Gorebridge History

Stobhill Gunpowder Works (Scotland’s first Gunpowder Mill)

Written by Alasdair Anderson

In 1794, Scotland’s first Gunpowder Mill started operations on the banks of the Gore Water. The company was set up by William Hitchener and John Hunter who obtained a license to erect the mill at Stobsmills after signing a fifty year lease for the land. The entrepreneurs took a third partner, John Merricks, who had previous experience of gunpowder making. Wonder if the Dragons would have invested?

The construction of the gunpowder mill was a major work of engineering. The Gore Water was diverted, four dams were built and a complex system of lades and culverts took water from these dams to operate ten water wheels which powered the various mills.

Besides supplying blasting powder for mines and quarries at home, gunpowder was sold to the Government during the Napoleonic War. There is a record of 100 barrels of gunpowder shipped from Greenock and sold in Liverpool in 1802. This consignment would have travelled by open cart to Leith; from there to Grangemouth by ship; then by barge through the Forth and Clyde Canal.

In the early 1800s a dispute arose between Merricks and the other two partners resulting in Merricks leaving Stobmills and establishing a more successful gunpowder mill at Roslin.

Up to 60 men were employed at the Gunpowder Mills at any one time. They lived in the houses on Powdermill Brae, known locally as the ‘Black Raw’. It was a highly dangerous occupation, explosions were frequent and deaths not uncommon.

The gunpowder mill was closed shortly after 1861 and fell into ruins. In 1876 Robert Dundas of Arniston bought Stobmills House and the accompanied ruined mill buildings. These buildings were eventually demolished to make way for a driveway from the gates at Stobmills House to Arniston House via the old gunpowder works.

A vestige of  the gunpowder works remain in the glen. Many trees were planted and some of the ruins left to create a ‘romantic atmosphere'.

Advertising the superior gunpowder

An article about the explosion at Stobhills in 1827

Remnants of the Stobhill Gunpowder factory

Tunnels for the water channel

Waterwheels were used to power the factory

Part of the Gorebridge Circular Walk passes the Stobhills site and through the woods by the banks of the river

The walkway in the Gorebridge Circular Route that passes the Stobhills site

The gunpowder works at Stobhill

The ruins of the gunpowder works at Stobhill. The double walls can still be seen.

The ruins of the gunpowder works at Stobhill.

The river was used to power the works.

The river was used to power the factory and the factory walls can still be seen as ruins at the river's edge.

A closeup of the walls

The river was used to power the factory and the factory walls can still be seen as ruins at the river's edge.

One of the arches that allowed water to pass through the works to the water wheel.

Main St - The Heart of Gorebridge

Written by David Thomas

The Main St in Gorebridge was once a flourishing shopping centre with shops either side of the street. These  shops sprung up following the arrival of the Gunpowder Works in the 18th Century. The coal industry later ensured the towns relative prosperity well into the twentieth century.  These pictures show Mackays General Store and its delivery horse and cart in 1919. Mackays is now home to RS McColl at 23-25 Main St. 

Pictures courtesy of The Gorebridge History Society. 

Main Street circa 1916

Mackay's Van - Horse and Cart on Main Street

Mackay's Grocers on Main Street now RS McColl

Gorebridge Co-op 1919

The opening of Gorebridge Golf Course - June 19th 1897

Written by David Thomas

The Gorebridge golf course was at Catcune beside the Borthwick Burn. In the middle distance of the picture people are standing by the old  railway line watching the proceedings. The great and the good of Gorebridge were in attendance at this auspicious occasion. Teeing off is young Eva Inch, daughter of the local GP Dr  Robert Inch.

The Golf Course was on land owned by a local farmer who became tired of  adjacent crops being damaged by local chidren scavenging for lost golf balls, for re-sale to golfers.

The great war in 1914 saw mass conscription and  the golf course closed.  The land was returned to faming operations, the community needing more home grown produce.

Picture courtesy of Gorebridge History Society.

The golf course opening in 1897

Gorebridge Station

Written by John Ballantyne - Chairman of the Gorebridge & District History Society

Edinburgh will be linked to the Borders by rail again, after work officially began on the Waverley which will run from Edinburgh to Tweedbank  near Galashiels in the Scottish Borders. The line will bring new life to Gorebridge and its economy. 

The original Gorebridge station opened on 14 July 1847 as part of the North British Railway's new line that was to reach Hawick and Carlisle. The station closed to passengers on 6 January 1969 as part of the overall closure of the Waverley route between Edinburgh and Carlisle.

Coal and gunpowder were the two main industries in Gorebridge in the latter half of the 19th century. The latter was an important part of Gorebridge’s economy at the time of the coming of the railway. So much so that two tunnels were built just beyond the station to prevent any sparks from the trains accidentally reaching the powder magazine at Ashbank.

Gorebridge was the terminus for many trains and the signalmen were kept very busy. In addition to the main double track running through, there were a couple of sidings and a loading platform in the station yard (just where the front doors of the eight, perhaps soon to be removed, houses stand). One saw coal being off-loaded for local coal merchants, who had a yard in the station. Each bag weighed 112lbs.

Sometimes cattle or sheep were loaded or off-loaded and many times we saw bullocks being driven away to local markets. The beasts sometimes managed to escape up to the main street before being rounded up – which caused great excitement. The cattle always seemed to race up the street on the opposite side from the butchers’ shops.

The engines on the Waverley line had wonderful names – names to remember ¬– many of them from Sir Walter Scott’s Waverley novels. I remember seeing some of them: Madge Wildfire, Guy Mannering, Jeannie Deans, Ivanhoe, and Heart of Midlothian.

The station entrance and ticket hall is now Porter’s Restaurant. The station master lived in the flat above.

By the 1960s the Waverley Line was gradually running down. It was closed to goods on 28th December 1964 and Gorebridge became an unmanned station before finally closing on 6th January 1969. I suppose if coal had still been king, it would have been a different story, but all the pits had gone and the Beeching Act came into force.
How wonderful it will be to hear the sound of the train again in Gorebridge.

Gorebridge station

Station building at Gorebridge

Porters at Gorebridge Station

Station Master