Dumbrock Mills and Bleachfields

Illustrated Essays

Stained Glass panel from Maryhill Burgh Halls showing bleachfield workers
Stained Glass panel from Maryhill Burgh Halls showing bleachfield workers

The abundance of water meant that bleaching and water-driven industries were commonplace in the parish in the 18th century and lasted well into the 19th century. By 1870 most of them had closed down but their legacy endures in the landscape and village memory. At Dumbrock, in the area commonly known as the Glen, near the riding stables, stood Milndavie Mill and lower down a flock or rag mill. The fields to the west of the Glen had formed part of one of the oldest and largest of the four bleachfields in the parish. Most of the information for this piece comes from John Guthrie Smith’s history of the parish.

Milndavie Mill

The Mill of Milndavie has a history stretching back to 1657. Guthrie Smith tells us that tenants on the estates throughout a wide area ranging from Craigallian to Mugdock to Quinloch were under a legal obligation to use this mill for grinding their oats. Some of the tenants received favourable terms, notably those of the ‘three touns of Easter Mugdock’, which meant they did not have to repair the mill or the dams on the moor that provided the water supply. The hill to the west of the mill is called ‘Shillin Hill’ and at the beginning of the l9th century there were a number of houses in this area, probably where the old Children’s Home Hospital – now a housing development – was situated.

Milndavie Mill

A tale associated with Milndavie tells of how one day corn was cut, threshed, ground, baked and eaten within 24 hours through the enterprise of one miller. Legend says that the miller was aided by the witches who lived in the area as millers were not always the fastest of workers! One of the dams feeding the mill is known as the Deil’s Craig, and folklore has it that the Devil lived in the dam and used the Craig beside it as a table where he entertained the witches who assisted the miller.

Deil’s Crag

By the 1870s Milndavie Mill was operating as a saw mill as well as a meal mill. However, by 1900 neither was in operation and the mill fell into disuse before being taken over as a store. It is now two private houses.

The Flock Mill

Further down the Glen, David Hamilton started a flock or rag mill in about 1874. Its function was to shred cloth to make flock for stuffing mattresses and the like. It was driven by a water wheel and had a large chimney stalk. Little is known about this mill and production ceased just after 1900. David Hamilton himself died in 1917 in Glasgow. However, the mill did give its name to the burn which is known by some as the “Raggie Burn”. Presumably, this is because small shreds of materials often found their way into the water.

View showing the chimney of the flock mill in the Glen. (The white house nearest the camera is Dumbrock House, also known locally as Thom’s House after one of its inhabitants. It stood in what is now known as “the horses’ field” and has now been demolished.)

The Bleachfields

In the fields to the west of the Raggie Burn were the bleachfields of Dumbrock. These were open areas used for spreading cloth on the ground to be purified and whitened by the action of the sunlight. They were an integral part of textile manufacture during the Industrial Revolution. At the end of the 18th century Guthrie Smith records that there were four bleachfields in the parish. Dumbrock, the oldest of them, survived the other three and was used primarily for bleaching what was known as ‘native webs’ (pieces of cloth). Three were on the Blane, between the old manse and Blanefield, and the fourth one was on the other side of the parish at Craigallian. All of these had gone by 1870.

Of the three on the Blane, Dumbrock was the oldest. The 1860 OS map shows a large pond located roughly where the Wildlife Sanctaury now sits. That whole area is likely to have made use of the water that abounds there, in particular the spring near what was known as Thom’s House. At the beginning of the 18th century it belonged to Archibald Lyle and was tenanted by a succession of people. In 1818 James Smith of Craigend bought it. Though it did not appear to be a profitable venture, the Rev Hamilton Buchanan reported in the Second Statistical Account of 1841:

“At Dumbroch bleachfield, two spider wheels are employed, each thirty feet in diameter, and the Company are masters of a process, which at once reduces the expense of bleaching, and improves the fabric and appearance of the cloth. Were the Irish Board of Linen in possession of the secret, it would add prodigiously to the value of the linen manufacture of Ireland.”

Rev Hamilton Buchanan, Second Statistical Account

In 1854 Anthony Coubrough of Blanefield bought it, but he did not work it for any length of time. The last person who used it was a Mr Crum of Thornliebank, who rented it in 1855 to use while his own works were being rebuilt after a fire.

1860 OS Map showing the pond used by the Dumbrock bleachworks

The other two on the Blane were principally employed in bleaching tapes and yarns for the inkle factories in Glasgow.

The fourth bleachfield was set up on the Allander at Craigallian by a William Blackwood in 1781. The firm, William Blackwood & Son, prospered, and in 1841 they decided that the premises at Craigallian were too small and moved the business to Craigton in the neighbouring parish.

Water Supply for the Mills

Guthrie Smith records that James Smith of Craigend, who was noted for his zeal for improvements, bought Milndavie Mill at the beginning of the l9th century. As well as improving the mill, he set about adding to the storage capacity of the mill dams by raising embankments at Dumbrock Loch (known locally as Ebie’s Loch), Deil’s Craig and Loch Ardinning, thus ensuring a steady supply of water controlled by sluices.

Aerial view showing the Blane Valley, the Campsies and Ben Lomond with Loch Ardinning in the foreground

Loch Ardinning was dammed and consequently enlarged to collect water for driving the water wheels of the various mills in the Blane Valley. The site was originally a quarry which produced grinding stones for corn mills, as well as rubble for housebuilding. Strathblane church is built with stone from this quarry. The loch and its adjoining lands are now a wildlife reserve owned by the Scottish Wildlife Trust. The remains of a sluice gate are still visible from the near the entry gate to the reserve.

The Dumbrock Works

In the 1870s a printworks had been erected on what is now the football field. It was intended to be used as a calico printworks in opposition to the Counbroughs’ operation but was never completed. The 1891 Census recorded that a number of mostly-Irish-born navvies working on the Second Aqueduct were being housed there. In December 1905 work began on the demolition of the Dumbrock works. Many of the bricks were used to build three double villas on the north side of the main road (26 to 36 Glasgow Road). Local builders were invited to buy bricks by the cart-load. In a talk delivered in 1975, the late Arthur Muir related how his enterprising father, Daniel, made his cart into a “double decker” so he could get two loads of bricks for the price of one!

Members of the Muir family in their garden at 27 Glasgow Road, showing the chimney and part of the Dumbrock works in the background (right).

©Strathblane Heritage 2023

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