The industrial valleys

Industry in the Clyde and Avon Valleys

Filed under History & Archaeology

The valleys of the Clyde and Avon, as well as their tributaries, have always been rich in natural resources, whether in the mineral resources to be found below ground, the fertility of their soils, or the power that could be generated by harnessing their waters.

Initially this was in the form water power in the grinding of corn, but by the 18th century, this had extended to the processing of flax (linseed) for linen, and the establishment of many mills. Mouse Mill, which still stands on the banks of the Mousewater, is one of the oldest mills in the area.

Lockhart Mill on the Mousewater, painted by Lanark- born artist, Robert Scott c.1795 (Lanark Museum Trust)

New Lanark mills, now a World Heritage Site, opened in 1785 for the processing of cotton imported from America, part of the triangular trade between Britain, Africa and America, which included both goods and slaves. Indeed the cotton for the mills was produced by slaves in America. But, Robert Owen, who took over New Lanark in 1800, argued that many British mill workers were no better off than slaves and concentrated his efforts on reforming this. Owen did not employ Children under 10 (unusual for the time) and made provisions for their education. New Lanark was unique for its relatively high living and welfare standards for workers, and became lauded throughout Europe for its good conditions and profitability, with many visits from foreign dignitaries. Owen nevertheless described his workers as machines, who should be kept as happy as possible to increase their productive value and derive their gratitude. Even among those who visited New Lanark, not everyone was convinced that the workers of New Lanark were any more free than slaves (as Poet Laureate Robert Southey describes in 1819) as they were still utterly dependent upon, and wholely governed by, the mill management.

Double Row, New Lanark. Living conditions in these houses, despite crowded by modern standards, were cleaner and healthier than most contemporary mills.

While some mills served a single purpose and disappeared soon after they fell into disuse, others seem to have adapted to change over the years. For example, Jerviswood mill appears to have served as a corn mill, lint mill and blacking or charcoal grinding mill at different times in its history. Avonbank Works, originally a cloth printing factory, was a distillery in the 1820s and 30s before becoming a bleach and beetling (the smoothing and flattening of cloth) works, eventually closing in 1980.

Built in 1817, Garrion Mill was the last water-powered grain mill to close in the Clyde Valley, operating until the mid 1960s 

First the roads, and later the railways, opened the way for the exploitation of the area’s mineral resources. Sandstone was used for building, clay for brickmaking, and coal, ironstone and limestone to supply the burgeoning iron and steel industries of the Lower Clyde valley. There was a greater concentration of brick and tile works in the Clyde valley than anywhere else in Scotland, particularly around Carluke, where the remains of brick works can still be found. This was thanks to the local geology, which provided clays and shales suitable for brick-making, terra cotta and other heavy duty ceramics. The area is now sprinkled with the relics of these largely defunct industries in the shape of former colliery sites, old stone quarries, abandoned clay-pits, and associated spoil tips.
Stonehouse Quarry, with sandstone blocks being prepared for house building (South Lanarkshire Council) 

Water power continued to be used in the processing of raw materials and agricultural produce for many years. However, the working out of many mines and quarries, changing economic circumstances and patterns of world trade brought about a decline in the area’s industry by the second half of the 20th century, yet hydro-electric power generation remains significant.

Bonnington hydoelectric power station at the Falls of Clyde.


Find out more in the Historical Development Study, available to read below, or under the 'Other Resources' section on the right.

Area Guide

Find Out More

You Might Also Like...

Shaping the Landscape: Thank the Rocks for the Trains

Shaping the Landscape: Thank the Rocks for the Trains

How geology led to the first local train lines

Clydesdale Mill Society

Clydesdale Mill Society

To research, excavate and protect historic, naturally powered mills in South Lanarkshire

Douglas Heritage Museum

Douglas Heritage Museum

Explore the history of this sleepy and historic village on the south bank of the Douglas Water

Bonnington Pavilion, the 'Hall of Mirrors'

Bonnington Pavilion, the 'Hall of Mirrors'

A view of Corra Linn, with a difference