Hawick’s Lovat Mill has bounced back from the brink of closure almost two decades ago to re-establish itself as one of the world’s leading manufacturers of tweed clothing – and that rescue mission was given a right royal seal of approval this week.
The Commercial Road mill is Scotland’s leading estate and regimental tweed weaver, producing traditional designs for the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards and the Scots Guards, prompting a visit by Prince Edward, the Duke of Kent on Wednesday.
The duke, being deputy colonel-in-chief of the former and colonel of the latter, was keen to see the tweeds used by the regiments being woven.
Among the tweeds the London-born 81-year-old was shown were one last used by the Scots Guards in the 1940s and the fabric created to replace it, a replica of an earlier version.
The duke was welcomed to the mill, founded by Blenkhorn, Richardson and Co in 1882, by Richard Scott, the 10th Duke of Buccleuch and also lord-lieutenant of Roxburgh, Ettrick and Lauderdale, and Stephen Rendle, managing director of Hermitage Holdings, the firm that took over the mill in 1999.
Also there to greet him were vice-lord-lieutenant Michael Strang Steel, outgoing Scottish Borders Council convener Graham Garvie and Hawick honorary provost Stuart Marshall.
The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards and the Scots Guards were also represented by past and present members including retired major Malcolm MacGregor and pipe sergeant major Alan Mowbray.
The duke was then taken on a tour of the mill and introduced to some of its 22-strong staff, more than three times the size of the workforce of seven it started out with after being taken over in 1999.
Edinburgh-born Mr Rendle, 61, said: “While belonging to a traditional industry, Lovat Mill is among the most modern in weaving technology.
“The duke met and discussed tweed-making with employees as he toured the processes within the Mill.
“Lovat Mill has seen a tremendous reversal in its fortunes since the time in 1999 when closure of the mill loomed, a step which would have meant the end of tweed- weaving in Hawick, the very town in which it got its name in 1826.
“In 1999, we had the opportunity to buy the mill. A great deal of investment was required.
“Essential to our thinking was that we are home of tweed and were resolved never to let things come to such a parlous state again.
“We had the great advantage of standing on the shoulders of tweed-makers who had gone before, men and women who wrestled with a natural material which, for all its attributes of warmth and ability to hold a dyer’s colours, has to be understood and worked with and not just simply upon.
“Combining this knowledge, investment in the latest weaving technology and a highly-skilled workforce, we are proud to say that these skills are firmly entrenched here, and nurturing them is essential for the mill’s future.
“Today, we weave 24 hours a day, exporting roughly half of our annual production of around 250,000 metres.
“We merchant our own ranges of tweeds across the world and design collections to inspire fashion designers, tailors and clothiers with innovation, not just in design and colour but with technical enhancements to keep tweed relevant in a modern world.
“The Duke of Kent has seen our work in the areas of high-performance tweeds, stretch Lycra tweeds, lightweight action tweeds and fabrics bearing extremely high-performance washable finishes.”
To round off his visit, the duke was presented by Mr Rendle with a boxed presentation length of the Scots Guards tweed woven specially for the occasion.
A plaque commemorating the royal visit was also unveiled.