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Abandoned Jute Spinning Mill, Scotland – Aug ‘08

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wolfism

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Wandering around this sprawling mill with complete impunity brought back memories and sensations of places I explored years ago, before UE forums appeared on the internet. The jute industry was once a lynch pin of the economy in Tayside, but by the 1990’s, most of the mills had closed, or transferred over to man-made fibres like polypropylene. Years ago, I explored Wallace Craigie, Taybank, Caird Ashton and several other empty Dundee jute works, and at the time I assumed then that there wouldn’t be another chance to explore an abandoned jute mill with anything worthwhile left inside …

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Once inside, now covered in dust and filth from the access, I pulled back a heavy fireproof door and there again was the sweet dusty smell of jute, which catches in your throat; the masses of pipework running overhead which carry flash steam, water, and sprinkler mains; and the jute machine parts strewn around, all painted in subtly different shades of green. It was deserted … a giant spinning floor sitting under northlight roofs … once there would have been several hundred spinning frames in here, sitting in rows with narrow aisles between them. It’s completely abandoned now … the forklift trucks with flat tyres, a floor sailing with rainwater, moss and ferns taking over the mill workshops … water percolating through the structure.

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The core of the mill was built in the late 19th century, probably on the site of an earlier works – it was extended in 1909, according to the date stone built into the offices – and further bale sheds were built separate from the spinning mill. Jute spinning ended here in the late ‘80’s and over 50 jobs were lost, but the buildings were used for storage after that, and paperwork lying in the offices dates up to 1999. The spun jute was used for weaving into carpet and lino backings, for horticultural twine, roofing felt, and of course for hessian sacks. It’s important, I think, to remember that this place once represented the livelihood of many families – lots of households depended on the wages that came from jute spinning, and the death of jute affected tens of thousands of people, who had to “migrate their skills” to something else … like so-called service industries. It's hard to take, because even before jute, this area contained the heart of the country's linen industry, with mills and sprawling bleachfields dating back to the dawn of industrialisation.

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I immediately felt that parts of the building resembled Francois Schuiten’s illustrations in the “Cités Obscures” comic – the forest of roof trusses running into the distance; bales of textiles disappearing into the shadows in the warehouses; the old-fashioned timber desks and tall filing cabinets lining the dark corridors of the offices. Another part of the complex has a collapsed roof: as well as the inevitable pigeons, songbirds came into the mill at dawn and began singing, as I wandered around. Accompanying them was a black and white predator … the mill cat, who was evidently surprised to see me here. It slunk away into the shadows. All a huge contrast to working jute mills, where it was impossible to hear people speak. You had to wear ear protection all the time in the active part of the building – the constant mechanical clatter was audible even outside the buildings, because windows were often left open to help clear the jute dust, and extract fans in the roof also ejected a clamour of noise into the sky.

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This exploration also had a few chance discoveries: more “Ellison” switchgear, which I’d never seen until I explored the vinyl factory a few weeks ago, features here as well. There the breaker cabinets were painted luminous orange, here a douce shade of deep grey. Beside the many pallets of finished jute are piles of packaging for other jute spinners who I’d thought of as rivals, but they obviously worked together as business became more difficult, perhaps fulfilling contracts for competitors after the latter had shut down their own mills. I won’t copy out an essay about the jute industry– if you want more info, that’s what Google is for – although when I get my website finished (if I ever do) then I’ll put up some background but Tayside had a virtual world monopoly on jute processing from the 1830’s until the Great War; after that, the growers in India and Bangladesh began spinning and weaving it themselves, and the Scottish mills went into a gradual decline until the last one closed in 1999. I’m proud to say that I’ve been there, too, witnessing a little bit of history … before it was cleared for flats.

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The mill offices overlooked the spinning floor, and had a 1960’s feel to them: dark timber panelling on the walls, drab-coloured lino on the floors, and old computers lined up to die, whose casings have turned yellow with age. The wash-up of a dead industry lay on the floor – boxes of tax forms, brochures, quality control manuals … but the machinery graveyard was more involving. The jute trade’s main equipment suppliers were once the Dundee companies Urquhart Lindsay (ULRO) and TC Keay. While I didn’t find any of their machines, there were large castings from Douglas Fraser of Arbroath which once ran a large textile machinery business. Modernised mills often have Mackie of Belfast’s spinning machines, and there was evidence of these here too, along with “Elgin”, a maker I haven’t come across before. Some of the frames have even been dumped outside, and have fireweed and vetches growing through them now.

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Looking through the photos, I realise I spent over five hours in the mill, but most likely didn’t see everything: it’s one of the most interesting places I’ve explored, and access was certainly the dirtiest. Almost unheard of, there’s no vandalism here, no graffiti, just natural decay …

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jock1966

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Yup remember when this place was still working and village was full of mill workers.
when mill closed village became run down a bit, but is now lookin mutch better than it was.
sad to see it in sutch a sorry state great pictures. :)
you will not get a lot of vandals out there :lol:
 

Virusman26

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Remind me the next time I want a holiday with the wife, get up to Scotland. There just seems to be so much less in the way of human related damage!!!! AWESOME!!!:)
 

thecollector

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Yup remember when this place was still working and village was full of mill workers.
when mill closed village became run down a bit, but is now lookin mutch better than it was.
sad to see it in sutch a sorry state great pictures. :)

With green natural products I would have thought jute products might see a come-back..Lets hope sso!!
 

wolfism

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Cheers all – thanks for your comments.

With green natural products I would have thought jute products might see a come-back..Lets hope sso!!
Yep, it would be nice to think so, but I think the decline is pretty irreversible now. Virtually all jute comes from India and Bangladesh, and even their industries have declined in the last decade. Then again, maybe a visionary type person will come along … :)
 

Cuban B.

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Good report Wolfie, plenty of interesting finds waiting inside.
 
B

BigLoada

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Thats a fine report. Not only great images but you always come up with the history too. Nice:)
 

tarboat

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One of the best reports I have seen in ages. Beautifully photographed and real feeling in the accompanying commentary. At the end I was left with a deep sadness at so many jobs gone and nothing but 'service' jobs to replace them.

Thanks for taking the time to do this properly.
 

wolfism

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Thanks all – it's always a pleasure to get into a site first, and start uncovering the history from scratch. :)
 

Bryag

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Great report, as usual, Wolfism.:)

From someone who was in the flooring trade (Carpets and Linoleum) I can remember the price increases as the the cost of Jute rose significantly in the early to mid ninetys, then it was substitued for polypropylene for both linoleum and carpet poduction (with the exception of the most expensive Axminster and Wilton carpets). Even Nairns moved away from Jute in favour of PP, as it was cheaper and more dimensionally stable.
 

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