Windmills of the Falkirk District

Windmills are not commonly associated with the Falkirk area but they did occur and the few that existed formed prominent landmarks meaning that they were often referred to incidentally when describing a piece of land or the scene of a crime,  Many were temporary wooden structures and most were designed to pump water rather than to grind grain.

Scottish tower mills date predominantly to the 18th century.  They were never common.  The basic layout consisted of a solid structure of stone about 25 to 50ft high with a tapering shape and 10 to 20ft in internal diameter.  Three-floored types were most frequent in Scotland.  The floors would be arranged from top downwards as hopper, stone and meal floor.  These upper floors would be cramped with most of the space occupied by the driving and grinding machinery.  The windcap was boat-shaped, of timber construction, revolving on a cogged track fixed to the top of the stone tower.  By 1770 this was cast iron – the coming of Carron Company accelerating the change.  Four-sailed mills were prevalent.  These would have had hinged slatted wooden shutters operated by tension rods (introduced by Andrew Meikle at Haddington in 1772) rather than canvas sails.  The surviving structures at Bridgeness and Myrehead were corn mills.

In early tower houses the wind cap was turned by hand using a pole extending down to the ground.  By the 1740s the fantail or automatic winder was introduced onto the end of the pole allowing it to turn automatically into the wind.  Both of these methods required a level path around the perimeter of the tower.  In 1776 Andrew Meikle moved the fantail to the cap, making it far more effective.  As the tower at Myrehead stands adjacent to a barn it was clearly of this type.  The windmill at Bridgeness was constructed in 1750 and this may explain why the vaulted chamber on its south side did not originally have any superstructure as the area would have been kept clear for the track.

The distribution of Scottish windmills is notably coastal with a concentration in the south-east of the country.  The latter is one of the main grain-growing areas and also had skilled carpenters to hand.  In 1797 it cost £200-300 to erect a windmill, whereas a water mill could be built for £80-£100 and a horse mill for £70.  Wind was considered more reliable (Donnachie & Stewart 1966).

Illus 2: Reconstruction of the Myrehead Windmill.

The investment for the erection of a windmill was such that few could afford it.  In 1750 the tower mill at Bridgeness was built for David Stevenson who was a shipmaster and must have made his money in the maritime trade.  It was parallel-sided and stood in isolation.  A more sophisticated windmill was built for Andrew Robertson at Myrehead in 1814.  It had carefully shaped tapering walls which kept the sails within the footprint of the building and was attached to a barn of the latest style.  Its construction more or less bankrupted its builder.

The Scots were well aware of the power of the wind but the economics were stacked to the use of water.  A visitor to England from the Falkirk area reported in 1783 that every village there seemed to have a windmill, but that there were very few watermills (Airth Papers 10942).  That same year another correspondent to Airth Castle noted that windmills used in the sugar industry in Jamaica were constantly being destroyed by the storms.  He suggested that if James Watt designed steam engines that could be housed in the ground they would be beneficial (ibid 10946).

On the more level land water mills were impractical and the owners had to resort to windmills.  This was particularly the case in the wide open expanses of mossland.  The substantial early 19th century stone windmill at Dunmore Moss was constructed to keep the peat diggings clear of water.  The small windmill on the edge of Standrigg Moss near Slamannan, built at the very end of that century, was probably of timber and appears to have been used by the Callendar Coal Company to pump water out of its pits.  It was unmanned and was used as a rendezvous for poachers.

Illus 3: 1897 Ordnance Survey Map showing the Windmill adjacent to rectangular water tanks at Standrigg Moss (National Library of Scotland).

The flat low-lying ground on the carses was also better suited to windmills.  At Grangemouth the River Carron had been straightened in 1783 and its old course infilled in order to reclaim the land.  This was then cultivated and from 1810 grew decent crops as part of Heuck Farm.  Over the following decades the material used to fill it compacted and consequently a marked hollow developed which filled with water.  It was found to be impossible to run this off using surface drains and so the tenant, the Grangemouth Coal Company, constructed a small windmill around 1870 to remedy the situation (Falkirk Herald 10 July 1873, 5).

High ground without water courses presented a similar problem.  At the top of the Drove Loan at Denny where it met the road to Dennyloanhead was a large quarry; known as Dobie’s Quarry it was very deep and upon abandonment in the early 19th century it quickly filled with rainwater (Falkirk Herald August 1896, 8).  A pump driven by a large windmill was set up.  It was entirely made of wood and was one of the largest in Scotland, making it a very conspicuous object in the landscape which could be seen over a very wide area.  In the 1830s the windmill and pump were reckoned by the local people to be very wicked machines, being great Sabbath-breakers, going at a great rate on Sundays if the wind was strong.

Small-framed windmills were often considered the convenient option for pumping drinking water for use by the general public.  One was constructed for this purpose near Bathgate and in 1869 the Bo’ness Town Trust proposed raising water from the Causeway Pit for the same purpose using a windmill (Falkirk Herald 6 February 1869, 3).

The earliest recorded windmill in the Falkirk area was that to the west of Airth Castle which appears on Pont’s map of the 1580s.  Not surprisingly, it seems to have been associated with the pumping of the coal pits there.  The pictogram on the map suggests that it was probably a timber post mill.  It makes its appearance at a time when coal was becoming the fuel of choice.  Somewhat further down the line of industrialisation was the windmill on the banks of the Forth and Clyde Canal at Kerse Mains.  Its location suggests that it was built around 1781 to replenish water lost from that canal by the use of the Carron Cut to the River Carron (see below).  A contemporary windmill, built as part of the same overall project, is suggested on the north side of the River Carron at the eastern end of the 1783 cuts by the occurrence here of the name “Windmill Pow” on one of the Zetland Estate plans (Reid notes).

Catalogue of Windmills

Airth Windmill
Airth Dock Windmill
Bridgeness Tower
Dunmore Windmill
Kerse Mains Windmill
Myrehead Windmill


Donnachie, I.L. &
Stewart, N.K.         
1967‘Scottish Windmills: an outline and inventory.’ Proc Soc Antiq Scot 98 (1966), 276-299.
Douglas, G.1984Scottish Windmills: A Survey.
Johnstone, A.1906Geographical Collections Volume 1 (ed) Walter MacFarlane.
Hendrie, W.F.1996Discovering the River Forth.
RCAHMS1963Stirlingshire: An inventory of the ancient monuments.
Reid, J.2003‘Aspects of Timothy Pont’s Map of Stirlingshire,’ Calatria 18, 39-54.
Sproat, D.2010Myrehead Windmill, Falkirk: Historic Building Recording Report.

G.B.Bailey, 2022

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