Gala textile firm proves there’s no substitute for experience

Douglas Ormiston, Schofield's general manager with the finishing press which dates back to 1878 and made locally  by Thomas Aimers and Sons, Waverley Iron Works, Galashiels
Douglas Ormiston, Schofield's general manager with the finishing press which dates back to 1878 and made locally by Thomas Aimers and Sons, Waverley Iron Works, Galashiels
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A GALASHIELS textile firm is proving the industry in the Borders is not finished yet – with the help of one of the oldest working machines in the world, writes Kenny Paterson.

The boss of Schofield Dyers and Finishers says business is booming at its Huddersfield Street base, which still uses a paper press from 1878 as part of its day-to-day operations.

Schofield finishing press.

Schofield finishing press.

General manager Douglas Ormiston said: “It is one of the original pieces of finishing equipment used before the more modern equipment was designed.

“It is still used an awful lot for people who are looking for a real high-quality finish, such as Savile Row tailors. This is because it give a really soft, drapey handle particularly on silk jackets. It is used for top-end tailoring in London and across the world.”

The machine was cast less than a mile away by Thomas Aimers and Sons’ foundry, now the site of the Gala Water Retail Park.

A 48-hour process sees the cloth put into the press and a package built up. The material is left in overnight to heat and then cool down before the action is repeated to iron out any crease marks.

Mr Ormiston added: “Originally there was a vertical mill here back in the 19th century and the press was built as part of the workshop.

“I don’t think there is another paper press of this kind left in the UK now, all the other finishers have put in a modern equivalent which does not do the same job. It is still producing the goods.”

Rivals for the title of world’s oldest working machine include a French steam-powered car built in 1884, an American 1901 lightbulb and a vacuum cleaner which has been sucking since 1904.

Formed in 1958, Schofield started off as a specialist finishing facility before including dying in its range of services.

Employing 50 people, Mr Ormiston believes the future is bright for the firm – particularly in the buoyant tartan market – as well as the industry, despite worries over Hawick’s Barrie Knitwear after owners Dawson International went into administration.

He said: “I think Scotland has the quality name for woven textiles that people are looking for. Some of the cloths we are processing are going into the real top-end markets such as Burberry and Ralph Lauren.”

Local MSP Christine Grahame said: “I applaud Schofield for being able to adapt to the market. It is very important to cater for a range of customers and service them.

“As for the 19th-century paper press, I am no spring chicken myself, so I think there is plenty of mileage for old machinery!”

Robin Moncrieff, who was an apprentice at Schofield before becoming part-owner until his retirement in 1997, added: “It was a time-consuming process but for the machine still to be in use shows it offers a unique finish in the industry.

“Amid all the doom and gloom around textiles, it is great to hear some good news. The move into dying in 1996 has helped Schofield survive.”