SHBT provided key consultancy expertise on the multi-million pound project to restore this internationally important site.
Knockando Woolmill is incredibly rare not only as a surviving rural mill that remains in operation on its original site, but as one that is involved in the whole process of cloth production. It first received a Category A listing in 1995 not because of its buildings, but due to its extraordinary collection of 19th-century textile machinery, still in active use. Established in the 18th century, the mill’s ownership by a series of interconnected families and craftsmen can be clearly traced down to 2000, when the Knockando Woolmill Trust was established to restore the site and ensure its continued operation.
Knockando Woolmill is first recorded in 1784 as a ‘waulk mill’ operated by William and Anne Grant. Although the site has remained in continuous use as a mill since this time, the buildings have been consistently developed. The oldest surviving structure today is the small Woolmill Cottage, built around 1820 and lived in until 1915. The mill building itself has a mid-19th century core, supplemented by numerous later 19th-century additions built in order to house the new machinery.
The mill started life as a purely local business; members of the community would bring fresh fleeces to be turned into kitting yarn or cloth. This practice was once common across Scotland, but Knockando is one of only two survivors. Alongside this local trade, the mill gradually developed its own commercial production. This was enhanced by the introduction of new machinery from the mid-19th century onwards. These were a development of 18th-century inventions first applied to the cotton industry and revolutionised the scale and complexity of production possible at textile mills of all sizes. As at many other sites, the machines at Knockando were initially powered by a huge cast-iron waterwheel, which remained in use from 1860 to 1949.
Knockando Woolmill traded under the firm name A Smith & Son from 1860 to 1976, when the last family member, Duncan Stewart, retired. The business was then taken forward by Hugh Jones, who started out as a novice but continued to be mentored by Stewart until the latter’s death in 1991. By 2000, many of the key machines had been in operation for over a century. Both they and the buildings that surrounded them were in dire need of an extensive, well-informed restoration that would preserve their historical importance and keep them in operation for many years to come.
In answer to this, The Knockando Woolmill Trust was established and worked with Hugh Jones to develop a plan for the site’s regeneration. Initial research conducted by the Trust was instrumental in having the site upgraded to a Category A listing in 2003. The following year, Knockando featured as a finalist on the BBC programme ‘Restoration’, an event which recognised the project’s importance and spread awareness of it.
From 2004 until the start of on-site work in 2010, SHBT’s consultancy arm (then known as the Alba Conservation Trust) worked with the Knockando Woolmill Trust to develop the project. This included overseeing the production of an extensive Conservation Plan, the appointment of contractors and, crucially, the fundraising process. By 2009, with SHBT’s help, the Knockando Woolmill Trust had succeeded in raising the £3.5million necessary for the project to commence, with roughly a third of this being given by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
Knockando Woolmill was officially reopened by Prince Charles, Duke of Rothesay in 2012. In 2014, it won the RICS Scotland Project of the Year and Community Benefit awards, and the RIAS Historic Scotland Conservation & Climate Change and Tourism awards. Most significantly of all, in 2016 it was awarded a Europa Nostra Award in the ‘Conservation’ category.
Knockando Woolmill Today
Since the project’s completion, the mill has returned to active production and expanded its remit as a site where people can both learn about the history of the textile industry and experience the reality of a working woollen mill.
More Past Projects
We are working with The Haining Charitable Trust to provide vital support in the ongoing development of this historic mansion and estate.