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The Kinghorn Spinning Mills

The Loch Burn has been the lifeblood of Kinghorn since earliest times, providing a source of water for drinking and other needs. The flow of the Loch Burn from Kinghorn Loch used to be much greater than it is now and was also sufficient to power two grain mills from mediaeval times. In the late eighteenth century an attempt was made to power four spinning mills from the Loch Burn, with varying success.

The four mills were:

  • A mill at Cuinzie Neuk, initially built in 1790 by Henry Hallows and Walter Fergus as a cotton spinning mill. It was rebuilt just before 1832 as a tow mill. The rebuilding was probably due to the water tanks which were built underground at this time – probably to supply the gasworks at the Lower Mill next to the harbour, now known as Barton Buildings.


  • A mill at the site of the playpark above the viaduct, built in 1792/3 by Henry Hallows for spinning cotton. Known as the Middle Mill, Henry Hallows went into partnership with a very young James Aytoun to set the mill out with the latest spinning technology.


  • Walter Fergus purchased a building by the harbour and set about extending it into a spinning mill in 1792. In order to extend his mill he had to alter the entrance to the harbour and build up the sea wall at the ‘Gang’.


  • Joseph Russell built the final mill in Kinghorn in St. Leonards Place. He purchased the land in 1792 and by 1794 had built a large spinning mill.


Water Rights

The right to water from the Loch Burn had been granted to the Burgh of Kinghorn in the 1611 Charter from James VI. The use of the water was strictly attached to the Overmill and Nether Mill. When spinning manufacturers started to look at Kinghorn as a possible venue for new mills the rights to the water from the Loch Burn was paramount. Throughout the nineteenth century the lease of the two old grain mills became much in demand for the water rights that went with them. 

In 1790 William Balmain, the current leaseholder of the two grain mills,  embarked on a series of leases and subleases for the two mills. He gave up his lease and allowed the council to grant a joint lease for three periods of nineteen years to Walter Fergus, a manufacturer from Kirkcaldy, and Henry Hallows, a manufacturer originally from Lancashire. Walter Fergus and Henry Hallows then sublet the two mills back to William Balmain. William Balmain then further sublet the Overmill to Robert Pratt, and the Nether Mill to Joseph Russell, both cotton manufacturers from Kirkcaldy.  All of them then had the right to the water from the Loch Burn, which may explain why Kinghorn Loch is reported to have been almost drained by the mills.

In 1845 all four mills eventually came under the ownership of Swan Brothers, and all four went out of business in 1886 when Swan Brothers went into receivership.

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