Historically trail blazers in the electronics industry, Galashiels’ pioneers led the way as the Borders found itself at the heart of a fast-growing global trade.
According to ‘Galashiels – A Modern History’ (published by the Galashiels History Committee and Ettrick and Lauderdale District Council, 1983), entrepreneurial pair Robert ‘Bert’ Currie, a process engraver in the printing industry, and Ken Mill, an electronics engineer, joined forces in 1961 and started to manufacture Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs) in a small room above the-then British Linen Bank in the High Street of Galashiels.
In 1962 ‘Currie & Mill’ moved to Abbots Mill – formerly a prominent mill on the road to Netherdale – and, with borrowed capital of £500, established a new industry for the town of Galashiels.
While the industry was set up to enjoy success and longevity, the partnership between Bert Currie and Ken Mill reached its conclusion within two years.
“Contrasting business ideas deemed it necessary for the pioneering pair to go their separate ways,” writes Isabel Hogarth in ‘Galashiels – A Modern History’.
Currie bought out Mill, and Currie & Mill became known as Exacta Circuits Limited.
Exacta moved to Selkirk in 1971 to occupy the first British factory which has been custom designed for the specific manufacture of PCBs.**
Ken Mill started another printed circuit plant, BEPI (Electronics) Limited, which became one of the foremost UK PCB fabricators and ultimately commanded a leading role in a high technology market.
Like Exacta, BEPI also continued to expand and was subsequently bought by Pye, part of the Phillips Group.
By the mid-1980s, the establishment of electronics companies in Galashiels and across the Borders had injected a vital new factor into the regional economy.
Hogarth wrote: “Consider that these companies are receiving orders from such industries as telecommunications, defence and aerospace equipment, computers and business systems. There orders in turn are being despatched to such countries as France, Scandinavia, Spain, Italy, Australia and the USA. Indeed, the Borders region now seems to have proved itself to be at the heart of the electronics industry, pumping quality, technology and consignments along its arteries to the expanding multi-million-pound world markets.”
While the majority of Borders’ electronics enterprises can be directly traced back to the original Currie & Mill – the two pioneers in their one room in the High Street in Galashiels – today, such pioneers exist in new industries and sectors.
The Borders Railway has offered Galashiels an unprecedented opportunity to establish itself as a leading business destination and it has already transformed connectivity, gradually unlocking the town’s potential for growth.
Now, with the launch of artisan and innovative businesses including craft beer, medical research and renewable energy, coupled with ongoing investment and commitment to infrastructure, the town and its immediate surroundings can once again lead the way.