Mills in our Midst 1: Munrospun, Restalrig

In a previous post on Munrospun yoke sweater kits I highlighted two directions that my digging about to find out more about about the kits had taken me in.  I made reference to a Munrospun factory in Restalrig in Edinburgh, and to Bernat Klein a one time employee of Munrospun. Today I want to follow up the first of these references.

My attention had originally been drawn to the fact that Munrospun had a factory in Restalrig by this ball of Evening Dusk vintage yarn I had acquired some time before:

However, it was only when I subsequently found that some of the Shetland style yarn for the yoke kits was also spun in Restalrig, that I was prompted to further investigation:

The reasons this set me thinking were twofold and related:

  1. I thought I knew Restalrig pretty well. When I worked in Edinburgh one of our youth projects centred on Restalrig and I thought I had mapped the area pretty well, knew most of the main landmarks and the lay of the land. Our project included youth workers working directly with young people in the contested spaces of the community where they hung out (mainly street corners, by shops, the park etc.) and working with older residents to recognise that young people do need space in their communities, that their presence isn’t inherently threatening, and to bring them together to develop facilities for young. Despite all this I knew nothing of an old woollen mill in the community.
  2. So what had become of this mill, had it been literally erased from the community through demolition or did it still exist in physical form but repurposed? Was there a residual memory of this mill and of woollen textile production in the city up until relatively recently? I had asked myself similar questions when researching another post about vintage knitting needles, and found that the Clive Works in Redditch which had manufactured Abel Morrall’s circular knitting needles and Flora MacDonald  sewing needles, had slipped into disrepair and was scheduled for demolition. Similarly, other vintage yarn in my stash had led me to a mill that had been converted into a Tesco supermarket.

So what of the Munrospun mill in Restalrig?

This is what it looked like when in operation:


The factory covered a large site with a two storey frontage onto Restalrig Drive, and a three storey frontage onto Loaning Road which also had a water tower, shown at the back centre of this picture. The water tower, necessary because the Mill was at the top of a hill, became a landmark in the area. In addition to these taller buildings there had been a series of single story workshops on the site.

According to Graces Guides Munrospun, Restalrig was included in the 1956 Institution of Mechanical Engineers  ‘Visits to Works’ Schedule. The following information was provided to members:

This firm was established in 1880 (as Munro and Company) by William Munro to manufacture homespun tweeds, Shetland knitwear, and fancy hosiery. The world-famous Argyle Sock was originated by this firm in 1895.

The present factory at Restalrig was built in 1897. The firm pioneered knitted outerwear for women, using the finest woollen yarns. Cashmere was first introduced by them in 1902.

The New York Office was first opened in 1920, and in 1925 the firm began the manufacture of women’s ready-to-wear tweed costumes, coats, and skirts. There are now three factories (Edinburgh, Leeds, and London) making this clothing which is exported to many foreign markets. Around 1930 the firm began to produce Munro-spun hand knitting wools and Munro-spun ties.

During the 1939-45 war the firm produced over 1 million yards of cloth by Tweed Division (Galashiels) and 3 million knitted garments at Restalrig.

It has since reverted to production of twin sets of delicate cashmere. Other fine yarns in use are alpaca, Shetland, and lambs-wool in full colour ranges, mostly for export.

Plant used at the factory includes modern high-speed multiple knitting types and hand frames employed on intricate intarsia designs.

In 1950 the firm joined with the Thistle Foundation for disabled ex-servicemen in an interesting experiment, and today these men produce hosiery, hose tops, and tartan hose for Scottish regiments.

This image showing the inside of the mill is data circa 1900, very soon after the mill opened and shows a female workforce handling both cones and skeins of yarn:

Apologies, for such a small picture, I hope you can make out the detail.

Whilst much of the site has now been demolished, a significant portion, including the original water tower has been retained and converted into flats:

Copyright Kim Traynor – used under Creative Commons Licence (source)

The building is both recognisable from the earlier pictures and distinctive. Moreover, on seeing this picture of the remaining building, I did recognise it as one I had walked past many times whilst working in the area, completely unaware of its past as a woollen mill.

Munrospun ceased their operations at the mill in 1970. The buildings were then taken over by Kinloch Anderson who made kilts and tartan accessories there until 1989. It was converted into modern flats shortly thereafter, following a brief period of approximately 2 years in the late 1990s when it housed a brewery.

And what of the memories associated with the mill? I no longer live in Edinburgh so I can’t go back and ask people directly, but the internet provides some insights however partial.

For example,

Cath Tuff noted that

When I left school, I didn’t get a choice of were I was going to work.  My Mother took me to Munrospun at Restalrig,  as a message girl.

I hated it but I loved the girls that I worked with and I still keep in  touch with a dear friend that I met then, after 50 years.

Gordon Smithson sharing his post war childhood memories via the Francis Frith Collection having later moved to Australia:

We lived only 50 yards up the road in Loaning Road in the Munrospun factory. Number 3 Loaning Road belonged to Munrospun and my dad was the electrician and the house came with the job. There was a bomb shelter in the back garden that we played in daily.

For Steven Brent, telling his story to the Scotsman Newspaper in 2008, the time spent working for Munrospun was a small part of a much greater story. He had left Germany in 1939 on the Kindertransport and was brought to the Whittingehame Estate in East Lothian, along with a number of other children whose continued contact with the area was being remembered in an exhibition as part of the Haddington Festival. For Steven, Munrospun in Restalrig was his first job out of school, as a trainee sales rep. Here he had met his future wife Angela with whom he had three children. This is also where, he recalls he changed his name. Stefan Brienitzer became Steven Brent:

One day the factory manager gave him a promotion, but added: “Can you not change your name to something I can pronounce and spell? I thought what a good idea. There was an actor called George Brent and I thought that will do.”

On a lighter note, Frank Ferri noted how fashionable Munro Ties were, locally at least:

In the late 1950s / early 1960s, Munrospun (company near Kemps Corner) ties were very fashionable.  Generally, these had to be coloured either Mustard or Scarlet.  I was lucky.  My sister in-law worked for the company.  I got mine discount so I had every colour.

The other strand of history that my Munrospun yarns opened up was the connection with Bernat Klein. Klein graduated from Leeds, where he’d studied textile technology, in 1948 and having worked briefly at Tootal Broadhurst and Lee in Bolton, moved to Edinburgh to work at Munrospun in Restalrig, moving with them to Galashiels in 1950. However, he didn’t stay long and in 1952 set up his own company Colour-Craft.

Klein really deserves a post all of his own. He managed to combine both a visionary approach to art textile design that appealed to the couture market whilst also succeeding in what may be regarded as a very conservative market; affordable textiles for the ‘average’ customer who continued to knit and tailor their own clothes. I’ll talk more about this in another post and share with you my own skirt length of Bernat Klein Fabric so  you can see for yourself why he titled his book ‘Bernat Klein: Eye for Colour’







13 thoughts on “Mills in our Midst 1: Munrospun, Restalrig

  1. I have some old Munro Spun knitting patterns & whilst trying to date them found your interesting research about the company, do you know if there is any where that collects the old patterns ? It is very hard to date them apart from price & style , thanks Jackie

    1. How interesting, Do you have family tales or folklore handed down from them? If so it would be lovely to hear. This post is one of the most popular on the blog and I regularly get messages about it, along with the post on Munrospun fair isle yoke kits. I have a third piece still to finalise after all this time so it would be nice to finally publish it and re-visit these posts in light of what readers have shared.

  2. My first job was at Liberty’s in 1979, where I worked in the Coats and Suits department. We stocked Munrospun suits which were exquisitely made in Scotland from pure wool fabrics. I remember I had a navy boucle Chanel-style suit, also a black wool crepe suit with the most amazing pleated skirt. Do you have any information on who owned the Munrospun brand name at that time?

    1. Hi Caroline, a first job at Liberty’s must have been quite something. At that time the Munrospun brand would still have been under the ownership of Munrospun, just. While the Restalrig mill closed in the 1970s, the Galashiels Mill continued in production until Munrospun Ltd came under the sole ownership of Alan Paine. While Alan Paine continue as a luxury woollen brand they no longer use the name, but whether they did so when they first bought Munrospun, or if they sold on the name, I’m afraid I don’t know.

  3. I’m here having looked up the name Munrospun as it’s on a label of a knitted product I just purchased online from House of Bruar (HofB). It’s on the tag with the price where both the name HoB and Munrospun are written and on a label sewn on to the neck of the item there is only the name Munrospun with a logo that appears to be HofB’s logo. Do House of Bruar own the name Munrospun?

    1. Hi Susan, Yes, I assume it is now in their ownership as they are using it, but it is unclear to me how the name transferred. Alan Paine who bought out Munrospun continue to produce luxury knitwear around the world but don’t use the name. House of Bruar however use the label and market this range, along with much of what they retail, as Scottish heritage and luxury brands largely produced in Scotland. Whether they bought the name from Alan Paine which itself has been through numerous ownership changes since buying out Munrospun or whether, having not been used and re-registered/re-claimed for a set period of time they could claim it for themselves, I don’t know I’m afraid. How do you like your sweater, is it equal to the history and heritage of the label? Tess

    2. Hi Susan I am part of the Munro family (via my paternal Grandmother) and as far as I know House of Bruar have just taken the name! I will make enquiries to my Munro relatives who keep the archives.

      1. Well, I am so thrilled to have come upon this site. From 1965 to 1966 I was Assistant to the Fashion Designer Ruddi Nielsen, who designed Country Life Clothing for the Munrospun group at this site when Mr. Auld was the managing director and John Munro, the CEO. I think the Company suffered dreadfully when a fire wiped out one of their factories in England in 1966?
        I have such lovely memories of the beautiful fabrics used, especially lace tweed. Each garment, which lasted for years, was silk lined and always had pearl keeper buttons. Indeed it was Scottish Haute Couture in it’s day.

      2. I think unfortunately it was mainly a victim of the economic climate of the day with the push to make a lot of clothing outside the UK as it was cheaper (but not necessarily better!) My grandmother was a Munro – she was Ruth Munro (later Scott). You might perhaps remember her brother Roy Munro? His wife Elizabeth is still alive, at the age of 102! His descendants keep the Munrospun archives.

  4. i was a friend of Penny Munro in the 1950s, father was Munrospun who lived at Borthwick Hall in the Borders. Would love to know what became of her as we lost touch. She married and lived in the USA and had a sister Deirdre. We all went to Skerry’s College, Edinburgh in 1956! She would be in her 80s now.
    Thank you.
    Susan nee Hopewell-Ash

  5. My wife, Irene Dunn, Winny Gaholly and Old Winny use to work there back in the fifties and early sixties was a great place to work for them… Unfortunately all have passed… Thanks Dan Miller…

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