This past Summer, my husband and I took a road trip through the northern most parts of Scotland. One of the stops on our itinerary was the 200 year old Knockando Woolmill deep in the Spey Valley. The mill continues a centuries old unbroken tradition of producing woven fabric on its historic looms. Central to the life of the local community, Knockando Woolmill was listed as the ‘Wauk Mill’ in parish records from 1784, and has since maintained its traditions of spinning and weaving through generations of families. Walking through the mill and meeting with the people who work there, we couldn’t help but feel like we too had become a part of this historic tradition, even if for a brief while.
The history behind the mill’s survival through the ages is fascinating and best told in the words of the mill’s Trust:
Knockando Woolmill grew gradually as the mechanisation of textile production developed elsewhere in the UK. This is not the large industrial mill of Yorkshire or the Scottish Borders but 18th and 19th century farm diversification. When times were good, the Woolmill tenant would buy a new (usually second hand) piece of machinery. He would extend the Mill building just enough to keep the weather off the machine; being a thrifty farmer, he reused doors and windows from elsewhere. This has resulted in the surviving tiny, ramshackle building stuffed full of historic machinery and redolent of the labours previous generations. Spinning and weaving went hand in hand with agriculture at Knockando. There would be little work carried on in the Woolmill during sowing or harvest time but after shearing, local farmers would bring in their fleeces to be processed and take them away as blankets and tweed cloth. Many communities had their own local district woollen mill, but the majority of these disappeared between the two World Wars. Somehow, Knockando survived. Using expertise passed down through generations, the last proprietor, Hugh Jones, learnt the craft from his predecessor, Duncan Stewart. For thirty years he continued to produce tweed, rugs and blankets on the old looms. Knockando Woolmill Trust, formed in 2000, stepped in to raise the £3.5 million needed to restore the buildings and machinery. This was completed in 2014, It now owns the mill building, leasing the rest of the site from Knockando Estate. The Woolmill is now open to the public and continues to sustain the manufacturing traditions of the UK’s oldest surviving district wool mill.