Page last updated on: Thursday, 26 April, 2018.

The best history of the Birtwhistle Mills that we are aware of is contained in an A5-sized  booklet that was written by Charlie Girdwood for Dumfries and Galloway Regional Council in 1992, soon after the Mill on the Fleet was opened in 1991.
This booklet is now out of print and we hope that we are not infringing copyright by including a copy here as a pdf file.


James Murray of Broughton and Cally leased the site currently occupied by The Mill on the Fleet, in order for Messrs Birtwhistle to erect a 4-storey cotton spinning mill on the site of the now derelict and roofless mill building.
James Murray also contracted for miner James Thomson to construct the lade system from Loch Whinyeon.


Lade system completed.
It is presumed that with the lade bringing power to the mills, cotton began to be spun.


Birtwhistles obtained finance to construct 2nd mill – the building which is now the Mill on the Fleet.
Both mills operated using water power, and both wheels were brobably of wooden construction.


Mr McWilliam constructed a mill adjacent to the Birtwhistles mills.


Thomas Scott & Co built a mill at the top of Ann Street.


John Paple, a Gatehouse surgeon, and his brother-in-law, John Smith, planned a 5th mill. This may or may not have actually been built. There is a suggestion that the site may have been adjacent to the present Gatehouse Parish Church, but we know that Paple planned to build a mill in Fleet Street.

The above sketch has appeared in various articles and has also been the subject of a postcard.

It shows a 3-storey mill in the foreground (this is now "The Mill on the Fleet") and a 4-storey building further back. In other documents there are reports that a brick wall surrounded much if not all of the mill complex area, The drawing shows 4 sections which are probably brick walls between the front of the lower wheel and the brewery building.

Also note that there are 2 windows less on the lower floor of the 3-storey building. This would have been where wheels and pulley systems would have been located inside the mill - these being powered by the lower water wheel.

This picture comes from a postcard which must have been taken before the 1919 fire which destroyed the taller mill as both main mill buildings appear to be intact.

This photo was taken by William McMurray before 1919. Note that all the windows in the "back mill" are "bricked up". There is also no roof on the lower mill (now The Mill on the Fleet). Maybe the tall chimney in the above photo is behind the chimney of the tall mill - photos below show the chimney still there after the tall mill had been reduced to a single storey..

This was a drawing for one of Mrs Murray Usher's Christmas Cards, obviously taken from William McMurray's photo above.

The man in this picture is believed to be John Bertram, who was
the manager of the Bobbin Mill.


Birtwhistle Mills closed and lay unused for 22 years. Cotton spinning was carried out for only 25 years.


Alexander Murray oversaw canalisation of River Fleet to allow larger sea-going vessels upstream as far as Boatgreen.


James Davidson & Co refurbished both Birtwhistle Mills. 74 new power looms. Wheels probably replaced by more powerful cast iron ones.


Steam boiler plant installed, with pipework to maintain warm humid conditions needed to keep cotton pliable for use in modern higher speed spinning machinery.


Port Macadam harbour built to accommodate even larger vessels.


Fire damaged much of the upper mill. Windows then bricked up.


Mill complex acquired by Thomas & William Helme & Co. Upper mill was for making bobbins. Lower mill was a bark mill and store.


Portpatrick Railway opened between Stranraer and Castle Douglas. Gatehouse station opened later that year at Dromore, 6 miles from Gatehouse via newly-constructed road.


Fire again damaged much of the upper mill, then demolished to 1st floor level.


Mills closed and became derelict.


Site clearance started.


Following restoration, the lower mill was re-opened as The Mill on the Fleet visitor centre.

There is a tall chimney in this photo which is not present in others.

This is close-up taken from an excellent  postcard where the subject was photographed from the road bridge over the Fleet.
This shows the tall chimney, a roof on the back mill and the front mill is roofless.

This is a close-up of the Birtwhistle Mills area which is taken from an aerial photograph that would have been taken about the 1920s. It clearly shows the reduced height of the rear mill and our initial thoughts were that the interior of this mill was blackened (presumably as a result of the major fire which took place in 1919). We now think that the photograph shows the roofs of a number of the mill buildings as being very dark in colour, so by this time the rear mill had been re-roofed at single-storey level.

Although some trees have been cut down, this shows how overgrown the lower mill was before it became The Mill on the Fleet.

A modern photo of the restored Mill on the Fleet (2015), now a visitor centre.

Opening of The Mill on the Fleet in 1991 - showing lower undershot wheel

Opening of The Mill on The Fleet in 1991 - showing the upper overshot wheel

John McCormick and Jack Pickthall made the piers for the Bi-Centenary Bridge (June 1995)

Installation of the Bi-Centenary Bridge in 1995

Mill floods 30th December 2015 - The Mill IN The Fleet

Mill floods 30th December 2015 - The Bi-Centenary Bridge is closed for safety reasons.