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Paper Mills

Chimneys down the Esk

Papermaking in Midlothian dates from 1709. The first mill on the Esk was established by the ‘Queen’s Printer’, Agnes Campbell, who leased land at Valleyfield from Sir John Clerk of Penicuik, with the right to build a paper mill and to extract water from St Mungo’s Well. Despite poor roads, the site was a good one for the purpose. It had:
  • adequate water power
  • clean spring water
  • a large flat site for the mill buildings
  • an abundant supply of rags from the nearby city of Edinburgh
  • a market: not only was Agnes Campbell a printer, Edinburgh was home to merchants, lawyers and a growing printing industry.
Within 100 years, ten mills were established between Penicuik and Lasswade, mostly producing fine quality papers.

When Valleyfield Mill began production in 1709, there was no direct road between Penicuik and Edinburgh. Over time new roads were built and old ones improved. In 1855 the first railway line in the area was constructed, with a station at Pomathorn. Later, other lines were built along the Esk valley, with sidings for the paper mills, making the transport of raw materials and the finished paper much easier.

Water used in the production of paper was discharged into the River Esk. This, together with the change of raw material from rags to esparto grass and a dramatic increase in production, polluted the river, affecting the general environment, and also the work of the paper mills downstream. There were various court cases from the 1840s until the 1870s, which resulted in improvements, but the river did not begin to run clear until the final closure of the paper mills. Only then did the river return to its natural, unpolluted state.

For nearly 300 years, Penicuik was known as ‘The Papermaking Town’. The era of papermaking ended with the closure of Dalmore, the last mill on the Esk, which ceased production in 2004.