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Newsletter 139 Winter 2022 © Hampshire Mills Group



Anchor Mills, Paisley



Ruth Andrews

Photos by Ruth and Keith Andrews


Paisley-pattern shawls and Coats embroidery threads with their iconic anchor trademark are world famous products which originated in the town of Paisley south west of Glasgow. Of course there must have been mills involved in their production and several of them have survived and have been refurbished and reused, variously as offices or for residential use. They have been extensively written about on the internet, but Keith and I were not aware of this when we stopped at Morrisons supermarket in Paisley on our way home from Scotland.

We had specifically gone to Paisley to photograph Gilmour Street railway station, as you see here.



In 1819 J&J Clark & Co developed a smooth cotton yarn for use as a cheaper substitute for silk.  By 1880 they were in fierce competition with J&P Coates, and the two companies amalgamated in 1896.  A group of mills at Ferguslie – now demolished – spun and twisted the cotton to make thread, but it was mercerised, bleached, and dyed at Anchor Mills beside the River Cart in Paisley.  Many of these wet processes caused the river to be notoriously polluted.  By the 1980s the industry had declined, thread production in Paisley had ceased, the buildings had become unused, and several had been demolished.  This included in 1972‑3 the enormous 1872 Atlantic and 1875 Pacific Mills with over 15000 spindles, which stood where Morrisons and its car park are now situated;  they were the largest manufacturing unit on the site. 


Arguably the most attention-grabbing mill remaining is the Domestic Finishing Mill which is perched next to Hammills Falls, a ledge of volcanic rock across the River Cart.   It dates from 1886 and designed by Woodhouse & Morley of Bradford as a spooling mill.  The grade A-listed building was restored in 2003 by The Princes’ Regeneration Trust (now The Princes’ Foundation), costing in the order of £11 million. 



The grade B West Seedhill Gatehouse of 1909, which formed a gateway to the Anchor Mills site was also restored.  It had a hydraulically operated opening mechanism driven by water pumped into a tank in the roof.  As you can see, it features the famous anchor trademark.

The huge stone-built L-shaped  Embroidery Mill (below) is older, dating from the 1840s.  It is where the world-famous Paisley-pattern shawls were manufactured on Jacquard looms.  Prior to their invention in the 1820s these shawls had been hand-woven.



Grade A listed Mile End Mill (below) was also designed by W J Morley of Bradford in 1899-1900.  Like the Domestic Finishing Mill it was steam-powered and has an elegant 200ft high octagonal brick chimney stack, the only one on the site to have survived.

The chimney is used as a mobile phone antenna. 

The mill’s role was mainly to perform a twisting process which combined two or more yarns to make them suitable for sewing.  This building has also been restored and now houses offices, a gym, and a museum.  Of course the museum was not open when we visited!




One of the newer mills on the site, the Gassing Mill of 1923, housed the gassing and mercerising processes.  Gassing involved giving the thread a smooth surface by singeing it in a gas jet.  It was then mercerised by being passed through a solution of caustic soda before being stretched in hot water and rinsed.  This gave a silk-like thread, perfect for embroidery and dressmaking.


Finally, in case you think I had forgotten that this newsletter principally reports on watermills and windmills, a 17th century former cornmill which presumably was on the site first, used the head of water from Hammills Falls.  This was Saucel Mill which was rebuilt in 1968 as the Watermill Hotel.

We were amused by the unusual method of displaying the millstones at the entrance and then intrigued by a piece of wood that was displayed diagonally in an alcove.  I think I can guess what it was for, but what do you think?





Information from Paisleythreadmill.co.uk, Paisley.org.uk, and Paisleypeoplesarchive.org

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