Blanefield Printworks– A Short History

Blanefield Printworks
Blanefield Printworks 1880's Guthrie Smith - The Parish of Strathblane

A day in the life of the Blanefield Printworks

A record of the working day of the Print Works does exist. Anthony Sykes Coubrough, son of Anthony Park Coubrough, gave evidence to the "Report on the Printworks Act and on Bleaching and Dyeing Works Act" completed by Lord Tremenheere in 1869.
In his evidence A.S. Coubrough stated that the printworks had both machine and block printing and employed between 250-300 persons depending on business. In common with other factories, the working day was 6am - 6pm with two hours for meals. However, hours could be erratic in the dyehouse, bleaching, can drying and finishing warehouse.
The dyehouse hours were dictated by the dye and usually started at around 5.40pm. Finishing times could vary from 4pm to 11pm depending on the number of rounds made. This included the washing, which followed the dyeing and could take from three quarters of an hour to an hour. Fourteen hours a day were considered standard work in the dye house.
Block printers usually stopped at 6pm but if trade were brisk would work on to 10pm. The block printers were assisted by teerers, who coated with colour the pad etc. on which he pressed his block, and were paid by the block printers themselves.
Block printers were quite autonomous and decided themselves when they would stop for meals or not. The grounders or female block printers also had teerers but they were paid for by the factory owner. The grounders tended not to work beyond 7.30pm.
Other departments were the bleaching department, the can Drying department, which included drying after bleaching and also after dyeing, and the finishing warehouse. Women and girls were usually employed in these departments and overtime could be a regular feature with the finishing warehouse regularly working to 8 or 10 pm.
Part of the reason for Lord Tremenheere's Enquiry was to regulate the working hours of the printfield workers. Mr Coubrough stated to the committee that he and the other owner had no objection to being allowed to work only between 6am and 6pm provided all in the trade were obliged to do the same. Objections were raised about the prospect of having to send children to school more than twice a week for four hours at a time given the fact that the block printers had to stop work during this time. The printworks employed about 50 children. Mr Coubrough commented that it was difficult to persuade people to send their children into the works as the majority were well enough off not to do so.

Closure of the printworks

By 1898 rumours were circulating about the future of the printworks. The works had been purchased by a syndicate of calico printers who were shutting down the more unprofitable works. After a great deal of suspense, the syndicate decided to shut down the works and to remove the machinery. With all the unrest a large number of workers had already left the parish to look for work elsewhere and many had gone to Printworks in the Vale of Leven.
The cotton trade had left Scotland and found its centre in Lancashire. Consequently, calico printers in Scotland had to take carriage of material into account, and Blanefield was more out of the way than most places. It was also at a considerable distance from the coal centres. The calico printing trade had also been overworked and had an overcapacity of factories.
The sale of the printworks was recorded in the Register of Sasines on the 18th November, 1898 thus ending over a hundred years of industry in the parish. The Saturday Stirling Observer remarked that "while some had considered the industry a blot on the district, it was really the throbbing of the great life of the nation felt in the remote parish. The people were interesting, industrious, and loveable, and combined the charm of country people with skilled labour, for most of them were part of the parish, and were descendants of the agricultural population." Doubt was cast about whether another industry would take the place of the Printworks but in the words of the Stirling Observer "the Strathblane of the future can never be so interesting and attractive as the Strathblane of the past."

Blanefield House
Guthrie Smith records that one of the major changes in the 19th century was the development of the house at Blanefield, which was built about 1814. When the late Mr Anthony Park Coubrough bought it, it was small plain tenement. He gradually enlarged and improved it and its surroundings. His son, Mr John Coubrough, added to its attractions and it became a handsome well-appointed house, surrounded by gardens and well-kept grounds. Blanefield House was demolished in the late 1960's to make way for the Netherblane Development.

One of the immediate effects of the closure was that the population of the parish fell dramatically, with a sizeable number of houses becoming vacant.

In February 1910, the demolition of the works was practically completed by the taking down of the "Great Chinney Stalk" so long a landmark in the Blane Valley. By this time all the boilers and machinery had been removed, and either sold or broken up. Since the closure the large number of buildings had gradually fallen into disrepair and for the previous fifteen months workmen had been busy pulling them down, and selling the bricks, slates and wood.

Key dates in the History of Printing in the Parish of Strathblane

1790 Block printing began at Wester Ballewan at what was called the Ha' House (Ballewan House). The stable byre was used for block printing and the dye house was to the north-west of this building. The workers lived in houses up at Cantywheerie and Blairgar.
1797 Walter Weir, owner of the block printing business moved the works to the vacant inkle (tape) factory at Netherton. Works printed both on linens and cottons.
1809 Walter Weir retired and printworks carried on by Messrs Aitken, McIndoe and Foyer. Difficulties caused the works to fail in 1821 and they remained unoccupied for a time.
1823 Messrs Sharp & Buchanan bought the works and began printing again.
1830's Introduction of fabric called delaine - a mixture of wool and cotton. Printworkers strike throughout country in opposition to new mechanised methods of printing.
1840 Printworks taken over by Messrs McGregor, Pollock & Brown.
1843 Anthony Park Coubrough joined the firm following the death of Mr Brown in a horse riding accident. In due course Anthony Park Coubrough and his family became the sole owners of the printworks.
1850's A total of 500 men, women and children working the printworks.
1864 9th September. Explosion killed seven workers and wounded seven others.
1865 With the improvements in machinery which led to a reduction in staff, printworks now producing nearly half a million pieces a year.
1875 28th May Blanefield Printworks entirely consumed by fire. Works subsequently rebuilt.
1876 Pollution case brought by Sir William Edmonstone halts re-opening of works.
1897 Printworks on short time due to result of India famine, unrest in the Levant and South America
1898 18th November Printworks sold and promptly closed down. Anthony Sykes Coubrough at printworks
Anthony Sykes Coubrough in the printworks

In common with the majority of factory owners, the Coubroughs were seen as both good and bad. The family was very involved in the School Board, the Parish Council and Poor Law and even after the closure of the factory continued to play an active role in the life of the parish. In 1880 they gifted the first Bowling Club and the Pavilion .They were very active in their support of youth movements such as the Scouts and would host scout rallies in the grounds of Blanefield House. During the First World War they took an active part in giving hospitality to invalid soldiers and promoting the war effort.
On the down side the Printworks had their own store and employees were expected to purchase their groceries etc. there. Apparently a person was posted at the gate house to see if any employee went into the shop opposite the printworks in Station Road and if so they were fined. If times were hard at the works the employees would be paid in goods obtained from the printworks store, thus tying them further to the factory.

©Alison Dryden, Strathblane Heritage Society 2004