Stuart Nisbet goes in search of an early paper mill
Balgray Mill was located on the west bank of the Kelvin upstream of Kelvindale Road and was probably the site of an ancient grain mill. By the mid-eighteenth century several other mills were added on the same site. The most important and longest-lasting was a paper mill.
The fortunes of all the Kelvin mills varied over the years and paper mills were no exception. They waxed and waned, depending on the whims of their owners, the flow in the river and the paper market.
As early as the 1720s James Duncan started a paper mill at Balgray. In 1746 he had been joined by Edward Collins, whose family would dominate paper making in the wider area for generations. However, they initially had problems with the water supply at Balgray. Edward branched out to a second mill, at Dalmuir on the Duntocher Burn, which operated until the 1970s. Edward’s son Richard continued to work at both Balgray and Dalmuir and his other son, Edward Junior, worked a third paper mill at Denny in Stirlingshire, another hub of Scottish paper making.
At Balgray they solved their water problems with a bigger dam on the Kelvin and two further mills were added. The first was an oil mill in the 1740s, which ground seeds such as lintseed to make oil. The second was a snuff mill. Snuff mills were often appended to paper mills, although the connection is unclear, as there is no common link between the processes. Other examples of combined paper and snuff mills in the Glasgow area include Netherlee, Millholm and Cathcart, all on the White Cart south of Glasgow.
By the 1790s Balgray was still making paper, by this time with Collins’s son Richard, and James Duncan was also involved. In 1808 papermaker James Combs was a partner at a trio of paper mills, Balgray, Dalmuir and Millholm at Cathcart. In 1813 Balgray still had a snuff mill appended.
Both the Collins and Duncan families were printers and stationers in Glasgow from the mid-eighteenth century and continued to appear through the history of the site. The Collins family persisted the longest on the site, into the twentieth century.
The site became a very large Victorian paper mill with a railway connection, storage ponds and a string of buildings along the site. In the heart of the site was Kelvindale House. In recent decades, most of the works and its ponds have been infilled and redeveloped with housing.
Although the Balgray Mill appears on early maps, it gradually became better known as Kelvindale Mill. On Roy’s map in the 1750s, the location of Balgray had been clear, directly opposite where the Possil Burn entered the Kelvin. Three Balgray Farms (North, South and Mains) stretched up to what are now Cleveden Road and Great Western Road. Today Balgray is more elusive, swallowed up by Kelvindale. However, the easiest way to trace the early mill sites is by their dams or weirs. One weir could power several mills along its lade, but a single weir on the Kelvin defined the site.
The most prominent surviving feature of Balgray Mill is the distinctive V-shaped weir, probably the most notable on the Kelvin. The other remnants on the edge of the site are the company houses at the bottom of Kelvindale Road.
The Lost Mills of The Kelvin is taken from the Winter 2009-10 edition of FORK News