Manufacture of woollen cloth

Cultivation of flax and production of linen took place on Loch Tayside long before the commercial manufacture of woollen cloth. Dodgshon's study of stocking levels in Breadalbane showed that sheep were largely absent from the area in 1727 but by 1780 they made up approximately half of the souming allowance. With the increased availability of fleeces it became inevitable that, in Highland Perthshire, production of woollen cloth would take over from the processing of flax. In other parts of Scotland, such as Angus, linen manufacture remained dominant.

The conversion of fleeces into woollen cloth required the following processes;

All of these processes were originally carried out in people's homes but in time each of these processes moved out of the domestic environment into mills. Weaving was often the last to do so.

Woollen cloth manufacture in Acharn

William Murray's mill

On 24 March 1759 the Breadalbane estate settled an account with William Murray, waulkmiller near Acharn, 'for building a waulkmill at Ruvrecky' (NRS: GD112/15/355/48). 'Waulk' or 'walk' was another name for 'fulling'.

On the right is part of McArthur's 1769 plan of the farms in and around what we now know as the village of Acharn. Nothing remains of the walkmill and its lade but it was on the other side of the Remony burn from Rovucky in the grounds of Remony farm.

In 1769 when McArthur carried out his survey, William Murray remained the possessor of the walk mill. By 1771 William Murray was describing himself as a 'dyer' - 'Account due to William Murray, dyer at Acharn, for yarn dyed by Peggy Ferguson and Jean Ferguson, spinners at Kenmore'. (NRS: GD112/15/417/99).

In 1776 Alexander Robertson,' walkmiller at Achairn', petitioned breadalbane for timber to repair the mill, 4 oak and 2 ash, specified as one tree each for an axletree, 2 shanks, 2 beaters and for the bottom of the wheel, and 2 trees for the press (GD112/11/1/2/12). Had he taken over the mill?

Alexander MacNaughtan's mill

By 1794, 34 year old Alexander MacNaughtan, who also farmed Remony, had taken over as the dyer.

In the National Records of Scotland is a document in which Alexander petitions Breadalbane for finances to build a new mill ( GD112/11/6/2/1);

To the Right Honourable the Earl of Breadalbane the Petition of Alexander MacNaughtan dyer at Rovucky

4 November 1797

Humbly Shewith

That the walk mill occupied by the petitioner being upon an old plan, too small, and falling into a state of disrepair, he finds it absolutely necessary to be rebuilt and put upon another plan more suitable for his purpose, more especially as he has some views of having his fulling mill, teasing and carding machines, as well as his mill for grinding dyestuffs, all in one building and drove by one water wheel.

That the petitioner has caused an estimate to be made out of the expense of the shell of a house necessary for answering the aforesaid purposes, which is herewith produced amounting to £52 15/1d sterling. That as such a building will be very beneficial to the country the petitioner humbly hopes that your lordship will be pleased to give directions for advancing the aforesaid sum for which he will pay interest at the rate of five percent per annum along with his other rent – or the petitioner will build it on his own expense, he being allowed timber and carriage of timber and slates gratis, and compensation for the building at the end of his lease or his removal as they shall then happen.

May it therefore please your lordship to consider the premises and to do therein as to your lordship shall appear reasonable and the petitioner shall ever pray.

Alexander McNaughtan

The estimate (NRS: GD112/11/6/2/2), which Alexander attached, stated that the building was to be 30 x 40'. The dyeing mill with its ponds and laids are shown on the 1862 Ordnance Survey map (right).

The mill pond and laid still exists and the footprint of Alexander's mill remains discernable. It is almost twice the size originally proposed. The map shows that water from the wheelpit could be directed back into the burn or round the corner of the mill and northwards in a laid which was open until it reached the yard of Remony farm. It then flowed under made up ground to a wooden overshot wheel with rim-gearing which can still be found in its wheel pit in the building labelled 'Saw Mill'.

Sir John Sinclair of Caithness, the great pioneer of Scottish industries, was involved in the setting up of the new mill at Remony but the various description of his involvement do not tally. Gillies suggests that Sir John encouraged the Earl of Breadalbane to extend the Remony mill. Donald MacNaughton, in his book on the MacNaughton's of Remony, gives a vivid description of an accidental encounter between Sir John and Alexander McNaughton which resulted in Alexander agreeing to set up a mill if Sir John would fund it.

Alexander's petition of 1813

Alexander's letter to Breadalbane in 1813 gives an interesting insight into the challenges he faced when introducing industry into the agricultural economy of a Highland community (NRS: GD112/11/8/8/3);

Unto the Right Honourable the Earl of Breadalbane the representation of Alexander McNaughtan manufacturer at Ruvucky

Humbly Sheweth

That at the time of the last arrangement of the lands in the district of Acharn the petitioner obtained a new grant from your lordship of his former farm in Remony and pendicle in Ruvucky at a rent then agreed upon by your lordship. But your lordship seeing in a few days thereafter that those who had applied for pendicles could not be accommodated, your lordship requested the petitioner to pass from the aforesaid pendicle until he could be accommodated with another when a vacancy should happen to which the petitioner instantly agreed.

That a vacancy having happened in that village at Whitsunday last by the removal of Duncan McKerchar in Tynloan the petitioner obtained his pendicle upon the express condition that he would procure and keep up a broadloom of 3 yards wide which is double the width of any loom ever his own in this country and keep a proper weaver for working thereon in order for serving the country all of which he did at a considerable expense.

That the petitioner is informed that Alexander Fisher the person whom he engaged as his servant for working on said loom applied lately by petition to the Countess of Breadalbane, craving to be put into possession of his master's said pendicle against Whitsunday first alleging that the petitioner had it only from year to year.

But as the petitioner commenced a new branch of business never before attempted in this country and laid out a good deal of money thereon upon the faith of enjoying his said house and pendicle during the time that he carried the broadloom work, and as the petitioner has other journeymen, dyers and spinners who would expect the same indulgence with Fisher all of which would render the master the servant and at last bring his whole business to ruin. The petitioner most humbly hopes that your lordship will perceive the great hardship of depriving him of the house and pendicle in question, as otherwise his said servants would consider themselves as being independent of him which would oblige him to give up the different branches of his business which he now follows and which are so very serviceable to the country.

May it is therefore please your lordship to consider the petition and grant the petitioner his request and he shall ever pray

18th of October 1813

Alexander McNaughtan

This Alexander Fisher is not a known ancestor. Breadalbane asked for reports from Robert Reid and Hugh Cameron - their comments are on the back of the petition - they both agreed with Alexander McNaughtan.

Alexander's legacy

Alexander McNaughtan died in 1843 but his eldest son Donald continued as woollen manufacturer.

His pioneering work in Acharn was later carried on by others in the valley. The McDonald brothers that had the mills in Keltneyburn and Aberfeldy were his nephews and may well have been apprenticed to him. James Haggart who was brought up in Balmacnaughton right next door to Remony certainly became one of Alexander McNaughtan's apprentices . The McDonald and Haggart families are discussed below.

In 1835 to gain closer access to markets and good road and rail communications, Alexander and James started a woollen mill in Pitlochry in much larger premises. In so doing the well known firm of A&J Macnaughton was founded.

In 1888 the textile industry at Remony was wound up and all the family's resources put to running Remony farm.

Alexander and the McDonald dyers of Aberfeldy and Keltneyburn

I am grateful to Jan Wilson from New Zealand for uncovering the connection between Alexander McNaughtan and Allan and Alexander McDonald who became dyers in Aberfeldy;

'Two mills important in the Tay area were the Remony Mill, which Alexander McNaughton had taken over as dyer by 1794, and the Aberfeldy Mills, which Alexander McDonald was involved in from at least 1826.  There were close family links between the two dyers and woollen manufacturers.

From researching my family history I have found that Allan McDonald and Grizel Kennedy in Bolfracks estate had at least six children born there.  John bapt 1754 at Coftcur, Jannet bapt 1758, Isabel and Margaret bapt 1762, Grizel bapt 1772 and Allan bapt 1776 at Upper Ferachill. 

Jannet McDonald married Alexander McNaughtan of Remony in November 1780, while her brother Allan married Catherine Campbell at Aberfeldy.  Allan’s children’s baptisms confirm he was a dyer in Aberfeldy, and some of his children’s death certificates have him as a master dyer, and wool manufacturer.  His first child Grizel was baptised in 1804 stating he was a dyer, as did his 10th child’s baptism in 1824.  His 11th child was born in Aberfeldy/Logierait around 1827 but I have not seen a record to confirm Allan was still a dyer at this time.  Allan and his family had left Aberfeldy for Meikle Trochry by 1836.

Jannet and Allan’s brother John McDonald married Janet Menzies, and it is their son Alexander bapt 1804 in Farrachil who became the well known dyer and wool manufacturer in Aberfeldy, Alexander McNaughtan’s and Allan McDonald’s nephew, keeping a familial connection between industries in these areas for close to 90 years'.

It is probable that another son of John McDonald and Janet Menzies', James born 1806, was the same James McDonald that had the Keltneyburn mill in 1841.

Woollen mills of Keltneyburn

In the abscence of better documentation of the early history of woollen cloth manufacture in Keltneyburn we have to rely on census data.

The 1841 census of Keltneyburn noted that 35 year old James McDonald was the dyer and living with him was  William McGregor, also a dyer. It is not known when James McDonald started his business but it would seem that, by 1841, dying was the only tweed making process that had been moved into the Keltneyburn mill complex which had originally been built for milling corn.

By the 1851 census, James MacDonald and William McGregor had gone and 58-year-old James Haggart was the dyer, woolcarder and meal miller. His 22-year-old son Peter was also working as dyer and woolcarder. Thus wool carding had been added to the list of processes necessary to produce tweed. At this time the spinning of wool would almost certainly have been done by women on the farms where the weaving was being done by men.

The 1861 census noted that Peter Haggart was described as wool manufacturer, meal miller and vintner employing five men. (James Haggart had been killed shortly after the 1851 census by a falling tree). Next door to them was Harry Drysdale, woollen weaver from Stirling and Alexander McDonald, dyer. Thus by 1861 Peter Haggart was well established in Keltneyburn and carrying out all the processes necessary for tweed manufacture except spinning.

At the 1871 census Peter Haggart described himself as a woollen manufacturer employing 11 men, 3 boys and 3 women. Living in his household were a weaver, meal miller, piecer, spinner, carder, cattle herd, servant and dyer finisher – all under the age of 22. With a spinner in the team, the Haggarts could now carry out all the processes necessary for tweed manufacture.

Haggart Family

In 1791 James Haggart was baptised in Forty Shilling Land, better known as Balmacnaughton, by the village of Acharn (see Haggart tree). His first two children were born in Perth in 1828 and 1832 and his third in Kenmore in 1835. The next four children were born between 1838 and 1834 in Duthill, near Carrbridge in Moray Shire where, according to the 1841 census, James was working as an agricultural labourer.

James served a three year apprenticeship as a dyer with Alexander McNaughton in his mill at Remony, right next door to Balmacnaughton. The dates quoted for that apprenticeship vary but it was around 1803. He did not set up his business in Keltneyburn until 1846. It is not clear what happened in the intervening years but two letters to the Earl of Breadalbane suggest he had relationship difficulties with his neighbours (NRS: GD112/11/9/3/50) and difficulty obtaining a tenancy (NRS: GD112/11/9/6/6). Was he forced to leave and find employment elsewhere or were these letters written by a different James Haggart?

An article in the Dundee Courier 5 July 1897 described how the Haggart business developed;

'The business was first established at Keltneyburn in 1846 but for a long time after that spinning and weaving did not form part of  the trade; the wool was first sent to the mill to be dyed and carded, after which it was returned to the farms to be spun into threads in the farmhouses by the industrious matrons and maids in their spare time. The threads were made up into hanks, and sent to the country handloom weavers, a number of whom resided in every clachan, to be woven into cloth, and it was then returned to the mill to be dyed, waulked and pressed. The introduction of Arkwright's spinning jenny driven by power, into the country districts, soon superseded the old method, and the birr of the time honoured spinning wheel was banished from every household, except in a few instances, where it was long retained more as a curiosity and pastime than a matter utility. The adoption of the power looms took the trade from the country weaver, and so the whole process of manufacturing the wool into cloth was gradually, but surely, consigned to the mills.'

To cope with the demands of an increasing business and to get access to the rail-head, in 1881 the Haggart family moved to Aberfeldy. There they took over two woollen mills powered by water from the Moness Burn and formed the very successful Aberfeldy firm, Messr's P and J Haggart. An obituary in the Dundee Courier of 12 Dec. 1910 gives us some history.

In November 1911 The Dundeee Courier announced 'Her Majesty the Queen has honoured Messrs P & J Haggart, Aberfeldy with a Royal Warrant appointing them woollen manufacturers to Her Majesty. Messrs Haggart hold similar appointments to the King, Queen Alexandra &C., and were recently commanded to Balmoral.'

After being a town councillor for 11 years, in March 1914, James Haggart was appointed provost of Aberfeldy a position he would hold until May 1949, the longest any Aberfeldy Provost held the office.

In July 1921 James Haggart purchased the burgh when the Breadalbane estate was broken up.

Later history of the Keltneyburn mills

An article in the Dundee Courier of 7th June 1948 described the history of the mills up to then;

'The Wool mill keeps going. The old woollen mill at Keltneyburn is humming again. One of Perthshire's traditional rural industries has returned. From the picturesque old buildings at the entrance to Glenlyon, 6 miles from Aberfeldy and on the north side of the Tay and the Lyon, lengths of woollen tweed are going out to swell the home and export markets.
Six men are employed in the mill, and its proprietor, Mr James Borland, is satisfied that all the ground work done since he acquired the mill last May is beginning to bear fruit.
A native of Galashiels, Mr Borland, served during the war in the Royal Navy, and had previous experience of the wool manufacturing trade in the Borders and Stornoway.
His work up to now has been largely devoted to repairs to the buildings, dams and sluice gates. The mill still runs on a combination of the old water power from the Keltney Burn and from the Grampian electricity installed by Mr Borland.
Development will be gradual, says Mr Borland, describing his as a small business. At the moment it is only tweed that is being made. Travelling rugs and blankets and so on may come later.
Keltneyburn's manufacturing history goes back over 100 years. The dates 1804 and 1817 are to be seen on the buildings. It was run by the Haggart, Sinclair, and Lennox families for long periods but even earlier may have been an estate 'factory' turning out meal as well as wool. The meal mill part of the building has been closed down by Mr Borland, and the space used for storage.
Some wool from local sheep is still used. Though Mr Boland is supplied through the wool control organisation, wool from local farmers is available for purchase by the control'.
Keltneyburn is not on the railway and depends on motor transport.'


The mills closed for good shortly thereafter and were bought by Tom and Kirsty Dickens. Thirty years later, after the death of Mr Dickens, the now listed buildings were purchased by Blairish Restorations and converted for residential use.

Lawers mill

In the late 18th century Hugh Cameron erected a mill by the Sithean of Lawers. One water wheel powered a lint mill, a barley mill and spinning and carding mill, at one and the same time, and the whole of that machinery under one roof.

The Aberfeldy Mills

aberfeldy millsThe map (left) is from the 2nd Edition OS map of Aberfeldy (1899). The lade from the Moness Burn has been coloured blue as it runs northwards from the corn mill on Mill Street just off the bottom of the map. The woollen mills are labelled 1-3.

Mill 1

This building next to the golf course on the east side of the Moness Burn is now Tayside Cottages. In a sketch dating from about the middle of the 19th century it is named simply 'The Dyeworks'. Its wheel of the under driven type, was inside the building, power being supplied by water carried from the upper mill via a pipe under the burn and then by an open channel running down through ground now occupied by the gardens of the houses on the west side of Tayside place. The effluent lade as it flowed from behind the building towards the river subsequently served only as a golfers' hazard before being filled in relatively recently.

It has been difficult to elucidate the history of this mill but a 'Building Lease between the Marquess of Breadalbane and Alexander McDonald' dated 1832 (NAS:GD112/10/3/1/31) gives some of the early history. At Whitsunday in 1804 John McLagan, dyer Aberfeldy, entered into possession of forty falls of ground in the village of Easter Aberfeldy next to the haugh and east of the Moness Burn. On this he built a dwellinghouse and other buildings. On the death of John McLagan senior it was passed to his only surviving son, John McLagan junior, from whom Alexander McDonald, dyer, acquired the property in 1826. In 1832 Alexander McDonald sought to formalise the lease from Breadalbane and to add slated offices to the two houses and a waulk mill already erected. It is not clear when the waulk mill was erected or by whom. The document also granted him the privilege 'of taking water for the use of the said miln from Aberfeldy Burn after the milns already erected or which may hereafter be erected by the Marquess higher up the said Burn are supplied'.

The Breadalbane Muniments contain a document entitled 'Demensions for the proposed Building for the manufactory at Aberfeldy 1792'. The building was to be 14 feet high, 150 feet long and 21 feet wide (NRS: GD112/16/5/2/6). Was this mill No.1? The width and total length are about correct for the building shown on the 1st and 2nd edition OS maps.

Mill 2

Alexander McDonald also ran the Breadalbane New Mills labelled 2 in the map above. The 1832 lease would suggest that this mill was built by the Marquess of Breadalbane but it is not clear when.

We believe Alexander was born on 2nd July 1804 in Farrochill by Aberfeldy, the son of John McDonald and Janet Menzies. Popularly known as 'The Dyer', for many years he manufactured tweeds and blankets.

His mill was approached from the east at a point just riverward of the northern end of the Factory by a crazily constructed footbridge, the piers of which were discarded retorts from the neighbouring gasworks. This bridge called the Dyer's Bridge finally became unsafe and was removed several years after the erection of the Alma bridge a few yards upstream. The Dyers Bridge had two alternative titles of obvious significance, the Lovers' Brig and the Trysting Brig.

The 1841 census gives us an interesting snapshot of Alexander's workforce, which included child-labour. Living in 'Water Gate', which was next to Chapel Street in the census record, were:

Alexander MacDonald 35 Woollen Manuf.
John MacDonald 20 Woollen dyer
Grace Robertson 15 F.S.
Donald Cameron 15 Woollen carder
James Robertson 15 Woollen carder
David MacNab 11 Woollen piecer
Donald Cameron 9 Woollen piecer
Janet MacGregor 30 Woollen neeler
James Rutherford 22 Woollen spinner

All were living in the same household as Alexander except the last two who lived next door.

Alexander McDonald never married so when he died in July 1882 there were no children to take over his business. He died intestate but an inventory taken after his death showed his estate to be valued at £13,185, a large sum of money in those days. For some time before that the mills had been worked by a Mr Walker.

Mill 3Upper Mill

In 1881 the Haggarts from Keltneyburn acquired the Breadalbane Wool Mills from Lord Breadalbane.   They gave up those in Tayside Cottages but nearby, in Mill Street, a building that had been a lint mill and a sawmill (no.3) was taken over and rebuilt to suit the purposes of their trade. In this mill they washed and dyed the wool before being taken to the lower mill to be carded, spun and woven.

In 1897 a reporter from the Dundee Courier visited the mills and wrote a detailed article describing his visit.

Sadly the only mill now working is the Breadalbane New Mill. Now renamed The Glenlyon Tweed Mill, it specialises in producing estate tweeds suitable for the Scottish hills.

Page last updated - 23/3/17