IN THE spring of 1842, a fire occurred in Tillicoultry that had devastating consequences for one of mill owners.

It was one of a number that broke out in the mid-Victorian era.

John Henderson had built a woollen mill in 1839 that was unique in the town.

Most of the mills used Tillicoultry Burn to power them but Henderson used water from the Lady Well to power his steam engine.

The mill was three stories high and was occupied not only by Henderson but also Thomas Dawson and Alexander Robertson, all of them woollen manufacturers, with Robertson occupying one of the floors completely.

The mill was successful, but that success was short lived. About seven o'clock one evening the cry of fire was suddenly heard.

In less than an hour the whole building and its contents were reduced to ashes and nothing was left. The walls were blackened by the soot from the blaze.

Robertson was ruined by the disaster as he had no insurance and lost everything. He returned to work as a weaver, working on a loom in one of the local mills.

As for Henderson, he got into arrears with James Johnston of the Alva Estate but paid the debt off in February 1841.

The remaining walls of the destroyed mill stood for 35 years, and turned into a dyehouse in 1874 by George Brownlee, with its walls repaired and a new roof installed. It was renamed the Lady Well Dye Works.

Plant was introduced including a large blue vat for dying the wool as well as the latest technological machinery used in the process.

Another part of it was turned into a weaving shop with the work carried out by Robert Archibald and Sons.

This was not the only fire which broke out in the Tillicoultry mills during the Victorian period.

In March 1858 Craigfoot, built in 1838 by J&R Archibald, also known as the big mill, went on fire. According to a contemporary description, it was 'filled with smoke as black is coal'.

Not a moment was lost. A double row of men took water from the lade to the mill door which was poured on the floor above where the fire was.

This was before the fire engines arrived, and this action helped to save it.

Gas that had been installed to partially light parts of the mill had to be turned off as John Gentles, the foreman at Henderson's, knew, or the whole mill would be lost.

The entrance door of the floor where the fire was raging at the Craigfoot Mill was at one end of it with the meter at the other, and to reach it, whoever was going to carry out the task had to walk the full length of it through the thick black suffocating smoke.

Gentles did exactly that and managed to turn off the gas supply. He came out coughing due to smoke inhalation.

The main gas pipe had been blazing and melted half-way along the mill and in another minute or so the whole place would have been lost.

The fire had originated at the teazer while teazing a batch of Angora wool which is highly flammable.

Following the fire, the teazer was moved to a separate building and a stop cock was placed in the gas supply pipe just outside the mill.

Had it not been for a supply of water close to hand, the outcome could have been worse. In the end £300 worth of damage was done but there was no loss of life.

In July 1863, another fire broke out, this time at the teazer house, burning it to the ground with all its contents destroyed.

Another fire of note took place one foggy November morning in 1876. At the head of the town, it looked like a mill was burning, lighting up the sky as flames shot high into the air.

It turned out to be the dry house close to Craigfoot. At 125 feet long, two storeys in height with an attic, it was ablaze from end to end.

The fire engines battled to save it but all they could do was stop the fire from spreading to the other buildings.

This was successful but the dry house with all its contents was razed to the ground.

It was rebuilt and made fireproof by putting an iron floor above the flue.

An extinguisher and six pails of water were then kept in every floor of the mill just in case fire broke out again.

Materials that were likely to combust were removed from the building at the end of each working day.

These fires caused improvements to the mills with new safety measures brought in, both to protect the fabric of the buildings and their workers.

Nothing remains of Henderson's or Craigfoot mills today due to the downturn in the manufacture of woollen goods in the Hillfoots, and that part of Tillicoultry was redeveloped.