Gray & Harrower Ltd, Grain Millers

Harriebrae Mill, Baldridgeburn, Dunfermline

By George Beattie

Harriebrae Mill was originally built as a spinning mill during the early part of the 19th century.   By the 1840s the spinning industry was in decline locally and Harriebrae Mill closed around the middle of that century.  After lying empty for some time the mill was bought by a Dunfermline baker, James Walls, who converted it into a grain mill.   At that time, the mill was water driven from the stream on the south side of the buildings.

In 1910 Harriebrae was bought by Messrs Gray and Harrower, an Alloa firm of grain-millers, the business having been established in 1895 by Thomas Gray and Thomas Harrower.   On the move to Dunfermline, they were joined in the enterprise by English born John Malcolm Smith who, at that time, was a Baillie in Dunfermline.

 Thomas Harrower was born in 1873, in Glasgow, the son of William Harrower, Marine Engineer’s Clerk, and his wife Janet. On retiring in 1945,   Mr Harrower had been resident in Dunfermline for over 30 years, his home being ‘Tighvonie’, 123 Rose Street.  He bought Tighvonie in 1915 for the sum of £1,000 from the Bath Street Congregational Church, and sold it in 1946 to the Dunfermline Carnegie Trust for the sum of £3,300. He was a prominent member of Gillespie Memorial Church, an elder for 30 years, preses of the congregation for a period and at one time was superintendent of the Sunday School.   During his time in Dunfermline, Mr Harrower travelled all over Central Scotland in connection with his business.  He didn’t drive a car, but travelled to most places by train.  As a frequent customer, the railway company gave him a key to a gate on the north side of the Upper Station so that his walk from Tighvonie was shorter.

Another to join Gray & Harrower in the early days was Donald Henderson who started there as an apprentice grain miller, on leaving school aged 14, in 1912. He remained there all his working life retiring in 1970 in the position of joint managing director. Donald’s obituary in the Dunfermline Press of 7th September, 1984, noted that, in his time with Gray and Harrower, he built up wide connections throughout the farming community in West and Central Fife, and that he was held in high regard by the agricultural merchant’s community throughout Scotland. A senior elder of St. Paul’s Parish Church, Donald was Session Clerk in the transitional years, which followed the merger in 1958 of the St John’s and St Columba’s congregations. He had been ordained to the eldership within St. John’s in 1950 and had been appointed Session Clerk to the Bruce Street congregation in 1955.   Retaining that role within the combined congregations, he was to serve St. Paul’s as Session Clerk from the union of 1958 until his retiral in March, 1966.

Interviewed in 2012, Arthur Brown of Dunfermline, stated that he started work with Gray and Harrower at Harrriebrae in 1964, as a sales representative.   Arthur recalled that the directors of the company at that time were Tom Gray, Donald Henderson and Sandy Gellan.   Mary Gray was also a director but no longer took an active interest in the firm.   Amongst those working at Harriebrae Mill then were Bob Anthony, who was foreman of the works, Willie Cowan and Sam Somerville who were millers. Bob stayed in Crossford and bred prize-winning rough collies. The sales reps were Jimmy Duncan and Arthur Brown who covered West Fife; Sandy Lister for Kinross and Milnathort area, and Tom Duncan for the Alloa area.   The job of the sales reps was to visit all the farmers, pig breeders and chicken producers in the area with a view to selling animal feeds, corn, wheat and barley seed.   They also supplied flour to many bakers in the area.   In addition to selling to the farmers, the reps negotiated prices with them for buying seed crops for milling at Harriebrae.   Arthur recalled that everyone worked a five and a half-day week and that the average weekly wage was between £10 and £15, the latter being quite a good wage at that time.    Arthur stated that in his time the firm also had a small store at Alloa but that no milling was conducted there. 

Photo of Harriebrae Mill shortly before demolition in 1964
Harriebrae Mill shortly before demolition in 1964

Arthur recalled that three flatbed Albion lorries operated the deliveries from Harriebrae, the first leaving each morning at 7.30.   The firm also had what was known as a ‘bulker’ lorry for uplifting and delivering bulk produce.  The sacks of meal, feedstuffs, etc. were all of 2 cwt size, (or about 50 Kg) all having to be man-handled by the lorry-drivers, there being no fork-lifts or other such lifting equipment in those days.  The sales reps were issued with motor cars, with Arthur starting with a Morris Minor, then a Triumph Herald, before graduating to a Humber Super Snipe.   

Harriebrae Mill was closed in 1964 when the Gray and Harrower operation moved to Wellwood, to premises adjacent to Wellwood Brick Company.  No milling was carried out there but equipment was installed for the production of cubed type (compressed) animal feedstuffs. The idea behind the move was that hot air would be piped from the adjacent brickwork kilns and used to assist the cubing process. This apparently was not much of a success.  Barley mash (the waste from the whisky distilling process) was also uplifted from distilleries throughout the area and converted into animal feeds.

In the 1970s Gray and Harrower built a new depot at Stirling Road, Milnathort, where bulk grain, animal feeds and fertilisers, etc were stored and distributed.   Regular 500 ton boat loads of fertiliser were unloaded at Perth Docks to replenish the stocks at Milnathort.

Arthur Brown left Gray and Harrower in 1979 and he believes that only a few years after that the Wellwood operation finished up, with Rennie’s Coaches taking over the premises.