In previous centuries Weaving was a major industry in Dunfermline which had a European origin. James VI wanted to bring Flemish weavers to Scotland and Flemish names have been seen to be weavers in late 17th century Dunfermline. Damask weaving was introduced to Edinburgh by Huguenots who were protestants escaping from religious persecution by Catholics in the low countries and France and who came to Edinburgh where they set up damask weaving. They were secretive about their techniques but allowed James Blake from Dunfermline to come into their workhouses as a labourer and to entertain them as they thought he was simple. He was actually very bright and was learning from watching them. He took what he had learnt back to Dunfermline and in 1718 set up a damask loom in the south gatehouse of the Abbey, also known as the Pends (9). This is also the ticket office for the Abbey.
Damask weaving mushroomed into a massive industry with ten large mills covering a massive area encircling the city centre, employing 6000 people by 1877. Then decline started and all but two works were closed by the early 1930s. Relief came from Europe in conversion to silk weaving. Two mills were taken over by Swiss companies which brought workers from Switzerland to Dunfermline to help two mills move over to silk production.
Winterthur Silk Mills made the silk for the wedding dress of Princess Elizabeth, the future Queen Elizabeth II, to Philip Mountbatten. Most of the textile mills have now been demolished. The Winterthur Mills have been demolished and replaced by a new supermarket but are commemorated in the name of Winterthur Lane.
St Leonards Works on the A823, St Leonards St., to Edinburgh, just south of the city centre had closed on the early 1930s but in 1934 was reopened for silk production by Fife Silk Mills and lasted until 1983. The site of these huge mills is now an ASDA supermarket. It was said to be one of the biggest mills in Britain. All that remains is Erskine Beveridge Court (18) the imposing block of flats just north of ASDA, which is the original office block of the mills.
Image credits – Martin Wilkinson