Cumledge from the bridge
A general view
Over the centuries the River Whiteadder has supported many types of mills (flour mills/paper mills etc.) along its length.
Cumleche Waulke Mill near the village of Preston by Duns is first mentioned in the "Great Book of Seal" compiled in the fifteenth century.
A "waulke" mill used a hand-made process for thickening wool by besting it and shrinking it - if hair were added it became felt.
The name of Cumledge can be traced back to 1431 when one Richard Sleyght (Sleigh) of Culleyg was present at a perambulation of the marches between Brockhole and Butterdean.
In 1806 the lands were purchased by Mr. John Wilson, (1768-1837) a tenant farmer of Preston, Duns from George Buchan of Kelloe for the sum of £11,250 including "the waulkmill of Cumledge and the mill land" and in 1837 was inherited by his son John Wilson of Cumledge (1799-1883).
The mill was then leased to a Cumledge Mill Mr. William Henderson who it would appear ran into some sort of financial difficulties and then in1854 to a Mr. William Laidlaw who had a licensed grocer's shop at 4 High Street Hawick. At this time it was a water driven spinning mill consisting only of a high square building and not being at this point a particularly profitable concern the rent was set at £57 per half year.
Originally starting as a manufacturer of hosiery yarns Laidlaw was advised by a former weaver - James Shield - that he would do better in blanket manufacturing. After some consideration he decided that this was the way he should go and by 1855 the necessary plant had been set up and production started.
The mill had only seven workers when he took over but William was able to persuade some of his former colleagues to come from Hawick with him.
The following year however disaster struck when the mill was burnt down, "The Kelso Chronicle" reporting;
"On Sunday morning at about five o'clock as some of the farm servants at Preston were on their way to the cow field they discovered fire and smoke issuing from one or two of the upper windows of Cumledge Waulk Mill .... in a few minutes a number of persons were on the spot; but so great a hold had the fire got that their services were of small avail and in little more than an hour of discovery the roof had fallen in and the whole of the valuable machinery and stock were destroyed ....... The erection was a lofty building of four storeys about 80 feet long and 26 wide and was filled from top to bottom with machinery of the most improved description all of which is completely destroyed together with the stock of manufactured goods, embracing between 600 and 700 pairs of blankets etc"
Although apparently insured for approximately half its value and while a new lease was entered into on the same terms and conditions before signing William Laidlaw was required not only to rebuild at his own expense but to rebuild on twice the scale.
Changing to blanket making was however a successful move. As the production increased so did the workforce and by 1861 there were 29 workers and the premises were again extended.
In 1865 William Laidlaw was able to purchase Allars Mill in Jedburgh, manufacturing tweed and his two eldest sons, James and John acted as managers trading under the name "Laidlaw Brothers"
Meantime Cumledge was run by William and his youngest son Alexander who lived at Wellfield House in Duns. Alexander was later to marry Isabella Rodick in 1902 and was able to buy his old school and turn it into a fine house.
1865 also saw the opening of Duns Railway Station which proved of significant benefit to the mill allowing yarn to be sent to Hawick by rail although produce still had to be transported to and from the station using carters from Duns.
By 1888 business was booming and William was able to purchase the mill and land from the Wilson-Smith family.
By the early 1900s the mills were thriving and the workforce at Cumledge had risen to 100.
In 1933 Cumledge Mills and Allars Mills were formed into a limited company known as Laidlaws Blankets and Tweed Mills with Alexander as the first Chairman.
By the time of the Second World War the mills had acquired an international reputation exporting worldwide but especially to the U.S.A. and Canada. One of our members recounts how on a recent visit to Los Angeles he visited "RMS Queen Mary" and noticed the Cumledge label and later the same day also noticed a down-and-out in a shop doorway huddled under a blanket bearing the same label.
During the war the mill was the principal supplier of blankets to the armed forces and at the height of production over 1000 blankets per day were being produced; in all over one quarter of a million blankets being supplied to the services. The mill also produced shirts for the army - these were extremely hard wearing and came to be known as "bear shirts" By this time Laidlaws had become the largest employer in the Eastern Borders.
In 1948 however disaster struck. In the two weeks preceding 12th. August four inches of rain had fallen each week saturating the soil, overflowing the streams and filling the rivers causing them to rise in minor spate. On the 12th. four to six inches fell and the streams and rivers rose to unprecedented heights causing flooding beyond memory.
Great loss and damage occurred at Cumledge Mill, the flood water rising to eight feet high around the houses. Immense damage was done to the mill building and machinery as the flood swept through, twisting heavy machinery and leaving a devastation of silt and debris everywhere.
While the mill buildings were cleaned and the machinery repaired or replaced it was some time before the mill was again fully operational; in the meantime a number of the workforce having been sent to Jedburgh to work at Allars Mill.
However the mill never fully recovered and production never again reached its former level - the workforce too was much smaller.
Also the demand for blankets was falling, partially due to the arrival of the duvet and in 1972 the mill was closed. Nothing now remains.
For pictures of the mill and the 1948 floods our thanks to Mrs. Isobel Candlish and Lt. Col. Jock Wilson-Smith for much of the above material.
When the demolishers moved in the following poem was found in a wall in the weaving shed;
Not till the loom is silent
And the shuttles cease to fly
Shall God unroll the canvas
And explain the reason why
The dark threads are as needful
In the weaver's skilful hand
As the threads of gold and silver
For the pattern he has planned