Retirement not looming yet for Selkirk 78-year-old believed to be UK’s oldest working weaver

A great-grandfather nearing the age of 80 believed to be the oldest weaver working in the UK says he has no intention of retiring yet despite having notched up over six decades’ service.

Tuesday, 15th September 2020, 4:08 pm
Rob Beaton, 78, at work at Selkirk’s Andrew Elliot mill. Photo: Katielee Arrowsmith/SWNS

Rob Beaton, 78, started working in a textile mill as an apprentice at the age of 14 in 1956 and is still going strong 64 years on.

Over the last six decades, he has worked at five mills in and around Galashiels and Selkirk, at one time turning out 25 miles of fabric a week.

Rob has been weaving wool for tartan and tweed products at Andrew Elliot’s Forest Mill in his home-town of Selkirk since 1989, currently as part of a staff of six.

Rob Beaton, 78, at work at Selkirk’s Andrew Elliot mill. Photo: Katielee Arrowsmith/SWNS

The father of four, also a great-grandfather of two and grandad of five, said: “I started in 1956 after my sister said they wanted an apprentice in the mill.

“My mum said it’s a brilliant job and I’d be made for life. I started the next day. It was the Co-operative Wholesale Society mill.

“We weaved lots of different tartans and raincoats, which were sent to Russia.

“They had a habit in the mills back then of putting you through the mill.

“I was in the pattern-making department to learn textile design and in the weaving shed preparing yarn for the looms.

“I learned all these different jobs.”

Despite going part-time a year ago, Rob has no plans to retire yet and still works five days a week, adding: “I’m fit as a fiddle.

“I hope I can go on for a few years yet.”

He isn’t confident about the future of the weaving trade, however, as mechanisation has meant older looms like the ones he uses, some of nearly 100 years old, have fallen out of use and knowledge about their maintenance has all but disappeared.

“It’s been very difficult as the years have gone by and I’ve had nobody to turn to for help,” he said.

“The looms get worn out and all the guys who worked in the loom sheds have passed away.

“I think it’s going to be difficult to get people in.”

Robin Elliot, owner of the Dunsdale Road mill, is confident that Rob is the oldest employed weaver in all of Scotland and quite possibly further afield than that.

Robin’s father Andrew founded the family business in 1965 and worked alongside Rob for several decades before he retired and later died, aged 82, in 2009.

“Rob’s the oldest employed weaver in Scotland,” said Robin, 49.

“He’s probably the best weaver about, in terms of his knowledge of older looms.

“If there’s an issue with the machinery, he’s got a very technical mind and can fix any problems.

“We’ve got four broad looms and two narrow looms, dating from 1928, and they make all the tartan and tweeds.

“These looms are pretty much obsolete.

“A lot of mills started turning to faster shuttle looms in the 1960s and ’70s.

“Rob’s 78, and fortunately he’s very fit, but the knowledge he has means we need to get a trainee in so we can carry this forward.

“It’s very difficult to find somebody to come in, but we just need to keep going.”