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There has been a mill on the site at Otterburn Mill for many hundreds of years, however it was in 1821 when the Waddell family settled at the small mill, that the fortunes of this small business changed. Five generations of the Waddell family worked to turn ‘Otterburn’ products into a household name. Did you know the famous expression ‘on tenter hooks’ came from the textile trade? Otterburn Mill boasts the last set of tenter frames in Europe. After cloth had been woven it needed to be washed and dried. The drying process was done on the tenter frames by hooking the cloth onto the top and bottom bars of tenter hooks and the bottom bar was released to stretch the cloth.

The Four Williams

William I - It was in 1821 that William Waddell of Jedburgh eloped with his young bride, seventeen-year-old Charlotte Ferrier, to the remote Northumbrian village of Otterburn, Charlotte having absconded from the fashionable School for Young Ladies in George Square, Edinburgh. William had been a younger member of a respectable Scottish family of woollen manufacturers. The textile trade was one of the first to benefit from the Industrial Revolution as woollen mills were built by landlords to enable them to profit from locally produced wools. William, Charlotte and their ever-growing family were undaunted by the prospect of a crippling 109-year lease, and they employed a small local workforce to turn wool, provided by local farmers, into blankets, cloth or yarn. Often, the wool would be woven on hand looms by locals before being finished at Otterburn Mill. Only one of Charlotte and William’s children remained working at the mill, William II.

William II - He was known to be a skilled dyer, and William II would make trips across the country to collect dyes from all across the world, introducing new and exciting hues to the cloth being produced at Otterburn Mill. William married Ann Armstrong and their son William III took over the business. 

William III - 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.

William IV - William IV was known to have advanced the mill more than any other. 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.

Rena Waddell

Rena Waddell - 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 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. Rena lived an exciting life, travelling the world and associating with the great and good. However, she was never destined to be involved with the mill. After the tragic death of her brother and an agent that fell ill, her life changed when she was asked to step in.

Royal Connections

Otterburn Mill was known all around the world, and ‘Otterburn’ products were even sought after by the Royal Family. Many members of the Royal Family had apparently ordered or received products from the mill, including Queen Victoria. Otterburn Mill still has copies of correspondence with the Royal Household in their archives. Queen Alexandra was also presented with a rug in a plain colour when on a visit to Alnwick Castle. Queen Elizabeth II received a very special ‘Otterburn’ rug upon her birth, the very first Otterburn Mill Pram Rug to be produced. Otterburn Mill Pram Rugs are still produced today and are the perfect gift for any new arrival. 

End Of An Era

Many of the textile mills were privately owned and, during the Second World War, substantial profits were made. After the war, engineering materials were in short supply, resulting in a lack of investment in modern textile machinery and systems until the late 60’s/early 70’s. By then, the investment required was too large for many companies to afford. This general lack of investment allowed worldwide competition to overtake the UK woollen trade. The Mill at Otterburn suffered from a lack of investment and it too, had to close manufacturing in 1976. The machinery lay idle until Otterburn Mill was sold to Euan Pringle, a member of yet another famous family of Scottish woollen manufacturers, in 1995. Since that time, the site has undergone a substantial period of redevelopment to produce the facilities you see today.