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.
Progress 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.