Stories of paper-making in Linlithgow: intergenerational project


This project was an opportunity for West Lothian Local History Library and Annet House Museum to provide access to their mill heritage resources, which were the inspiration for the project.

The Curriculum for Excellence encourages learning using local primary resources. This project provided the opportunity for the P6 class of Linlithgow Bridge Primary School to use local maps, photographs, family history records, newspaper archives; and to interview local ex-mill workers to create an oral history record of local mill history, and to bring local history and the local environment alive.

Linlithgow’s mills have been closed for three decades, and so the memory of the life of the mills is held by an older generation. The Local History Library and Annet House Museum objects and archives were important in providing a visual and written record of the mills for the project, and the ex-mill workers lived and breathed the history, geography, social life and politics of mill history, and the wider history of Linlithgow. By working with the younger people, the older people were able to bring the project alive.

A one-off visit of the ex-mill workers to tell their stories of mill life to the young people would not have allowed the group to get to know each other, or to build the rapport and understanding which allowed the project to be such a pleasurable shared experience. The ex-mill workers brought skills and experience and enthusiasm to the class which was welcomed throughout the term, and the P6 class looked forward to the mill workers attending the class every week to bring new insights and fun.

The skills and insights that the young people brought to the project were much appreciated by the ex-mill workers. It takes time for people to get to know each other, and coming together on a weekly basis for the mill project, allowed an understanding and friendship to build between the older and younger project participants. The project was very positive in that it allowed both old and young to utilise their talents and to feel useful and needed, and it encouraged shared learning about a shared mill heritage.

What happened

Volunteer Project Manager, Helena Gillis, met with ex-mill employees, and used their stories as inspiration to develop a programme of events to bring together local school pupils and ex-mill workers to explore mill heritage over the Autumn term of 2013.

Linlithgow Bridge Primary School Head Teacher Susy Webster, and P6 Teacher Ruth Bruce, met with Helena to schedule the activities to fit in with the school timetable, and to bring teaching expertise to the project.

Project activities included:

  • Visits to West Lothian Local History Library and to Annet House Museum to see photographs of the mill and associated social life, to see newspaper archives with stories of mill life, and to trace mill family histories with volunteers from the West Lothian Family History Society; and a day trip to the Tullis Russell paper mill to experience being in a modern paper mill.
  • Old maps with the mills marked on were compared to new maps, and the ex-paper mill workers led a class trip to explore local streets to see and photograph what remains of the mill buildings.
  • The ex-mill workers showed the young people how to make paper flower decorated panels, a skill which they had learned in making the paper flower decorated brakes (floats) for the Marches (Linlithgow’s annual summer fair, which includes a procession through the town of decorated floats).
  • Artist Michele Mathieson led a session when we hand-made paper.
  • Archaeologist John Wells brought kites from which we launched cameras, allowing the group to take aerial photographs and film of mill remains.
  • Interviews by the pupils with the ex-mill workers have been captured on CD, collecting the stories which most enthused the children.
  • A drama session led by Katherine Morley, creative writing and art sessions followed in class to allow the pupils to explore mill themes still further.

All of the project activities allowed time for participants to share stories about life in Linlithgow.

Benefits for the Community

  • Although paper-making was an important industry in Linlithgow for over 150 years, it held a more insignificant place in local folk memory than the other important industry, shoemaking.
  • There was a lack of written records and photographs of the paper mills, this oral history project was a way of recording some of its history before there were no surviving employees.

Through the interviews carried out by the pupils (as well as more in-depth interviews by adult interviewers), the photographs unearthed during the project, the aerial photographs and the guided walks round the mill remains, the Local History Library now has a substantial amount of material on the Linlithgow paper mills.

Some of these photographs and interviews have already been made available to the community in the form of a display in the library, and in a free CD, and will continue to be used as the basis for future project and displays.

Benefits for the Younger People

  • Getting to know older people, many young people have little contact with the elderly
  • Learning that old people have had interesting lives, have particular knowledge, and interesting experiences to share
  • Being able to better understand their own community and its past
  • Being able to understand their locality in the context of the past
  • Increased understanding of the paper industry;
  • An understanding that the past leaves traces of all kinds, formal, written records, oral history, and archaeological traces on the ground, if you know how to look for them
  • An understanding that industries can come and go

Benefits for the Older People

  • The life experience of the older people was given validation by being the essential component and the starting point of the project
  • Older people had the satisfaction of sharing and passing on their knowledge to the younger generation, as well as reviving memories in discussion with the other former paper-makers involved in the project.
  • They also enjoyed the social aspects of the project: getting to know the young people, working with their contemporaries to explain their knowledge; as well as the educational benefits: learning something of education today, and having the opportunity to compare a modern paper mill with what the mills they had known thirty or forty years ago.


Heritage Lottery Fund grant, with in kind support from project volunteers.


The P6 class kept individual diaries about the project. This included the thoughts of the pupils, before the project, about what they thought would be the benefits in working with ex-mill workers.

What changed

  • Greater public awareness of the significance of the paper mills in Linlithgow’s history
  • Increased awareness in schools of how the Local History Library can contribute to project work

June 2014 -The school has continued to work with the ex mill workers after the initial project finished, making paper flowers to decorate the school’s gala float which had a gardening theme. Susy – the Head teacher has entered the project into consideration for a local authority award.


The recordings made by the pupils of their interviews with the ex-mill workers, together with additional interviews of mill workers by adult interviewers, are available on a CD at West Lothian local history library. To read the full case study check out the link below.

Local Priorities

  • Lifelong learning
  • Safer communities
  • Safeguarding built heritage – through greater awareness of relics of paper making industries
  • Partnership working

Scottish NPF Objectives

This project contributes to the Scottish National Performance Framework (NPF).

The main NPF objective that this project contributes to is:

SMARTER – Expanding opportunities to succeed from nurture through to lifelong learning ensuring higher and more widely shared achievements.

These NPF objectives could also apply:

SAFER & STRONGER – Helping communities to flourish becoming stronger, safer places to live, offering improved opportunities and a better quality of life.

HEALTHIER – helping people to sustain and improve their health, especially in disadvantaged communities, ensuring better, local and faster access to health care.

Scottish NPF Outcomes

Our young people are successful learners, confident individuals, effective contributors and responsible citizens: To enable children, young people and (subsequently) adults to thrive from an early age, and make a positive contribution in the 21st century.

We value and enjoy our built and natural environment and protect it and enhance it for future generations

We live longer, healthier lives

We live our lives safe from crime, disorder and danger