Home to one of the oldest textiles teaching schools in the world, Galashiels has a rich heritage in the textile industry.
Heriot-Watt School of Textiles & Design – formerly the Scottish College of Textiles – has a long and distinguished history. While its establishment was based on the need to provide specialist education to meet the requirements of the textile industry and businesses during the 19th and 20th centuries, it has since become a centre of excellence with a reputation for innovative education, enterprise, research and leading-edge design.
Classes in technical subjects were first introduced to the Borders by the Mechanics Institute in 1867, but with limited success. Over the years, successive attempts were made – primarily by the Galashiels Manufacturers Corporation – to increase the number and quality of these classes and eventually, in 1883, classes in weaving, dyeing and chemistry were introduced under the direction of Thomas Welsh.
Known as the Galashiels Combined Technical School from 1889, the governing body consisted of representatives from the Galashiels Burgh School Board, Engineering and Building Trades and the Galashiels Manufacturing Corporation.
In 1898, Thomas Oliver – a teacher and writer with published works on wool as well as religion – was employed to take charge of the technical classes. They were initially held within the Galashiels Public Hall, but due to high class numbers were transferred to Roxburgh Street School (1894) and subsequently the Burns Hall in Overhaugh Street (1902).
With a continued increase in numbers, the Burns Hall premises soon became too small and following significant investment, a purpose-built technical college was built on the site of Victoria Mill (which had been destroyed by fire in 1905) in Market Street, Galashiels. It opened as the South of Scotland Central Technical College in September 1909.
The College students enjoyed great success, and in the years that followed, obtained numerous City and Guilds medals and deserved recognition. In fact, in August 1920 – as noted in ‘Galashiels – A Modern History’ (published by the Galashiels History Committee and Ettrick and Lauderdale District Council, 1983) – the College topped the list of City and Guilds medal winners from across the UK.
In 1922, the South of Scotland Technical College became the Scottish Woollen Technical College. According to the Heriot-Watt website: “A unique development was the opening of the Production Unit, a self-contained woollen mill housed in one of the two Netherdale mills, installed with a wide range of machinery suitable for the training of cloth darners and menders, weavers and a whole range of other skilled workers.”
The Netherdale campus, which had housed the College premises since 1965, was changing at pace and to accommodate students from across Scotland and further afield, a students’ Hall of Residence opened in 1968. The same year, to reflect its wider function, it became known as the Scottish College of Textiles.
In 1998, the merger of the Scottish College of Textiles with Heriot Watt University heralded a new beginning for this centre of excellence. It changed its name to the Heriot-Watt School of Textiles & Design in 2002, setting the scene for its dynamic role within education and research in the 21st century.
Today, reflecting its heritage and future-focus, its campus buildings are both historic and state-of-the-art, with the beautiful High Mill, Netherdale – which was at one point was occupied by Bernat Klein – providing an iconic centrepiece.
Offering the best design and production facilities for textiles and fashion in the UK, a unique point of difference in its offer, its honorary graduates include Jasper Conran, Bruce Oldfield, Mary Portas and Dame Vivienne Westwood.
From its complex evolution to its current profile, the Heriot-Watt School of Textiles & Design has continued to deliver a high calibre of award-winning students and now, more than ever before provides a unique and inspiring learning and teaching environment leading to exciting opportunities in the increasingly high-tech global textile and fashion industries.