Trouble ‘T Mill – Broadford Works goes up in flames

Guest blog by Textor

Once again Richard’s Broadford Works goes up in flames.   It’s a crying shame that this important part of the city’s industrial history has been all but abandoned; left to decay and dereliction whilst developments plans stumble from one committee meeting to another and Mr Suttie looks to make something from his investment. And with these stumbles and fumbles it is bad enough that we see the mill burning before our eyes but worse it betrays a lack respect for the thousands of workers who spent their lives toiling at the textile trades.

I suppose it’s possible that the fire-raising is a political act, an act of historical solidarity seeking to erase the stain of exploitation but I suspect not, more likely careless unthinking vandalism.  We might decry those with the matches but more relevant to the matter is that sites such as this can become pawns in struggles to make profit and that they can be left to rot and by implication the historical legacy is written  off  as of little value and interest. In much the same way in the 1980s the Crombie textile museum at Grandholm was destroyed by fire.

The sorry saga of UTG tells us how so many of our Great and Good reduce the functioning of the city to a question of retail space, not a place where people live and work but to one of what can be bought and sold.

The previous Cooncil was an arch example of this philistinism where they took no heed of protest from Aberdonians and quite happily closed important social services. And as we well know at the first whiff of money and power they fell over backwards to accommodate an individual’s demands. It was enough to give brown-nosing a bad name.

Sadly, in the instance of Richard’s not only is there danger to the buildings but it seems that important records have gone missing. It was only about six years ago that the city’s Libraries & Museums services got very brief access to the site (literally one short day) to gather important artefacts with a view to material being acquired for collections. With no prospect of the mill becoming a museum site this at least would have preserved an important record of the textile industry. So confident were those involved in the industrial rescue that they abandoned barrows, intending to collect everything the following day. But these good intentions were reduced to farce when, after securing a large number of items on site, staff were told they would not be given access and that the material had to remain at the mill. Much pleading eventually got the barrows back but as to the rest, it all stayed on the vulnerable site.

Of great concern was a collection of glass negatives recording the construction of an early 20th century mill building, a unique record which had been abandoned when the works closed. Of equal importance but of greater age were coloured plans from the 19th century. In a property developer’s portfolio I can understand that historical artefacts carry no great monetary weight but in the history of Aberdeen this was irreplaceable material and should have been given to the city. Indeed, Mr Suttie could have taken note of numerous occasions when businesses and families have ensured that important historical items were passed to the care of museums and archives: to note just a few examples items came from Hall, Russell & Co; Harper’s Ltd , William McKinnon and Davidson & Kay. Unfortunately on this occasion no gift was forthcoming.

And so we are where we are, with an industrial site redolent with the memories thousands of workers left to decay and important historical objects missing. I can only hope that they are in the care of the developer who in a generous act of citizenship intends to give them to the city; or failing this they have been rescued by an “urban explorer” with the intention of depositing them at sometime with the museum service. The real fear is that they have been destroyed or carelessly taken away and, like the mill itself, abandoned.

4 Comments to “Trouble ‘T Mill – Broadford Works goes up in flames”

  1. I asked the author and got this reply from him –

    Crombie material was lost when the shop museum at the works was burnt to the ground but I think this was mostly significant objects associated with weaving, spinning etc rather than documents. When the mill was being wound down prior to production shifting to Langholm(?) the City’s museum service and archives were given access to view and indicate items of interest. From these visits the museum service took into its care an important collection of sample books, some documentation relating to production and other items but little, if anything in the way detailed employee records. As for the archive service, they did acquire some items but following a dispute with the company these were returned. Cutting to the chase, I assume that documentation was retained by the company, which has gone through permutations in ownership. Perhaps a Google search under names Crombie/Grandholm Mill might turn up something.

    City archive service:

    Museum service: contact Curator Jenny Brown through

    Have you been in touch with the Aberdeen Family History Society? Google them, as they have enormous amounts of information and might point you in the right direction. (Lena)

  2. My great great great grandma died in Broadford works in 1897 aged 37 of a burst blood vessel in her chest!

    • Oh, poor young woman. I wonder if it was connected to her working conditions there – she must have left some young children. I’ll pass on your comment to the writer of the piece. Thanks for reading the blog 🙂

      • If I remember rightly she left 3 young children behind, the eldest was 14, I guess a lot of Aberdonians will have had ancestors worked there and the mill as they must have been 2 of the biggest “factories” of their times. Do you know if any documents from crombies mills remains as my grandma and granda both worked there from age 12 til retirement and their parents before them also! There’s lots of things that’s come up in my family tree that I don’t know where to start looking, for example old school records! And finding out where ancestors were buried! My family tree was amazingly easy to do with a few hours with the registrar search assistant Lynne and but to go into depth proves a bit more difficult! 😦

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