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Monday, February 17

Abandoned Places: Stanley Mills - Part One

I'm one of those photographers for whom old, derelict places have an irresistible attraction. And it pains me to know that these special places are becoming scarcer by the day. This post is about a small village on the right bank of the River Tay called Stanley and the old cotton mill that once provided almost all the jobs in that area.

This Perthshire village had a fascination for my late dad, too. It was one of his favourite haunts when he was out cycling. When I asked him why he liked going there so much he joked it was because there was an approved school for wayward girls in the village. Stanley was about a 70-mile round trip from my dad's home in Dundee so these bad lassies must have been quite good!

Years ago, I had to see for myself what Stanley was like so, along with my old pal, Ken, we had a run out one Saturday morning on one of our photographic excursions. The actual village is quite nice but it was the old mill, mouldering away near the river, that I loved.

The Police Station at Stanley. The local neds must be terrified of this place!

There was a tall steel fence around it but the security guard on the gate happily let us in to take some pictures, warning us that if we fell through any traps into deep water-filled holes then it was our look-out! That certainly sharpened the senses. Rather than wander around together taking the same photographs, Ken and I split up - quite stupid considering the warning we'd just had - and agreed to meet up an hour later.

Stanley Mills opened in 1787 and within 10 years employed 350 people. Much of the village was built to provide housing for the workers. A fire in 1799 closed the complex but within a few years it was operational again.  In 1813, the mill failed for economic reasons but made another comeback 10 years later.

During the Great War, the mill produced miles of webbing material for the army but the end of hostilities signalled a general decline in its fortunes. By 1967, it was only producing cotton tape for cigarettes and eventually closed for good in 1989. It must have been a few years later when Ken and I visited.

In 1995, Historic Scotland purchased the site. Some of the mill buildings were converted into flats and by 2008 restoration of the complex had advanced to the stage where parts could be opened to the public as a "visitor attraction". Am I alone in losing all interest in a place once it becomes an official visitor attraction?

Anyway, when Ken and I stopped by the mill was still in its unmolested, decaying state. That January day was dreich and dark, the kind that Scotland specialises in. I was using a Mamiya Press 6x9 camera and a Rollei and a tripod was essential. The film was Jessops R100 which I think was the same as Efke 100 and which was available for something ridiculous at the time such as 99p or £1.50 a 120 roll (can't remember exactly but it was cheap!). At 2 p.m. outdoors and with the Mamiya stopped down, I was getting exposures running into the seconds.

It was one of those days when I seemed to see a photograph everywhere I pointed my camera. I've posted the photo below already here but it remains one of my favourites. It's the pumping station which was used to pump water around the mill complex. I was standing on an elevated platform with the 65mm Sekor wide angle on the Mamiya. I love the sweep of the stairs and the quality of the light in the bottom half of the picture., darkroom, analogue, analog, silver gelatin, film, printing, enlarging, enlarger, jessops R100, mamiya press, 65mm sekor
Stanley Mills Pumping Station

This is quite a tricky print to make. The light coming through the windows was bright in comparison to the gloomy interior. It's almost like two negatives: the half above the central walkway and the bit below. Considerable burning in of the window light is needed and it has to be done carefully and at a soft grade to avoid telltale halos.

The lower of the two two staircases needs to be held back and there's also a bit of dodging of the dark shadow beneath the upper staircase., darkroom, analogue, analog, silver gelatin, film, printing, enlarging, enlarger, jessops R100, mamiya press, 65mm sekor

This shot captures the mood of the day nicely. There's an overall air of dank decay - I can almost remember the smell of the wet, rotting wood and the soaking brickwork. Lovely! This print has similar issues to the preceding one. Again, there's a dark foreground with some bright sky. I've held back the dark tones and burned in the sky a bit. If you look at the neg below you might see a little bit of flare from the 65mm Sekor lens I was using on the Mamiya Press and which I think just shows up on the underside of the arch near the top of the frame in the print scan. I like it., darkroom, analogue, analog, silver gelatin, film, printing, enlarging, enlarger, jessops R100, mamiya press, 65mm sekor

I've got quite a few negs from this outing that I want to show you but the post is already getting quite long so I'll save them for Part Two on Friday. I've been meaning to post some of these photographs online now for a while as much as anything to have a public record of sorts of what Stanley Mills once looked like for those who only know it from its present anodyne, manicured form.

You might also like:

Derelict Transport Office
Cropping Out The Hard Bits
Child Worker - Adana


Herman Sheephouse said...

Cracking photo of the staircase Bruce!
I actually enjoyed my visit to Stanley Mill in its current upgraded form - they've done it well, and it is a fascinating couple of hours.
I do agree though - such places are fast becoming a thing of the past . . shame really - you can't beat a good accident in a place that no one goes to . .

Bruce Robbins said...

I haven't been back since it was done up, Phil. It probably looks very nice if you're a normal person. Weirdos like me prefer it in its natural state. :)

Nick Jardine said...

Nice shots Bruce. The end print from that stair case neg must have been very satisfying to you, it's got a bit of everything, strong composition, great lighting, good contrast range.

Don't know if it's of any use, but if I'm looking for a good 'derelict' for some photos, I often go to the 'Buildings at Risk Register'.

You can click on the interactive map and see whats happening to lots of old buildings in your area, and it often gives you a short historic biography of the building.

It's free and available here:

marty said...

Hi Bruce. Excellent work, as usual. The pictures present full smooth tonality and great lighting, nice visual interpretation with strong composition and skillful darkroom work. I like very much this kind of subjects and the effect of the time upon objects. Industrial archeology has a kind of fascination... And then it's always a pleasure to read the story which accompanies the photos.

Cheers, M.

Omar Özenir said...

Hi Bruce,

Beautiful two photos with beautiful tones.

Why is it that decay is so photogenic, especially in B&W?

Bruce Robbins said...

Thanks for the nice words everyone. In answer to Omar's (possibly rhetorical?) question, I think a lot depends on the viewer. I know people who would look at the two photos here and ask, "why anyone would want to take a picture of that?" To each their own, I suppose.

Bruce Robbins said...


I forgot to say that I'm quite familiar with the Buildings at Risk register and have used it as well for subjects. When I was a newspaper reporter it was also a source of stories.
Sadly - or maybe a good thing in a way - there aren't nearly as many interesting old buildings on it as there once was.