THE Glentana Mills now lie empty on Stirling Street in Alva but once it was a thriving business.

The first owners of the mills were the Wilson Brothers. They were originally from Glasgow and manufactured soap and wax, but news reached them of the potential of the woollen industry which was booming at the time in the Hillfoots.

William Wilson was already involved in the production of shawls in the Boll Mill in Alva, a venture he participated in from 1866, but with his brother James, he created a new company called Wilson Bros in 1872.

Production move to their new premises at the Dalmore Works, as Glentana was known, following the completion of its construction in 1874.

They expanded the business to include the production of tweeds, mainly for men. They then expanded again, this time into ladieswear, specialising in Ladies Woollen Novelty fabrics.

Over the years, the brothers realised there was also a market for wool and mohair rugs and created the Wil-Bro-Cel blankets, akin cellular blankets we still see today.

In 1907, the company took over the manufacturing patterns and yarns of Bannockburn Tweed. In 1930, Wilsons became a limited company and three years later created a subsidiary company called Craigleith Fabrics, named after the local hill.

Its assets transferred to Wilsons (Alva) Ltd in 1955 and in 1961 the company formed a joint venture with a Glasgow firm who manufactured scarfs and called it Glentana Mills Ltd.

By this time, their reputation for good quality work was well-known, not only at home but abroad, especially the American market.

The name McBean and Bishop came about following the loss of the Dalmore Works in 1964 with manufacturing being transferred to other mills in the town, the company renting the space.

The Wilsons Bros (Alva) Ltd was dropped in 1967 when the business was taken over by Pringles of Inverness.

By 1974, McBean and Bishop had invented a ‘tickle free mohair tartan’. Its popularity soared and the company received an order that year worth £20,000 from a Japanese client who ordered tartan, scarves, and self-coloured stoles.

Scarves, rugs and blankets, made from mohair and cashmere continued to be produced at the site until around 1979 and by 1986, production had ceased at the site.

The Glentana mill itself was built in 1873 and was originally three storeys in height. Built of brick, the large complex also housed an engine shed, and had a brick-built chimney. However, it was damaged in a storm of 1895 so had to be partially rebuilt.

The Glentana Mill in Alva

The Glentana Mill in Alva

GLENTANA was extended in 1912 and again in 1916 as business flourished.

However, in 1941, a devastating fire broke out and the mills were destroyed. Once the clean up operation was complete, a new single story mill was built to replace it. At its western end was the power loom shed and its half-basement was used for horses.

By the 1990s, the building had been repurposed as a visitor and tourist information centre.

Inside was a brief history of the woollen industry of the Hillfoots along with a mill shop selling sweaters, scarves and other woollen goods.

There was also working machinery for visitors to experience the noise and mechanics of a working loom. A coffee shop was also established at the eastern end of the block.

Much of the old mill, including the chimney, was demolished in 1993 and a car park replaced most of it.

The last company to make use to the old brick building was Scotcrest, a company who supply uniforms and work clothing, but they relocated in January 2019 to other premises in the centre of Alva.

In 2019, Historic Environment Scotland was asked to look at the building to see if it was feasible for it to become a listed building.

They had already looked into the matter in 2010 but had found it did not meet the required criteria. This did not change in 2019.

They visited the site on August 28 that year but due to its crumbling condition and the fact that it was only a small part of what was a sizeable complex at its height, it was again decided that no listed status would be given.

Much of the original fabric of the building had been lost following redevelopment so it was of little historical significance.

The local council has looked at the site and considers it a viable option for either elderly housing or for sustainable housing, with the old building being considered for demolition due to a number of factors, including its poor state and the cost of reinstating it.

In November 2020, Alva residents were asked for their opinion on the site by Clackmannanshire Council. Some would prefer the building to remain as testament to the history of the woollen industry in Alva, and the broader Hillfoots.

At the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh is one of the Corliss engines used at Glentana in the 1920s onwards, manufactured by Douglas and Grant of Kirkcaldy. It was a single cylinder steam engine providing power to the old mill.