Stanley Mills – 200 Years of Textile Production

We entered the Stanley Mills site on the same path used by employees for two centuries.

We entered the Stanley Mills site on the same path used by employees for two centuries.

Just seven miles north of Perth is the village of Stanley, a town that was originally built to house mill workers in the late 1700’s. At the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, workers were drawn from farm labor to factory work. It was often the women and children who took the factory jobs at Stanley Mills to supplement their meager farm income, at least at first. Less than 400 workers were needed in the first years of flax weaving. However, over 2,000 workers were needed at the height of cotton weaving production.

Carding tons of cotton was a huge job requiring big machines.

Carding tons of cotton required big machines.

Some of the buildings had been vandalized and one building was lost to fire – perhaps arson. Historic Scotland took possession of the mills to preserve them for posterity. Interpretive displays and period carding and spinning machines are exhibited to help visitors picture what the textile workers’ daily lives were like. Much of the work was mind-numbingly tedious, like placing spools on spindles and threading looms. Factory noise must have been nerve wracking given the number of machines at work.

Giant troughs housed waterwheels large enough to power the factory.

Giant troughs housed waterwheels large enough to power the factory.

The mills increased production capabilities based on technological advances throughout the Industrial Revolution. At first, a giant water wheel turned belts connected to drive shafts on all four factory floors, each with its respective task. As cotton became the most profitable fabric, one floor was for carding the fibers, cleaning out impurities. Another floor began the spinning process to make threads of various thicknesses. The top floor was for weaving fabric on huge looms. The factory also produced continuous belts of various sized loops and thicknesses to ship to other factories for use as drive belts for their own machines. Cigarette factories were important customers for drive belts from Stanley Mills.

Stanley Mill condos now overlook the Tay River.

Stanley Mills condos now overlook the Tay River.

The water from the Tay River provided the mill with the energy required. Water tunnels were eventually built from upriver because the water level ebbed and flowed with the changing seasons. The water wheels were replaced with water powered turbines for a more efficient energy source, and in the 20th century the turbines drove generators that provided hydroelectric power.

The mills went through several cycles of expansion and shutdowns based on fluctuations in the economy. When India gained its independence, they began their own cotton production and imposed tariffs on British cotton that cost Stanley Mills a huge market for their goods.

Women wove belts on these machines. Skilled hands sewed the belts into continuous loops.

Women wove belts on these machines. Skilled hands sewed the belts into continuous loops.

Eventually, cotton was displaced by synthetic fibers as the favorite materials in the marketplace. Stanley Mills made the conversion to synthetic weaving to keep the factory operating. Cotton made a comeback as a desirable fabric in the 1980’s, but the mill could not afford the cost of retro-fitting and Stanley Mills ceased operations in 1989.

Country living at stylish Stanley Mills

Country living at stylish Stanley Mills

Today, some of the buildings have been refurbished to provide housing. The condominium units overlooking the river now sell for £125,000 GBP, about $193,000 USD, plus grounds maintenance fees. There are still units available for anyone who might like to live in this historic pastoral site overlooking the Tay River.


15 comments on “Stanley Mills – 200 Years of Textile Production

  1. Interesting post Mike! Paul’s family in MA lives near a couple of old mill towns that got abandoned and depressed in the 50’s. They’ve been mostly renovated these days with the mills serving as artist lofts, shopping centers, colleges, etc. Celeste 🙂

    • Mike Lince says:

      It was interesting to learn at Stanley Mills that selling part of the property as real estate was the only way they could gather enough funds to maintain the historic property for the public. I think that is a pretty good trade off. – Mike

  2. Textiles and fibers are a great interesting of mine, so I really enjoyed the historical information and photos of the equipment in this post. I’m glad they made the effort to preserve some of the past.

    • Mike Lince says:

      Thank you, Marilyn. Some of the back story about Stanley Mills was similar to many other period industries that exploited child labor and worked laborers for long hours. They evolved over time, of course. However, injuries in the work place were fairly common and sometimes severe. I was reminded how good we have it in this era of health and safety standards in the workplace. – Mike

  3. nantubre says:

    I would would live there in a heartbeat!

  4. having grown up where there were tons of old “mills,” these buildings are very familiar… I always found them particularly haunting, imagining the women (mostly) over the centuries who had worked so hard there, and the damage to the rivers nearby… wow.

    • Mike Lince says:

      You are right about there being a disproportionate number of women mill workers, at least starting out. I did not find out anything about the mill’s effect on the Tay River. It runs so clean now that I never gave it a lot of thought. I wonder if there was much pollution back in the days of peak operations. Thanks for sharing this interesting thought. I should find out more.

      • I’d be curious to know… there’s been so much done to rehab these rivers, but the history is fascinating!

      • Mike Lince says:

        I found no documented evidence of pollution emanating from Stanley Mills, which is only to say little if any evidence of lasting effects have been recorded. I did discover that the biggest offenders of water pollution in the UK are water utilities that dump untreated or poorly treated sewage, which mainly affects bodies of saltwater and nearby beaches. While there have been some toxic spills along the River Tay related to industry over the past decade, the river remains safe for people and salmon.

  5. What a beautiful setting Mike. I’m always fascinated by mills and the tales they have to tell. When we lived in Columbia, South Carolina we discovered the Olympia Mills – also old cotton mills that have now been converted to apartments. We were equally intrigued by the “mill town” that had been built around it, with its signature worker housing and related businesses. Did you see the same kind of thing around the Stanley Mills? ~Terri

    • Mike Lince says:

      There were remnants of housing for workers in the little village of Stanley just 1/4 mile up the road from the mill. However, everything has been upgraded to reflect a bedroom community for folks who want a country-life setting, and it is quite nice. The converted condos at the mill are the newest and nicest in the area. On the drive out of Stanley there are a few grand estate homes overlooking the River Tay suitable for a land baron or mill owner. Otherwise, there is a vacation hotel and a convenience store. It is a quiet, peaceful village. – Mike

  6. reocochran says:

    I liked the photos of the antique milling equipment and the beautiful external environment. I would feel like this would be a very interesting place to visit. I was loving the picturesque community and the way it would be for a land baron to live there. But, hard worker that I am now, I cringe at the thought of the heat and the toiling for the original mill…. just saying that would have been hard work! Thanks for your thoughtful post and way you show us the journey you are on.

    • Mike Lince says:

      You are right about the hard work. It was clearly tedious and exhausting work, but that was life in the factories in those days. Thank you for following along, Robin.

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