It was in 1821 that William Waddell of Jedburgh, younger member of a respectable family of woollen manufacturers, brought his young bride, 17 year old Charlotte Ferrier, with whom he had eloped, to the remote borders village of Otterburn – Charlotte having absconded from the fashionable “School for Young Ladies” in George Square, Edinburgh.
The textile trade was one of the first to benefit from the Industrial Revolution and, at the start of the 19th Century, woollen mills were being built by landlords to convert and profit from locally produced wools. By the 1820’s the practice of these landlords had changed – they began leasing off these sites to the new generation of men trained in bulk textiles.
Undaunted by the prospect of a crippling 109 year lease, whose terms precluded any substantial expansion, William, aided by his wife, their everincreasing family, and a small local workforce, took in the wool fleeces from local farmers and in return supplied the farmer with blankets, cloth or knitting yarn. The wool was converted to yarn in the mill and sent to the local hand loom weavers who produced the blankets and cloth. The woven product was returned to the mill to be washed and finished, ready for use.
Expansion at the Mill – supplies to Royalty.
On William III’s succession the textile industry was no longer a cottage industry but had now become a factory based operation. In the past, the farmers would bring in their wool and it would be washed and dyed to the colours required and during the winter the farmer and his wife would hand spin the wool and bring it back to the mill as yarn. The yarn would be then hand woven in tweed, blankets or rugs. William III introduced the carding and spinning jenny to the mill, mechanising the yarn production.
The farmers would bring in their wool clip during July and August and a value would be placed upon it by the mill and a credit note issued. Throughout the year the farmer would visit the mill shop to acquire knitting yarn and tweed for clothing and have it offset against the credit note.This practice was common in the border woollen trade up until the 1960’s.
Williams old age
Recently we were visited by the Scot family from Burness (near to Otterburn) who were researching their family tree. They found that their great, great, great grandmother nursed William III during his old age, as he suffered from gout. From their family papers they found a letter stating that one day she was dressing the gout ridden foot and it fell off in her hands!
Bulk manufacturing arrives
By 1910, the first power looms were installed requiring further expansion of the mill building. A new diesel engine was installed to run the machinery. The mill became famous for its quality, colour and design. William, along with his brother George, acquired another mill in Carlisle and Otterburn Mill became a brand leader in woven cloths.
By the late 30’s Rena, daughter of William, took charge of design and marketing for the Otterburn ranges and became a fashion icon. Such was the popularity of the materials and designs, that the Mill’s products were sought after by members of the Royal family. During this period, Otterburn produced tweeds which were adopted by such notable fashion houses as Dior and Schiaparelli, Balmain, Pacquin and Jaques Griffe. Garments were often featured on the cover of top magazines such as Vogue.