Gilford Mill is an abandoned linen mill located in between Banbridge and Craigavon in Northern Ireland. The 20-acre site, which was owned by the Dunbar family, is located among a picturesque backdrop of rolling fields and the River Bann.
In 1841, Gilford Mill opened. According to a report in The Northern Whig:
“19th November, 1841, was a great day in Gilford when one of the most splendid soirees ever held in this part of the country took place at the Works of Messrs. Dunbar, McMaster & Co. In the reading room and library belonging to the establishment.”The Northern Whig
With the development of Gilford Mill, the village of Gilford grew exponentially. Gilford village was at the heart of Ireland’s linen production and at its peak, Gilford Mill employed over 15,000 workers. In order to house the many workers of the mill, traditional mill houses were built throughout the village, many of which can still be seen today.
According to a report in News Letter, during its heyday, Gilford Mill produced enough yarn each week to have circumvented the earth three times and produced enough each month to stretch to the moon and beyond. The yarn would be exported all across the world, including New Zealand, USA, Canada, Australia, South Africa, Europe, Argentina, Thailand and Japan. For a while, Gilford Mill also manufactured the finished linen product, mainly clothing. Only one item of such is known to exist today – a child’s dress. It currently resides in the National Museum in Dublin after being discovered by a woman in Waterford.
Due to economic cycles, famine and emigration to the United States, the population of Gilford fluctuated quite heavily throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. To accommodate the needs of the village, the Dunbar family would construct a number of religious and other buildings, including St. Paul’s Church of Ireland and St. John’s Roman Catholic Chapel. They also built a school, a court house, a fever hospital and a post office. They even built a large pond in front of the mill which was replete with swans. Madden Railway Station was also built around a mile away which would facilitate the shipment of products from Gilford Mill.
During World War II, Gilford village and the surrounding area was home to thousands of troops from Britain, Belgium, America, Germany and Italy. The small country lanes as well as the natural terrain and river provided ideal for a concealed training location for around 9000 troops. Many would be based within the Gilford Castle demesne while some were based in the back gates of the Gilford Mill yard.
Then in 1986, Gilford Mill closed its doors for good. At the time, only 167 workers remained at the mill. The closure of the mill had a significant impact on the small village, which would see a decline in business and trade activity.
Since then, the imposing mill has been left to wrack and ruin. A number of buildings on the Gilford Mill site are listed, including the main block, the engine house, the central block, the flax store and the chimney stack. Over the years, it’s changed hands numerous times and there have been a plethora of plans to regenerate it. Since the majority of the buildings on the Gilford Mill site are listed, it cannot be knocked down, it can only be restored. There was much talk of it becoming a tourist centre or a designer retail outlet.
In 2016, Gilford Mill was acquired by the Karl Group. A survey concluded that the main building was generally sound. However, windows and frames were missing and there was evidence of decay and water damage. It also found that some other buildings on the site were in a state of disrepair. Their plan was to redevelop the site to become a focal point of the area. However, they wanted to redevelop it in a more organic way which was responsive to local community aspirations and commercial opportunities. One idea they had was to reinstate the former mill pond which would connect the riverside walk to the mill pond.
In August of 2021, the Karl Group submitted their planning application. They anticipated that it would cost them £6 million and they proposed a mixed scheme which comprised of apartments, a garden centre and a restaurant. They envisioned a garden centre at ground floor level with the creation of a covered canopy on the river side. The restaurant is proposed to be on the first floor of the main block with seating extended out on top of the ground floor which they planned on extending. There is to be around 30 to 40 high quality residential apartments which are proposed on floor 2 to floor 6 of the main block. There is also a proposed roof top garden and children’s activity area.
Gilford Mill when operational:
Gilford Mill Redevelopment Plans:
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