A part of Dundee’s proud industrial history was lost forever this week, when bulldozers moved in to knock down the former jute works known as Halley’s Mill.
Despite being derelict for decades, the demolition seems to have caught everyone by surprise – including Dundee City Council, which has announced an investigation into the abrupt destruction work.
But whatever the council probe uncovers, it was a sad if inevitable end to a building that has looked out over the city for more than 180 years.
The Wallace Craigie Works opened in 1836, a partnership between three local flax manufacturers – Robert Brough, James Gilroy and William Halley. It was Halley’s name which, until this week, adorned the crumbling brickwork of the once bustling mill.
Halley started out as a flax manufacturer, initially running a handloom factory in the city centre.
In 1932, as the jute industry began to take off, he entered into his partnership with Gilroy and Brough.
The land that the Wallace Craigie Works was to be built on was feued from George Constable of Wallace Craigie, a friend of novelist Sir Walter Scott.
The jute building was constructed using stone from the adjacent quarry. Brough borrowed £2,800 on the security of the mill, and transferred it to William Halley & Co.
Over the next 30 years William Halley & Co would double in size to meet the global demand for jute, largely fuelled by the American Civil War in the 1860s.
A shortage in cotton saw huge shipments of jute leaving Dundee’s docks bound for both North and South America.
William Halley died in 1874. His second son, George, would go on to become the sole owner of the business.
The 20th Century saw George Halley’s son’s James Henderson and Alexander Campbell take over the business, and another conflict – the First World War – saw the factory operating at full capacity to make jute sandbags. But after the war came the Depression and a drastic downturn in fortunes.
Two devastating fires in the 40s and the 50s also hampered trade and by the time the Wallace Craigie Works was rebuilt in the 1960s it was as a factory producing backing cloth for the tufted carpet industry.
At its peak in the 60s the factory was producing over 64 tons of yarn per week, with a labour force of 180 full-time and 120 part-time staff.
But 20 years later, as Scotland’s textile industry fell into decline, William Halley & Sons relocated and the mill was left empty.
Repeated efforts to redevelop the building into flats failed and in March the Tele revealed the council was in talks with site owners James Keiller Estates about de-listing the building in order to knock it down.
But there is still some confusion as to how the building was knocked down this week. A Dundee City Council spoksewoman said: “The process of gaining a demolition warrant under building standards is separate to that required under planning legislation to demolish a listed building.”
A spokesman for Historic Environment Scotland said it would provide “help and advice” to the council if needed.
James Keiller Estates had not responded to requests for comment at the time of going to press.