A few years ago, the Arrol brewery on Whins Road in Alloa, John Tullis & Son’s polymer factory in Tullibody, and the Forth Paper Mills at Kilbagie were part of a working landscape.  Today, two out of three have been demolished, and the mills lie silent.  This process, often called de-industrialisation, has become a recurrent theme which touches every aspect of Scottish life, from politics, economy, and architecture, to our literature.  For example, Archie Hind’s “Dear Green Place” features the relict industrial landscape around Clydebridge steelworks, and Jeff Torrington’s “The Devil’s Carousel” describes the demise of the Rootes factory at Linwood.

Weir's Forth Paper Mills

Industries from the first wave of the Industrial Revolution were the first to be devastated.  Deep coal mining ended in this country several years ago, yet Scotland had some of the largest and most modern pits in Europe, such as Seafield, Killoch, and Castlebridge which I wrote about previously here.  The cluster of traditional industries around Alloa was particularly interesting, since it gave birth to a series of unique buildings.  A handful of miles from the town centre lies the Kilbagie papermill at Kincardine – it began life as a distillery, later converted into an artificial manure factory, and over a century ago into a paper mill.  Today its machine halls are silent, although parts are still used by a recycling company.  A few miles east in Tullibody lay the Tullis Brothers tannery, and right in the heart of Alloa was the former Arrols brewery.  Having looked at the architecture of coal mining, I’d like to look at paper production, leather tanning and brewing buildings in an attempt to learn how Alloa has changed.

Arrol's Alloa Brewery

Since the 1970’s, economists have fondly stated that we live in a global economy (doffing their caps to Milton Friedman).  Beer, leather and paper can come from anywhere, and go to anywhere.  The only God is the market, where capital will flow to the place it finds best value, ie. the cheapest place to make something, and the most expensive to sell it.  Today we know better, as that economic policy has laid waste to parts of Scotland, and it crucially ignores the cost of transport.  We’re entering a new age where the cost of generating carbon to transport goods and people is greater than the value of the commodities themselves.  150 years ago, towns aspired to have working economies with a wide range of industries, and the breadth of their economy helped to protect them when the economic going became tough; it also shaped the towns’ architecture.

As you can tell from the preceding paragraphs, Alloa doesn’t have a paper mill, tannery nor a brewery any more; and while it’s predictable to criticise the loss of these industries as short-sighted in terms of employment and investment, the town lost more than jobs and works buildings.  It lost vital connectivity between all its industries.  Down in the former docklands of Alloa, the United Glass plant on the banks of the Forth is still working, as is the maltings opposite – but the breweries they served have gone.  Both the glassworks and maltings were weakened by their closure – they lost connectivity, and their place in the civic life of the town was weakened, too.  The effect in Alloa was to destroy a truly “mixed use” town by replacing industry with offices, retail and housing developments – ironic, since mixed use towns are the grail of modern town planning.

Tullis Brothers' Tannery, Tullibody

The instruments which allowed this to happen are the Local Plan and the Strategic Plan, which try to offer a cohesive picture of the towns we’d like to have in five or ten years’ time.  While they’re being prepared, there is a series of hearings, at which representations are made by planning consultants on behalf of their clients, in order to influence the future.  The consultants broke down the plan into a series of plots labelled by ownership – but arguably the Planners should have produced a connectivity diagram instead.  Economic relationships between areas of the town are more inportant than communication lines or conservation areas – because without them, the town will die.  In an environment where businesses are failing, preserved buildings are like prisoners of conscience, and once the town loses its economic life, they inevitably die, too. 

Tullis Brothers’ Tannery
The tannery at Tullibody, in Tullibody was a four storey brick building, shaped like an “L” with unequal legs.  Before its demolition a few years ago, Historic Scotland decided it was the largest and most complete example of a Victorian tannery in the country – but its pigeon-filled shell militated against preservation.  The building was constructed around an iron frame, with the two uppermost storeys clad in louvres to encourage the tanning fumes to dissipate.  Weatherboarded timber was fitted between steel joist mullions, just as timber floor joists slotted into the webs of the iron beams in the tannery’s composite floors.  The tannery’s landmarks were a pair of slender brick water towers, one of which had been “beheaded” years before.

The tannery specialised in heavy leathers for soles and belting – it began life in the late 18th century when the Paterson brothers built a small tannery and boneworks beside the Delph Pond in Tullibody.  It was rebuilt in 1880 as the red brick tannery seen in the photos, and became Tullis Brothers in the 1930’s.  When the leather market became tougher, the company evolved from John Tullis & Son into Tullis Polymers: after the war, the company made nylon stampings and profiles, plus patented plastic belting.  When leather became expensive in the 1950’s, the tannery business began to flag; it was closed in 1962 when it was decided that replacing the obsolete tanning plant would be prohibitively expensive.  From then on, the building operated as a plastics factory.

However, the tannery’s layout was unchanged, and most features remained, along with the timber floors steeped in chemicals (and tanning pits which were thought to harbour anthrax, according to the local Press).  John Tullis (Plastics), which took over the factory when tanning work ended, was a subsiduary of John Tullis & Son – but although they had adapted to the modern world by producing plastic pressings, and casings for automotive brake cables, the tannery was too large to suit their needs, so Tullis Polymers relocated to another factory elsewhere in the town.  Tullis entered administration in 1991 – although the tannery buildings survived for over a decade beyond that.

Arrol’s Skol Brewery
You rock up to Alloa expecting to see a Modernist brewery at its heart, but you meet a superstore instead.  Around the back on Whins Road is a big shed housing a distribution centre, with ranks of Heineken’s dark green curtainsiders in the lorry park.  This is all that remains of Arrol’s brewery, the most modern (and last survivor) of the eight breweries which once worked in Alloa.  It was comparable to McEwan’s Fountain Brewery in Edinburgh, and to the new side of Tennent’s Wellpark Brewery in Glasgow – a post-war beer factory, with a brewhouse which resembled a control tower or BR signal box from the same era.

In fact, the long-established business of Archibald Arrol was independent until 1951, when Ind Coope of Burton on Trent assumed control, and decided only to brew lager here.  Three years later, the old Arrols brewery was demolished, and a completely new complex built in its place.  It was one of the first breweries built post-war in Britain, and its architecture had hints of the Festival of Britain style about it, which was influenced in turn by Scandinavian Modernist architecture.  Fitting, then, that the new Arrols brewery was kitted out using Swedish equipment.

Arrols’ submergence into Ind Coope was the start of a long period of consolidation in the brewing industry which continues today, and may eventually end up with all beer coming from one company, perhaps from a stainless steel mega-brewhouse somewhere in Belgium.  I mention that because Ind Coope decided to concentrate Arrols’ production on lagers because lager brewing plant was installed in the old Alloa brewery in the 1920’s, and it went on to make Graham’s Golden Lager, which was very successful and was re-branded as “Skol” in the Fifties, when Arrols was rebuilt.  Hence the new building was sometime referred to as the Skol Brewery.  Later, with the assistance of the brewers Calders, further business deals took place, and by 1961 Arrols’ Alloa brewery had become part of Allied Breweries, when Tetley, Ansells and Ind Coope merged – then were bought over by Carlsberg, becoming “Carlsberg-Tetley”.

Although over £2m was invested in the brewery during the 1980’s and early 1990’s (including the reintroduction of beer brewing alongside lagers), Carlsberg closed it in 1998.  Before it was demolished, the brewhouse tower still bore the ghost of its previous owners: on one face, a large green Heineken sign stained with the weather; on the other, the impression of the illuminated SKOL lettering which had been ripped from the wall several years before.  More so than the paper mills or the tannery, the brewery was part of the urban scene in Alloa: it was a landmark which gave scale to the town centre, and took its place on the town’s skyline among the kirk spires and silo of United Glass.

Weir’s Forth Paper Mills
One of the high class Swiss watchmakers fondly points out in its adverts that you don’t own one of their timepieces, you merely look after it on behalf of the next generation.  In a sense, the owners of buildings like the Forth Paper Mills are only custodians: they not only look after the fabric of the building, but also carry forward the culture of the firms which operated before them.  That’s especially true when their history goes back to the very start of the Industrial Revolution.

From a distance you can see the Edwardian buildings of Weirs’ old paper mill at Kilbagie, their solid brick-and-a-half walls enclosing three and four storey halls held up with girder truss columns and trussed roofs: the pattern of ridges and ventilators is obvious now, but during the mill’s working life, it was usually wreathed in steam.  However, deep inside the mills, surrounded by those machine halls that once housed huge Fourdriniers churning out paper 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, are dark, damp buildings with rubble sandstone walls and slated roofs.  They once held the largest gin distillery in Britain, which proves the mill has regenerated themselves more than once. 

The mills were built alongside Kilbagie House; as with the paperboard mills at Carrongrove, (which were latterly owned then closed down by the same firm, Inveresk Paper – there are some photos of Carrongrove here) the mansion house became the mill’s offices, and was gradually overwhelmed by its ever-expanding neighbour.  The buildings swallowed up their water supply, which now runs underground and trickles into a lade on the far side of the mill – then once the papermaking machines were fitted with electric drives, the giant steam engine was made redundant.

Similarly, the Kilncraigs Mill in Alloa itself, which latterly spun wool for Patons & Baldwins, was originally powered by reciprocating steam engines, but from the early years of the 20th century until its closure in 1999, it used three steam turbines to generate electricity for the individual motor drives on the frames.  Their waste water efflux was sent through a now-rare timber cooling tower, one of those old-fashioned frustums or truncated pyramids which you see in the Bechers’ books of industrial typologies.

A Working Landscape?
Perched in the paper mill’s water tower, peering through a skylight in the tannery, or high up in the Arrol brewhouse – perhaps the first thing you realise is that they have their brick construction in common.  Never much in demand for housing in Scotland until recently, firebrick was mainly used for industrial architecture.  Coal is typically found in strata which also include fireclay, so there were a multitude of brickworks alongside the collieries on either side of the Forth.  Likewise, the Carron Ironworks across the Forth was a world pioneer, so Scotland was one of the first countries to adopt iron and steel frame construction (the Ca d’Oro in Glasgow being a good example).  A third factor is the Functional Tradition in architecture, so-called by the Architectural Review in the early post-war years.  The tannery certainly adheres to it – plain, unadorned brickwork with tiers of louvred cladding above it – and similarly, the paper mill grew organically around a working core.  Perhaps more so than the fussy stonework of Alloa’s civic buildings, that brick-built tower of Arrol’s brewery translated what the town was about – part of a functional tradition which evolved to suit its native industries.

With thanks to John McArthur of David Mortons for the demolition photos.

This entry was posted by and is filed under books.
By • Galleries: books

No feedback yet