Crofthead Mill, Neilston

Crofthead Mill, Neilston

Less a tourist attraction than a remnant of faded industrial glory, Crofthead Mill once housed an important cotton-spinning factory. Located on the banks of the River Levern in East Renfrewshire, the mill is the remaining legacy of the textile industry that used to dominate the area.

The current building rose in the early 1880s from the ashes of a disastrous fire which burned down the original mill erected by Stewart, Orr & Co in 1792. Not all of the mill’s structures have survived to the present day though - the five-storey edifice of the spool-turning department was demolished in 1968.

Crofthead was once the biggest producer of spun cotton in the county and its ownership passed through a series of successful companies. Thread from here was traded across the world. One of the more bizarre claims to fame of their products is that thread from Crofthead held together the boots of those on the British Everest Expedition in 1975…clearly it was tough stuff.

The mill attracted thousands of workers to Neilston in the 1900s, with many travelling to find work here after the closure of mills in Glasgow, as well as journeying from northern England, Ireland or the Highlands. Living and working conditions were considered good at Crofthead, and the Mill’s management even built around 400 homes for their workers. If you take a gander around the nearby town (only a short walk away, albeit up the rather steep Holehouse Brae), you can see these dinky millhouses dotted around Neilston, still providing cosy dwellings for the locals.

Crofthead Mill, Neilston

The mill finally closed its doors in 1992, obviously resulting in a major loss of employment for the local residents. Whilst its cotton spinning days are over, the premises are still in use to some extent, with various companies renting out parts of it as storage space. Despite the large sign warning of ‘Guard Dogs on Patrol’, gaining access to have a look at the site isn’t much trouble. And when I popped in to see the security guard, he didn’t seem that mystified as to why I’d even want to photograph the place.

Despite its status as a listed building, the mill is beginning to look sadly neglected, showing some real signs of wear and tear on the exterior. Shattered windows, rusty pipes, flaking paint and damp walls are valiantly putting up a struggle against the damp elements of western Scotland (don’t be fooled by those blue skies in the photos - no-one was more amazed than I that it all looked so bright and sunny the day I visited). Even so, the structure remains vast and dominates the skyline of the local area. You feel really quite dwarfed by it when walking around, craning your neck up to take it all in. There is something majestic about it, even now with its ‘has-been’ status. You can easily imagine it as a thriving workplace with the clitter-clatter of machinery echoing from inside.

How to get there

Crofthead Mill, Holehouse Brae, Neilston, Glasgow, East Renfrewshire G78

Crofthead Mill is sandwiched between the A736 and the small town of Neilston in East Renfrewshire. It’s easily accessible from Glasgow by car – travel south out of the city and follow signs to Barrhead. The mill is about 10 minutes drive along the A736 out of Barrhead – you can’t miss it. Alternatively, frequent trains run between Glasgow Central Station and Neilston, with the mill easily accessible on foot from the station.

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