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Staff and equipment inside Beltonford Paper Works

Beltonford Paper Mill

In 1862 Alexander Annandale of Lasswade bought the farm and estate of West Barns and other property, which included the corn mills belonging to the burgh of Dunbar. Annandale was already a successful paper manufacturer in Midlothian and, as demand then outstripped supply, planned to develop West Barns as a new venture.

Staff and equipment inside Beltonford Paper WorksProgress was rapid. Reservoirs were built and sewage rights secured; a factory, stores, engine house and housing were built; and a spur line right into the site linked directly to the nearby North British Railway. Complete by the end of 1865 and incorporated under the firm of Alexander Annandale and Sons, the Beltonford Paper Mill immediately began to produce 20 tons of printing paper weekly. Improvements were instituted in 1887 and by 1892 the weekly output had reached 80 tons. Then a disastrous fire on Saturday 2 April 1892 brought the venture to a premature end. Although the factory was insured, Alexander Annandale’s poor health in effect meant that the impetus to rebuild was lacking. The surviving buildings and infrastructure were given a new lease of life when Alexander Hunter of Belhaven Brewery purchased the site and developed it as a maltings.

The 30 year span of the venture changed both the community and the physical face of West Barns. Specialist staff migrated from all over the country but unskilled labour was found locally – particularly women and boys. 2-300 people were employed at the works, around 10% of the working population of the burgh and parish of Dunbar. The Annandales provided instruments for the West Barns Band (sometimes called the Works Band) and a 4 pin quoiting ground was established. The local Horticultural Club benefitted from a greatly increased membership and the extra population sustained several local businesses.

The story of the works can be followed in some detail using the resources of the John Gray Centre. Newspaper indexes and census returns reveal staff and key events. Maps and a photographic archive explore the nature of the works and reveal something of the workforce and the Annandale family at home and at play; they can be consulted at the Centre. Ally Knox of West Barns, whose family had a long association with the site, published a detailed account; see: Transactions of the East Lothian Antiquarian and Field Naturalists Society, volume 22 (1993), 1-32.

2 thoughts on “Beltonford Paper Mill”

  1. Sarah Riley says:

    Hi Anita – did your great-grandad ever mention if women were employed at Hendon Paper Mill?

  2. Anita says:

    Mystery solved! I have often wondered why my great grandparents left Scotland. John Nisbet Black b. 1867 worked at the paper mill certainly from 1881. By 1891 he had married his second wife Margaret Henry Watson, having lost his first wife Mary Cambell Barrie to TB. Both were also millworkers. In 1895 their first daughter Agnes -my grandmother , was born in Jarrow , by which time I believe he was at a mill on the R. Tyne. I am unsure as to why– but they then moved to Wandsworth but in 1903 that paper mill was also destroyed by fire — an unhappy coincidence I hope! Then they moved to Sunderland where he worked as a foreman colour dyer at Hendon Papermill until his retirement.

    I came across your fascinating site last week, whilst researching the Blacks, and look forward to bringing our 3 grandchildren in the summer to visit your centre and the surrounding area. Many thanks, Anita

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