Stanley Mills

Stanley Mills
©2022 Gazetteer for Scotland

Stanley Mills

Located on a bend in the River Tay at Stanley (Perth and Kinross) and designed in 1786 by Sir Richard Arkwright, the Stanley Mills represent the best preserved cotton mill in the country. By the late 18th century, Scotland has a well-established textile industry producing linen from locally-grown flax. However, cotton was beginning to be imported from America and the East Indies, and gained popularity as a softer and warmer fabric. Perth merchants along with politician George Dempster of Dunnichen (1732 - 1818), looked enviously at the mills which were being built in Derbyshire and Lancashire and invited Arkwright - who was having problems defending the patents on his designs in England - north to Scotland to build a new mill. The location chosen was the site of an existing corn mill on land owned by John Murray, 4th Duke of Atholl (1755 - 1830), who became the final partner in the scheme.

The Bell Mill came first (1786-7), comprising brick arched vaults supported on cast iron columns and beams, with the East Mill added in 1796 and the Mid Mill (1825). These were powered by seven massive water-wheels fed by a lade which carried water from the Tay through a 236.5-m (776-foot) tunnel beneath Stanley Hill. This was cut in 1785, but replaced c.1825 with a new channel which flows around the site and then divides to feed the individual wheels.

Despite several fires, the Napoleonic Wars, a cotton famine and regular bankruptcies, production continued here until 1989. By the late 19th century, belts to drive machinery became the principal product and, in the 20th century, production was largely confined to the manufacture of cotton webbing, then weaving artificial fibres and a specialist tape used in the making of cigarettes.

The technology used by the water-wheels were updated over the years and, in 1921, these were replaced as the power-source by an ogee-roofed hydro-electric power station built next to the mills. In 1965 this was closed and the machinery was powered by electricity derived from the public supply.

Acquired in 1995 by Historic Scotland, the site has been redeveloped. Npower reopened the hydro-electric power station in 2003, which now supplies the national grid. Several of the original mill buildings have been converted into housing while two, the Bell Mill and Mid Mill opened as a visitor attraction and education centre in 2008. Costing £4.8 million, this centre describes the rise and decline of the mills through interactive displays. It also includes and archive and community space. The Bell Mill is one of the oldest surviving factory buildings in the world, and remains largely unchanged.

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