Darnley House and Bleachfields

Bleaching was an important process in wool, cotton and linen production, and was often in preparation for dying. Before the introduction of chemicals, bleaching was a natural process which utilised the power of the sun. Bleachfields were simple areas where cloth was laid out in the sun to bleach.

Few bleachfields existed in Scotland prior to the early to mid eighteenth century, due in large part to the poor quality of the finished product when compared with continental competitors. The development of the Scottish bleaching industry from 1730s was however considerable, with many people moving to work in the industry. The first known reference to the location of the bleachfield complex at Darnley is Thomas Richardson’s map of 1795, where the site is labelled ‘Darnley Bleachfield, Mr Tennant’. It was at his bleachworks at Darnley that Charles Tennant (1768-1838) produced the chemical combination of chlorine and lime powder that led to the development of bleaching powder. It seems likely that he obtained the lime he used in this process from the local quarries. This chemical development greatly reduced the time required for the bleaching process, removing the requirement for extensive sun exposure of the cloth, and revolutionised the industry. Tennant had developed his business with various partners, and in 1799 he patented his bleaching powder and bought land at St Rollox. Tennant went on to develop Europe’s largest chemical works at St. Rollox, while the bleachfields at Darnley continued in use.

Darnley House and Bleachfield The lease for the bleachfields at Darnley appears to have passed from Charles Tennant to Robert Smith, sometime between 1800 and 1811. It is unclear how long Robert Smith held the lease here, but an agreement between Sir John Maxwell and John and Alexander Downie (December 3rd, 1833) makes it clear that they were taking over the lease after him. The tack (or lease) between Maxwell and the Downies allows for a change in use of the lands from what was a bleachfield to a printfield. This is of particular interest, as the maps of the area undertaken by the Gorbals Gravitation Water Company (GGWC) in 1845 clearly identify as a printfield what is shown on the later Ordnance Survey maps as Darnley House and Bleachfield complex. It is possible that the Downies changed the use of the site, as the two industries (bleaching and printing) require similar processes (water power being the most obvious).

Whether the printfield was successful and how long it continued in use is unknown, but it is thought a Mr Turnbull followed the Downies into operations here. It may be that ventures following Mr Smith’s were less successful. By the time the first edition Ordnance Survey maps were being produced, Darnley Bleachfield is simply noted as Darnley House, suggesting perhaps that there was no industry attached to the site by this date (1858-64) and that it was now simply a residential complex.

The growth and decline of the Darnley Bleachfield to the west of Corselet Road can be followed by examining old maps. In the 1820s, the site simply appears as Darnliefield on Thomson’s map of the area. The Ordnance Survey maps show the gradual decline of Darnley House and the associated structures and designed landscape from the time of the first edition, through subsequent years until today, when even the name has disappeared from this area. Most of the structures have since been removed and little survives above ground, other than the remains of a rectilinear building, although occasional elements of the designed landscape survive in the form of denuded avenues of overgrown hedgerow and mature trees. An assessment of the rectilinear building showed that it was divided into at least three parts and was constructed of sandstone, with traces surviving of a whitewashed harl finish. This evidence seems to support the painted image of the bleachfield complex produced on behalf of the Maxwells in the 1830s, in which the structures all appear to be harled and whitewashed with red tile roofs. This period is probably when the Darnley Bleachfield was at its height of achievement and pride in the success of the company ran high, a view reflected in a commissioned watercolour and the 1828 plan of the complex.

The remains of features that produced the water power required for bleaching and printing are evident on the ground, including a dammed pond and a channel leading to the main bleachfields complex. Within Waulkmill Glen there is further evidence that water was channelled and directed towards the burn and this could also have been connected with bleaching or printing.