Over the past year the town of Denny has made regular appearances in the letters column of the Herald during the lengthy process of rebuilding the town centre.
Denny has suffered more than most as first one and then another major industry flourished then disappeared. But hopefully when the work is completed the town will be given a boost which will help restore the kind of prosperity it once enjoyed.
In the late 18th century it was calico printing which employed over 1000 people producing textiles decorated with beautiful coloured patterns like those from the Indian region of Calicut. But it only lasted for 50 years before new methods of dyeing and changes in fashion brought decline and closure.
The local reaction was to switch to other activities. In the 1850s there were three mills driven by water power producing woollen shawls and tartans employing 200 men and women.
The chemical works at Custonhall in Stripeside, which had supplied dyes to the calico printers, turned instead to making lacquers and enamels for the Falkirk foundries. Coal mining expanded rapidly and by 1900 three local mines, Herbertshire, Quarter and Carronrig were employing over 500 men with the ‘steam coal’ mined in Denny particularly good for use in shipping.
Four foundries opened, the largest, Cruikshanks, specialising in engineering components for the Clyde shipyards. Finally, in 1896 John G Stein opened Anchor Brickworks and within a year tens of thousands of bricks were leaving the works each week. In 1921 they were used to build Gleneagles Hotel. Once again it didn’t last with closure coming in 1931.
All played a part in saving Denny but the most important of all was paper making. The mills using the soft water of the Carron created an industry which employed hundreds, making Denny one of the country’s most important paper making centres.
The earliest venture was Herbertshire Mill established in 1788 making paper by hand. Around 1810 part of Carrongrove woollen mill turned to paper making, and output increased as machines were introduced.
Herbertshire Mill specialised in high quality writing paper, while Carrongrove made mill board and coarse paper. A dramatic increase in national publishing saw new mills appear along the river.
Denny Paper Mill opened in 1869 followed by the Anchor Mill and the Vale Paper Works on the Dunipace side of the river, and by the end of the century there were half a dozen mills in operation. Changes in demand led to mergers and some closures, but paper making survived well into the 20th century.
However, by 1974 the last firm standing was Carrongrove which had become part of Inveresk Paper in 1924. Despite the high quality of the output the mill was closed in 2005 and today it is a site with houses. The handsome manager’s house built in 1862 for Andrew Duncan has survived and thankfully there are plans in progress to restore it to its former glory.
Calico printing, brickworks, coal mining, iron founding and wool and paper making which employed many thousands have come and gone. They helped make Denny a prosperous and confident community, but the past record of recovery holds out the hope that the town will prosper once again.