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222 Years of Johnstons of Elgin

CELEBRATING 222 YEARS OF
JOHNSTONS OF ELGIN

© Jamie Ferguson (@jkf_man)

October 2019

October 2019 marks Johnstons of Elgin's 222nd birthday, offering the chance to reflect on our rich and diverse history, spanning three centuries. While all those twos make for a perfectly balanced cake decoration, they also remind us that things often happen in twos within our business.

If it's worth doing, it's worth doing twice

In a practice exclusive to Johnstons of Elgin, we carry out the carding process twice, to ensure our cashmere and fine wool fibres are as soft as possible. Carding converts a continuous web of fibres into individual ribbons known as rovings. It is an age-old process and has changed so little over the years that one of the carding machines at our Elgin Mill, purchased by James Johnston in 1868, was still working satisfactorily until 1993. Our carding store opened in 1928, so the sign outside features another significant '2' in our history.

Johnstons of Elgin Carding Machinery
Johnstons of Elgin Carding Machinery © Jamie Ferguson (@jkf_man)

Two families, still connected

Johnstons of Elgin remains family-owned, with a dedicated focus on our employees and the wider community. Company Chairman Jenny Urquhart is the great-granddaughter of former Johnstons of Elgin owner Eddie Harrison and represents the fourth generation of the current owning family, while Sophie George, who is currently undertaking a three-month internship at our Elgin site, is the great, great, great, great, great-granddaughter of company founder Alexander Johnston. Eddie Harrison joined in 1904 as a junior partner to the third generation of the Johnston family. Strong links remain between the Johnston and Harrison families and the business continues to focus on the underpinning values of previous generations, such as supporting the local community, through providing meaningful employment, while embracing new ideas to move the business forward.

Sophie George and Jenny Urquhart in the Johnstons of Elgin Archive Room Company Chairman Jenny Urquhart with Sophie George in the Harrison Archive Room

Two mills, central to two communities

Alexander Johnston founded Johnstons of Elgin in 1797, and throughout the mill's 222-year history the local community has remained central to everything we do. We supplied the first blankets to Elgin's Dr Gray's Hospital when it opened in 1819 and supported the fundraising group 'Friends of Dr Gray's' as part of the hospital's 200th-anniversary celebrations earlier this year. The group hope to raise £60,000 to refurbish the hospital's clock tower. Johnstons of Elgin donated a collection of scarves, embroidered with the building's disctinctive dome, to be sold for the cause and hosted a fundraiser at their Elgin site.

Our knitwear mill in Hawick, in the Scottish borders, opened in 1981 with a staff of just ten people. Today the mill employs around 300 people and nurtures a strong bond with the local community.

Johnstons of Elgin Dyehouse
Johnstons of Elgin Dyehouse Top: Our Elgin Mill. Bottom: Our Hawick Mill

Two rivers providing soft, Scottish water

Scotland's soft, free-flowing water is key to our manufacturing processes, allowing us to make the world's softest cashmere products while using very few chemicals compared to other countries. Our mills are ideally located on the banks of two Scottish rivers, providing us with a plentiful supply of this crucial natural ingredient, which is also world-renowned for its role in the Scottish whisky-making process. Our Elgin mill nestles on the banks of the River Lossie while our Hawick mill is positioned next to the River Teviot.

The River Lossie The River Lossie runs through a beautiful beech wood in Elgin, just upstream from the mill

We are incredibly proud of everything we have achieved over the last 222 years and of every individual who has played a part in our success. As the wheels keep turning in the heart of our Elgin and Hawick mills, we will blow out our candles and continue to marry the learnings of our past with our thirst for innovation. Here's to the next 222 years.

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