Heritage centre hopes for Selkirk weaving mill

Robin Elliot of Andrew Elliot (fine fabrics) Ltd. with the yarn twisting machine dated 1900.
Robin Elliot of Andrew Elliot (fine fabrics) Ltd. with the yarn twisting machine dated 1900.

THE owner of a Selkirk weaving mill is hoping to turn his premises into the Borders’ first textile heritage centre.

If he is successful, Robin Elliot will be fulfilling the ambition of his late father, Andrew, who founded the firm that bears his name in 1972.

Robin is seeking to sell Forest Mill, along with its historic machinery, at a knock-down price to facilitate the creation of a centre to house a working museum, craft workshops and a café.

The old equipment is still in working order, allowing Andrew Elliot Ltd to maintain its reputation for the production of fine tweeds, used in clothing and throws.

Famous name customers using the fabrics produced at the Dunsdale Road factory, built in 1838, include the designers Paul Costello and Ralph Loren.

Tweed woven at the mill and designed by Robin has won a whole new generation of fans since Dr Who – as portrayed by Matt Smith – chose a jacket made from the fabric as his trademark fashion statement.

It was woven on a shuttle-operated Dobcross loom dating from the 1920s – and there are four others at the mill. The yarn was blended on a Boyd’s Patent Throstler, a twisting machine made in 1900. Other equipment at the two-storey building includes a large 1940s warping mill.

Robin, 41, is revisiting plans forged by his father, who died in 2009, to create a lasting legacy, showcasing the history of weaving and its cultural impact on the Borders.

“It is rare to have such old equipment in perfect working order, but unfortunately the building is falling into disrepair,” said Robin.

He told us: “There’s only myself and weaver Rob Beaton, who has been with us since my dad founded the company, so we could easily continue the famous Andrew Elliot brand from much smaller and more modern premises.

“My fear is that next time we have a major leak in the roof, this unique facility, with beautifully engineered machines producing the finest woven fabrics, will be lost forever.

“It was my dad who had the idea of a heritage centre which would serve as an educational resource for schoolchildren and textile students, but would also be a huge cultural draw, bringing tourists to Selkirk and hopefully re-awakening a commercial interest in weaving.

“My father had talks with local councillors, a textile consultant and the local enterprise company, but they never got beyond the discussion stage.

“Since he died, I have floated the idea with a few people and met with planning officials from Scottish Borders Council to see if anything can be done with the nearby High Mill which is in a shocking and dangerous state of repair. Unfortunately, it seems no enforcement action can be taken because the ownership of the building is unknown.

“I’m continuing to press for action, but feel it should be part of a more ambitious proposal to tidy up the area and create the heritage centre here in Forest Mill.

“We are talking about acquiring, for the price of the average two-bedroomed house, a two-storey building which can easily be repaired and converted with the machines already in place on the ground floor for craftspeople to operate and the shop/showroom above capable of becoming a resource centre and cafe..

“This is not just about sentimentality for an industry in decline, but more of a commercial opportunity which could, in the right hands, spawn a renaissance in weaving.”