Newmilns Regeneration Association


A journey through Newmilns towards the end of the 19th Century.

Oor Toon

In April 1937, Mr Walker read a paper at a Circle meeting entitled "Memories" and these were chiefly concerned with the town as he knew it in his early boyhood days. In his paper, Mr Walker described very vividly and in detail the places, personalities and customs of "our Toon" in the 1880's.....

Brown Street, Nelson Street, Bridgend & Toonfit

Though a true Newmilnsite both by birth and parentage, my earliest recollections of Oor Toon are coming to it as a visitor. Like many others, when the hand-loom weaving went down, my father had to leave the town to get work. This he found at the railway sheds at Barleith, where we went to live when I was still in the infant stage and it was from there, when I was in my early years, I was brought to visit friends at home.

In those days, the Railway Station was at the foot of the brae and stood near where the present weigh-house stands. It was much smaller than the present one, with only one platform, there being just a single line from Galston. The old station was built of grey stone and incidentally, I may say, when it was dismantled, the stones were taken to Darvel and rebuilt as a dwelling house, near the Townfoot of that burgh.

Coming out of the station, then as now, Pate's Mill was the first object we saw. The building is little changed, the biggest difference being that in these days, there was a real mill-wheel turned by water from the lade which came from the Miller's Dam just below the Institute Brig. Before going up Brown Street, we shall take a look westwards. In those days, there were only the two lace factories in that direction - Haddow Aird's and Wm. Morton & Co. together with the Liggat's Madras factory. From then onwards, there were nothing but fields till one came to the Bleachfield.

Brown Street is pretty much the same in outline as today especially at the west end, but I think I am safe in saying nearly two-thirds of the houses were "thacked" roofed and quite a large percentage of them were still hand-loom shops. Generally speaking, there were four-loom shops and six-loom shops, that is, some houses were big enough to take in six looms whilst others ony held four. (The families owning the looms generally resided in the other parts of the house - a family "but and ben" with the weaving shops downstairs and two attics upstairs). As I have already said, hand-loom weaving was on the way out and as a result, house after house got renovated; the six-loom shops turned into a room and kitchen and the "thack" roof taken off and a slate one put in its place.

The "smiddy" at the foot of the "Houm" was then occupied by auld Wullie Pollock. A wood erection built on a small piece of ground beside the smiddy had been at one time a photographic studio, but as far as I can remember, in my time it was used by auld Samuel Muir as a workshop when he made walking sticks etc. Half way up the street stood Blair's clipping machine shop in the front portion of what is now Jamieson and Anderson's factory. There may have been more, but I only remember three shops in this street then - Annie Young's or Mrs. Torrance's sweetie shop, Andrew Wallace, whose photo until recently hung in the Temperance Hall, had a grocery shop a few doors further up and James Hood, grocer and tax collector further up the street. What is now the property belonging to Mr Melville was in these days a one-storey old fashioned house like its neighbours. Further up on the other side of the street is the Post Office, still a comparatively new building. This took the place of some low white-washed thatch roofed houses. In one of them, alud Nannie Woods kept a wee shop and was noted for her "Black Man" - a kind of treacle toffee of her own make.

Across from here, where the Royal Bank now stands, was a planting of fir trees, which extended from there up to the Miller's Dam. Mr R. C. Mitchell at that time bank agent and for whom the bank was built, was the father of Mr Mitchell, so recently shot in Spain. Stewart's Place or Bedlam was then quite a respectable place, the older houses having the usual weaver's shop downstairs. Nelson Street, or to give it its best known name - the Water Wynd, has been little changed. Indeed, the removal of the bandstand from the drying green, it is back to its old self, only some of the house have got renovated a bit. There was no Iron Brig then and the workers going from the Kilnholm and Jamieson Terrace over to any of the factories - Hood Morton & Co, Haddow Aird's, William Morton's or the Lappett Mill - had to cross by stepping stones and if the water was deep enough to cover them, they had perforce to go up and over the Greenholm Brig and down Brown Street.

Mention of the Greenholm Brig reminds me that the present structure is not so old. It was opened in 1881 according to the date carved on it. I do not remember the Auld Brig, but I have been told that it was one of the old fashioned low-backed variety. It was blown up by gunpowder and it is related that the first explosion had little or no effect on it. Many of the town's folk stood at a safe distance expecting to see it blown into the air. When the shot failed to take effect, an old woman in the crowd turned to her neighbour and said, "Eh but they built wi' conscience in thae days". During the construction of the new bridge, a sad accident took place. A stone was being lifted by a crane when it slipped and fell on to an old residenter and killed him. (Erchie Hood's father).

Just over the bridge as we enter Main Street, a big transformation has taken place. Where Mr Jamieson, the lawyer's house now stands, there was in those days a joiner's yard and sawpit and on the road down to it were several old dwelling houses where the Valley News office now stands. Across the street in place of the Unionist Club premises, from what is now Campbell's Public House to very near the riverbank, was a row of one-storey white washed, thatch roofed cottages, picturesque perhaps, but I'm afraid had they been standing now, they would have been condemned as unfit for habitiation. 

Of course, there was no fountain then as the gravitation water supply was not yet introduced. What was then known as the Toofit has undergone a great change. Where the Co-operative premises now stand used to be old decrepit-looking buildings, and weavers shop next to what was then Robin Haddow's butcher shop, was an old building with an outside stair to the top flat. Here lived the coal-carrier of these days. Johnie Conner, who used to go about with a big shovel under one arm and a baikie (a wooden box with handles on the outside).

Running westwards from this house was a two-storey sandstone building, dwelling houses upstairs and weavers shops downstairs. Here lived Black Borland, his wife and family, till the building was demolished. They then moved to a house in the Cross. Old Wull Connell and family occupied other parts of the building. (If anyone wishes to see the remains of these houses, they have only to take a look at Gilfoot House, which was built from the stone of the demolished buildings). A low-storey house stood at the extreme end of what was then the Main Street. 

to be continued........