Shareholding Records 1948-1962; Records of Internal Administration 1891-1908; Financial Records 1877-1941; Records of Production 1889-1975; Sales Records 1917-1918: Staff Records 1911-1957; Records of Buildings 1878 -1989; Marketing and Public Relations: History of the Woollen Industry in Langholm.
Arthur Bell (Scotch Tweed) Ltd., Woollen Manufacturer, Langholm
Scope and Content
Administrative / Biographical History
Arthur Bell was originally a merchant selling tweeds and overcoatings. He set up his own business in 1868, leaving the family firm John Bell and Sons to be run by his father and brother Edward. In the 1870-1871 valuation roll he is described as Arthur Bell, draper, Hillside, Langholm. In 1886 he began manufacture with two hand looms for pattern making and in 1888 bought Byers Mill and Criterion Mills. Criterion Mills was originally built in 1878 for William Scott and Henry Erskine to the specifications of Thomas Aimers and Sons, Galashiels. However, the company failed and the mill was bought out by Arthur Bell complete with equipment which he renamed Buccleugh Mills.
The business was unconventional to start with. The wool was bought then dyed and spun on commission by various firms in Langholm and Carlisle and only weaving was carried out in house, whereas most firms carried out all functions in house. Sales were made in short lengths of cloth to retail tailors instead of large pieces to wholesale merchants. Additional Dobcross looms were installed in 1896 and a dyehouse was added soon after and carding and spinning were moved in house. In January 1914 the carding and spinning was completely destroyed by fire but was rebuilt in the same year to plans by George Burns and Sons of Galashiels.
Arthur Bell died in 1929 and the firm was carried on by sons E. J. and Gilbert Bell. In 1946 the firm became a limited liability company and to avoid confusion with Bells distillers became Arthur Bell (Scotch Tweeds) Ltd. The company dropped the merchanting trade and concentrated on selling at the wholesale level, largely abroad and to clothing manufacturers. Due to staff shortages a branch factory as built in Annan in 1969 which was then closed and sold to Reid and Taylor in 1972. The company sold mainly to Western Europe but also USA, Canada and Japan with emphasis on quality menswear cloths in 100 percent wool and competitive prices.
Because of a lack of family succession the company was sold in 1988 for £2.7 million to Yorkclyde plc. The name was changed to Arthur Bell (Scotch Tweeds) losing the limited liability status. Sales in the late 1980s were often greater than the capacity of the mill and many pieces were sent out to weave on commission. However, as the demand was more for lighter worsted fabrics grew finding work for the carding and spinning departments became an increasing problem. In 2002 the firm finally closed.
Chronologically by classification scheme.
Conditions Governing Access
By appointment at the Scottish Borders Campus, Heriot-Watt University, Netherdale, Galashiels.
The collection was donated in 2004 as Accession E51.
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Paper finding aid is available in the search room.
Description compiled by Helen Taylor, Archivist, Heriot-Watt University Archive, Records Management and Museum Service.
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