PART III: 1950 - 1990

Purchase-tax and devaluation had been imposed as part of the fiscal policies for dealing with the 'balance of payments' problem. The United Kingdom had realised most of its investments abroad in order to sustain the war effort and in 1950 the earnings from these various overseas enterprises were no longer available to offset the cost of imported food, raw materials and semi-manufactures that were needed for industry and which were now rising in cost more than twice as quickly as the value of our exports. This became a continuous problem which bedevilled the post-war economic life of the United Kingdom and proved to be a 'brake' on industry and commerce as a range of 'stop-go' fiscal controls had to be applied.2

The rapid rise in the price of wool was a serious set-back as wool was about 42 per cent of the value of the finished product and was a high proportion of financing the operation of a mill. In July 1950 Henry Ballantyne gave an example of the fluctuating prices of New Zealand wool: it had been 7s 8d (just over 38p) per pound weight and then rapidly increased by 143 per cent to 18s 8d (just over 93p) per pound, eventually dropping back to 8s 4d (just over 41½p). He made the point at this time 'that it was finance and not orders' that was the main worry.

The number employed in the textile industry in the Borders in 1951 was 11,520, comprising 5,660 men and 5,860 women; by 1961 this had risen to 12,720, with an increase of 180 men compared with 1,020 additional women in the workforce. In 1971 the figure had dropped to 10,670 (a decline of 16 per cent when compared with the 1961 total) and the reduced workforce had virtually the same number of women employed as men (5,370 men, 5,300 women).3

The Peebles woollen-mills had a tendency towards an ageing workforce, as the men and women had been either with Thorburns or Ballantynes over many years. The years of the Great Depression had left their mark and, although the mills had picked up in the years running up to the Second World War, the recruitment of younger men and women had become increasingly difficult because the war had changed social values and heightened ambitions for new career and work opportunities. Damdale Mill had taken the initiative in 1945 to establish a hostel at 'The Mount', a large residential house on the south side of the River Tweed, to accommodate about twenty-four women workers who came from Castle Douglas and Kirkcaldy. Workers also travelled from Innerleithen and Walkerburn; in the 1950s they poured into Peebles by the early morning train and in the 1960s they came by special coaches.