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Stanley Mills

Stanley Mills is a unique complex of water-powered cotton mills situated on a majestic bend in the River Tay.

Stanley Mills

A Revolution powered by water

Stanley Mills is one the best-preserved relics of the 18th-century Industrial Revolution. It was established as a cotton mill by local merchants, with support from the English cotton baron Richard Arkwright. Textiles were produced here for 200 years.

The mills were built in 1786 at a hairpin bend in the River Tay, where tremendous water-power was available. Machinery was powered initially by water wheels, and latterly by electricity generated by water-powered turbines. As the market changed and new technologies developed, buildings were added, adapted, expanded, shut down, reopened and demolished.

It is now possible to explore the buildings and discover the many changes that took place over two centuries.

A new fibre

By the late 18th century, Perthshire had a well established textile industry. Linen was produced from locally grown flax, using water-powered machinery.

Around this time, British merchants began importing cotton, which could be spun into warm and strong textiles. In northern England, water-driven machines were being installed in large factories to process the ‘new’ fibre.

By 1785, a group of Perth merchants were eager to establish a cotton industry on the Tay. They persuaded the English textile baron Richard Arkwright to invest his money and expertise.

Successes and failures

Initially, the mills thrived. The East Mill was added to process flax, but it was gutted by fire in 1799. Because of this, and a slump caused by war in France, Stanley Mills closed down.

The mills were bought in 1801 by James Craig, with financial support from David Dale, the founder of New Lanark mills. However, the business failed again and the mills closed in 1813.

In 1823, the mills were bought and reopened by Buchanan & Co of Glasgow. They enlarged the East Mill and built the Mid Mill, the gas works and, in Stanley village, a church and new housing. The company flourished for 30 years. In 1848, the owner, George Buchanan, helped establish a rail link to Stanley. This greatly eased the transportation of raw cotton from Glasgow. Buchanan sold the mills in 1852.

The next owner was Samuel Howard, who closed the mills during the Cotton Famine of the 1860s, causing mass unemployment.

Further revivals

F.S. Sandeman took over in 1876. He was an astute businessman and a skilled technician. He replaced the water wheels with turbines and introduced cotton belting as a product. Belting was sold around the world to drive machinery.

During the First and Second World Wars, the mills saw good years producing webbing for the armed forces. Another important innovation came in 1916, when Stanley Mills began producing an ‘endless’ thin cotton belt used in the manufacture of cigarettes. This product helped the mills survive the Depression of the 1920s.

Adaptation and decline

India became independent in 1947 and imposed import tariffs on cotton goods, damaging a major export market. The growing availability of electricity also shrank the market for belting.

By the late 1960s, Stanley was mainly producing artificial fibres. In 1979, a management buyout led to the formation of Stanley Mills (Scotland), but the market proved too competitive and the mills eventually closed in 1989.

Calling all former Stanley Mills workers!

Did you ever work here or do you know someone who worked at Stanley Mills?

What ís your story?

Stanley Mills has been bringing together former workers to share stories, information and help us to bring the past alive.The group is open to anyone who has worked at or has connections to the mill. If you are interested in becoming part of this group, or have a story to share please get in touch.


Stanley Mills Monument Manager
01738 828268 / 828704

Events at Stanley Mills

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31 October 2014

Dark Days & Dastardly Deeds

Stirling Castle

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Fright Night

Linlithgow Palace

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Hands on History

Edinburgh Castle

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