Courtesy of Alexanders of Scotland
Alexanders (Kirkburn Mills) Ltd was first establish many decades ago by the Smith family of Thomas Smith & Co., to cement their presence from 1850 at their new Kirkburn Mills plant in Peterhead. The company was founded in the year 1818 by two brothers, Thomas and Joshua Smith, who were natives of Osset, near Huddersfield.
Thomas, the elder of the two, had left his native Yorkshire as a tradesman in carding and spinning, having had considerable experience in the then new inventions, particularly centred round the Spinning Jenny. Thomas was one of the Yorkshire band whose skill and knowledge in the new inventions found a ready outlet.
They had become travelling tradesman going around all the small country mills imparting knowledge of the new plant. Thomas became then the foreman carding engineer at Crombies Cothal Mills, in Aberdeen. This must have been during the early years of the nineteenth century.
The father died in the year 1809 and bequeathed two Jennies and some carding plant to the two sons.
It can be assumed that the better educated younger brother, Joshua, came north to join his elder brother and eventually in the year 1818 commenced woollen manufacturing in the Millbreck Mill, near Mintlaw, in the Kinmundy Estate. The then laird took great interest in the establishment of some degree of industrialisation in what was at the time an essentially rural cottage industry. Thomas Smith & Co., as the years past, built up a reputation for heavily milled woollen cloth for the seafarers of this northern district. They also did knitting wools for underclothing manufacturers.
Development of the mill’s trade followed the established practice of serving the London woollen merchant houses, specialising in the servicing of the tailors, at that time a flourishing source of employment.
About the year 1850 the Kirkburn Mills in Peterhead were acquired for the developing business. Prior to that date the Kirkburn Mills had been operated by a firm known as Arbuthnot Scott & Co. The lease of the land at Millbreck was drawing to a close and the Smiths left there about the year 1909 and concentrated all work in Peterhead. The war years 1914-1918 kept Kirkburn very active mostly in the manufacture of wool blankets.
The next milestone in the Smith saga occurred about 1934 when the yarn business with the hebrides for the production of Harris Tweed became jeopardised by the introduction of a new definition for Harris. This required that all spinning had to be carried out in the islands of the Hebrides. The Smith partners decided to go along with this development and for this purpose established a considerable amount of spinning in Stornoway. The run-up to the second world war, 1939-45, showed a very marked development in the export Harris Tweed trade. Kirkburn Mills were very active during the second world war in the production of the standard Khaki.
In 1959 Kirkburn mills was destroyed entirely by fire. The result of this disaster was the complete rebuilding of the premises which turned Kirkburn Mills into the most modern mill in the country and became the only verticle woollen mill in Scotland, enabling the company to exercise total control of its products from raw wool through to finished cloth and yarn.
In 1971, having disposed of the Stornoway interests, Smith’s acquired the adjacent country mill, J C Rennie & Co. Ltd., Milladen, near Old Deer. Established in 1798, the Rennie mill, in Smith’s hands, became specialists in the production of Shetland yarn for the knitwear industry in this country and abroad. The Rennie mill had developed a reputation for quality spun woollen yarns which has been further refined over the past 35 years. This ability has become allied to Kirkburn’s weaving expertise in the development of co-related cloths. That is the matching and embellishment of the casual clothes fashions for both men’s and woman’s wear, and this continues. Alexanders (Kirkburn Mills) Ltd., the name Alexanders derived from a past family member, has an international presence and is universally accepted in the industry. Users of Alexanders cloths are several well-known international brands of like class and character.
In 2005 Milladen Mill and Thomas Smith & Co’s machinery were bought by Marian Lyon Shildrick, a direct decendant and 5th generation Smith, whose father and brother, John and Michael Smith, were Chairman and Managing Director at the mill.
The company is now managed by her two sons Christian and Scott Rodland.