There has been a knitwear business on this site on the banks of the rivers Irvine and Burnawn in Galston since at least 1895. Details of its beginnings are not clear but what is certain is that it will have been set up to take advantage of the favourable environment, plentiful supply of soft water, and the local availability of labour by women whose husbands worked in Ayrshire’s coalmines.
The known history can be traced back to 1911, to William Sharp who was the founder of the business. He took over the site and together with the financial support of 5 Glasgow lawyers and wholesalers set up a company called William Sharp (Galston) Ltd. The company with its 50 or so staff knitted spun woollen yarn into coarse gauge ‘wheeling pants’, which were traditional men’s undergarments and socks.
In the 1930′s, as the methods of heating improved, fashions changed and the demand decreased for the very heavy knitted garments that William Sharp produced. The items manufactured in the factory changed accordingly and concentrated on knitted suits and dresses, made from 100% wool, produced on 60 ‘handflat machines’.
War Time and Post War
During the Second World War, the factory was virtually closed for the concentration of industry. A skeleton staff was kept on to maintain the factory and the rest of the staff and machines were transferred to Irvine to the Strathclyde Knitwear factory.
After the War, the factory re-opened with a utility staff of 6. The government controlled the quantity of garments that were produced and specified the yarn, knit and prices. Times were hard! This was compounded by the fact that there was full employment so there was a serious shortage of skilled labour.
From the late 1940’s onwards the factory production range expanded to include ladies twin sets and cardigans, as well as continuing to make specially ordered knitted suits. With electricity becoming the main source of power, the factory produced its own electricity from a gas engine. This enabled the use of powered knitting machines, the power being fed to the machines by means of overhead shafts.
Gents knitwear was introduced in the 1960’s, consisting of cardigans, traditional jumpers, slipovers and sleeveless cardigans. These were made in ribbed style using a range of yarns. Scarves, bonnets, and children’s garments were also made.
In 1991 the Registered Name of the business was changed from William Sharp (Galston) Ltd to Balmoral Knitwear (Scotland) Ltd. This was done to give the business a more modern feel and better reflect the changing nature of its business.
The Present Day
Whereas much of Britain and Scotland’s knitwear industry has closed down over the last few decades as cheap competition increased from the Far East, Balmoral Knitwear has adapted to new markets and continued to invest in new knitting machinery and equipment, including advanced computer-controlled knitting machines and design packages.
The company has developed into one of the foremost UK knitwear manufacturers (with off-shore manufacturing options) in a range of markets – such as Corporate Uniform, Schoolwear, Sports and Teamwear as well as Retail and Promotional brands.
More development is underway into new markets and new technologies to suit changing trading conditions in Britain and the rest of the world.
This includes developments in design for retail brands and investigations into new yarns. Click the Subscribe button to follow the blog on this website and you will keep up-to-date with all the news from Balmoral Knitwear in the future.