Treasured Places In Focus
Stanley Mills: A Picture Can Tell a Thousand Words
Susan Casey, Treasured Places Research Officer
One of our roles at RCAHMS is to ‘make an inventory of the built environment from earliest times to the present day, producing independent and reliable evidence for public understanding, enjoyment and research...' To carry out this duty, we must do more than note when a building was constructed and take a few photographs. Rather, it is our role to reflect the way in which inhabitants, owners and visitors shaped and developed buildings for their own needs. If the adage that a picture can tell a thousand words holds true, then the millions of drawings, manuscripts and photographs created and collected by RCAHMS can acquaint us with the histories of buildings for many generations to come.
A case study of Stanley Mills, in Perth and Kinross, illustrates this point perfectly. The cotton mills and village of Stanley were developed on model lines - ensuring efficiency through providing for the well being of the workers. The three mills, Bell Mill (completed 1790), East Mill (c.1840) and Mid Mill (c.1850), were originally powered by seven water wheels, drawing water from the River Tay along a tunnel some 244m in length. After several cycles of successful production followed by slump, the mills finally ceased production and closed in 1989.
These facts and figures recorded in the notebooks and card index files of the RCAHMS investigators and industrial archaeologists who visited the mills, help place our collection of drawings and photographs of the mills in context.
Historic photographs depict a thriving industry and a large workforce. In an image taken around 1900, the frozen River Tay is being used as a curling rink - the players are presumably workers enjoying some time off. In the background a steady column of smoke rises from the mill's chimney, showing the busy production of the mills at this time. A set of photographs was taken in 1921, showing workers engaged in constructing an enormous turbine. These images illustrate the transition to electrical power and tell of the confidence of a company able to employ labour during a period of economic downturn and depression. From the same series of photographs, a shot of the gatehouse captures a notice board advertising a garden fete at the Manse and the view from the gatehouse shows the immaculate gardens surrounding the mill buildings; the ideals of the model village and workplace still holding true.
In 1974, the industrial archaeologist John Hume (now chairman of RCAHMS) visited the site, his notes recording that the mill was still in operation, spinning synthetics in addition to cotton, but that the turbine house was gutted. In the early 1980s, RCAHMS investigators made a thorough survey of the building, the final products of which were a set of plans and elevations, reproduced in our book Monuments of Industry. In the accompanying photographs, bales of fibre still hang on machinery - and the gatehouse notice board is still in use - but some of the buildings appear dilapidated. An architect's letter in the archive, dated September 1983, tells that works were required to keep Bell Mill watertight.
A further photographic survey was undertaken by RCAHMS in 1990, after the mills had closed. RCAHMS has a statutorily defined duty to record listed buildings and buildings in conservation areas for which permission to demolish or part-demolish has been granted. Buildings that are to undergo significant alteration or conversion may also be recorded, constituting non-statutory casework. The photographer has recorded a poster from the top floor of the Mid Mill. It extols the benefits of synthetic fibres over cotton; a valuable piece of evidence demonstrating the changes that the mill endured. A small collection of newscuttings dating from the following year voice people's worries about the future of the mill, and concern for its state of disrepair.
The most recent items in the archive, dating from 2004, herald a new future for the site. These include a series of reports from an archaeology company who had been engaged to carry out building surveys, excavations and watching briefs. This work was carried out in advance of development, as the complex is now in the care of Historic Scotland, who have recently opened a visitor centre with opportunities to learn about and explore the mill buildings. The Mid and East Mills have been converted into flats. RCAHMS photography from 2005 provides a contrast with previous field visits, the images recording restored brickwork and new glazing.
Stanley Mills represents one entry in a database of over 275,000 sites - and 329 collection items in an archive totalling 4.5 million. RCAHMS contains many more stories that are waiting to be told.