calder family of Hill Farm and the following year it was leased to another steel company based in Sheffield called W. Hawksworth and Company.   The Avon Steel Works employed cast steel hammer forgers, puller-outers for the crucible furnace, moulders, dressers and a patternmaker – some of whom lived in the nearby Avon Cottages.  Some lived in Torphichen parish and a steel footbridge was erected across the river to provide access.  William Hawksworth was at the leading edge of steel technology and in 1862, together with Louis Christoph and Gustave P Harding of Paris, he filed a patent for improvements in drawing metals and in the machinery or apparatus employed therein.   In 1856 the firm made and contributed a blade for a sword of honour presented in Glasgow to General Sir Colin Campbell.

James Stones had been in charge of the steel forge in the 1850s and around 1863 he went into partnership with James Prentice of Airdrie to form the firm of James Prentice, junior, and Company, steel manufacturers, at the Avon Steel Works.  This copartnery was dissolved on 31 December 1866 and James Stones took MW Robertson of Glasgow as his new partner under the name of Stones and Robertson.  This partnership did not last long either and in 1872 the works were advertised to let.  The details note that :

The Works are well supplied with Furnaces, Tilt Hammers, Water Wheels, and other Machinery adapted for Steel manufacture.  There is always a large and continuous supply of Water.  Good coals and railway communication in the immediate vicinity

(Glasgow Herald 8 April 1872, 3).

It was temporarily leased to the Coatbridge Tinplate Company for the manufacture of such products as pick-axes, sledge hammers, steel wedges, and so on.  Meanwhile, MW Robertson set up another works of the same name in Glasgow and looked around for a partner to run the Muiravonside site.  It was advertised again in 1874 (North British Daily Mail 20 July 1874, 7).  There was another delay until a new partner, Charles Walter Robinson of Polmont, came forward.  He ran the Avon Steel Works as C W Robinson & Co, whilst MW Robertson concentrated on the Glasgow site.  The Muiravonside site re-opened in 1878 making “All kinds of steel supplies at the most reasonable rates” (Scotsman 19 June 1878, 1) and steel bars for Charlier shoes for horses.  The firm of M W Robertson and Company was dissolved in April 1884 and the two men then ran the two works separately.

In 1889 CW Robertson and Company purchased the saw-mill of Down and Company at Polmont with the initial intention of establishing an auxiliary factory there.  Steam power was now taking over from water power and in December that year a self-acting steam hammer of 20-30cwt was purchased.  Before long the new works was known as the Forth Bridge Steel Works and the Avon Steel Works was leased to John Alexander.  The site at Hill was remote and soon closed.  The second edition of the Ordnance Survey shows it as disused.

Illus 2: Bridge over the Lade at the Avon Steel Mill.

The ruinous walls of this small complex may still be seen. The large lade is in parts lined with crucibles, and the road to its north is partially paved with them.  The remnants of the workers’ cottages remain at the head of the lade.  The steel bridge has been replaced by a modern example which is part of the Avon Walkway.

Sites and Monuments Record

Hill Mill (Avon Steel Works)SMR 869NS 9451 7305

G.B. Bailey, 2022