History of Castle Mills

Castle Mills was the headquarters for the North British Rubber Company, once the city’s largest industrial operation and the major rubber goods producer within the British Empire.

From the start NBRC had a reputation for design and innovation as well as manufacturing.

From hot water bottles to air balloon fabric, NBRC’s diverse range of products was exported worldwide.

NBRC was more than a business: ‘the Rubber’ was a way of life for many of its workers who lived locally.

The history of Castle Mill Works

The Castle Silk Mills

In 1836, the Castle Silk Mills are constructed in Fountainbridge, housing a factory producing top quality Kashmir shawls, in the tradition of the Edinburgh shawl.

The architect of the 16 bay, two storey building and basement, constructed of red brick with yellow brick banding, is unknown.


A new industry emerges

American businessmen and boot-makers Henry Lee Norris and Spencer Thomas Parmelee snap up the real estate, eager to take advantage of the canal-side location. Within six months manufacturing had begun. 

By 1900, Castle Mills had become the largest industrial unit in Edinburgh, employing 3,000 people.


Castle Mills in wartime

With the start of the First World War, came a demand for a durable, rubber soled boot for the trenches. Commissioned by the Ministry of War, the Wellington boot was conceived in 1916.

The North British Rubber Company set to work 24 hours a day, producing 1,185,036 pairs of boots for soldiers in the trenches.



Fashionable footwear

By the 1950s the North British Rubber Company claimed that the only thing they did not make was tennis balls. The product catalogue ranged from sink plugs and domestic flooring, to golf balls and automobile components.

In 1955, under the Hunter brand, two new boots were launched, the Green Hunter and the Royal Hunter, becoming a firm fixture in fashion for the next 50 years. Princess Diana famously wore a pair in her engagement photos in 1981, and the boots surged in popularity again after Kate Moss was seen in a pair at Glastonbury in 2005. 

Image credit: The Scotsman


Fire strikes Castle Mills

By the 1960s the North British Rubber Company remained one of Edinburgh's main employers, with almost every family in the local area having a family member employed at the mills. 

But after a disastrous fire hit the factory in 1969, much of the production was transferred to other sites at Newbridge on the outskirts of Edinburgh and Heathhall, Dumfries. Four years later, most of the factory complex was demolished, leaving only Castle Mill Works on the site.

Scottish and Newcastle Breweries took over the site and built one of the world’s most advanced canning complexes, with Castle Mill Works being used as a store and accounts office.

Image credit: J L Walls


Saved from demolition

For many years the Scottish and Newcastle Breweries produced popular beers in the Fountain Brewery, such as McEwans. However in 2005 production was halted. In 2012, just one year after the remnants of the brewery were demolished, the local community led a campaign to save Castle Mills from the risk of demolition. 

As this campaign was being fought, Edinburgh Printmakers, having outgrown our current home on Union Street, saw the potential Castle Mills held for a world-class centre for printmaking. So began a long process of careful planning, evaluation and fundraising, enlisting award-winning Page/Park architects to create the vision of our new home.


The transformation begins

Having stood empty for over a decade, Castle Mills was in a desperate state. Years of neglect had caused significant damage, and had Edinburgh Printmakers not intervened, the building would likely have collapsed in on itself. 

In May 2017, having raised over £10m of the £12.3m needed for our entire project, Edinburgh Printmakers began to transform Castle Mills into a world-class centre for printmaking, restoring this much-loved heritage site to its former glory.


A new journey in print

In Spring 2019, Castle Mills will open to the public housing two galleries, a world-class studio production space, a printmaking archive, a learning studio, eight creative industries studios, an artist flat, shop and café.

We look forward to seeing you there! 


If you would like to help Edinburgh Printmakers to achieve our goal and create a new arts hub in Fountainbridge, please support us today