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Penicuik The Papermaking town?

A history of place and people Valleyfield Mill was the first mill built on the North Esk River, established by Agnes Campbell on land leased from Sir John Clerk, who was keen to promote indigenous industry. She was given the right to build a paper mill and extract water from St Mungo’s Well. Despite having poor roads, Penicuik offered water power, clean spring water for making pulp, large flat sites, and a proximity to Edinburgh with an abundant supply of rags and important global trade network from Leith port. Penicuik’s paper making industry thrived in the Scottish Enlightenment when Scots were among the most literate in Europe, leading to high demand for books, newspapers and other literary articles which were exported worldwide. The railway line connecting Penicuik to Edinburgh closed for goods traffic in 1967, following a post-war decline in the papermaking industry. Most of the mills closed in 1975. Edinburgh became the centre for work, turning Penicuik into a dormitory town for commuters.

Postcard When visiting Penicuik for the first time, a postcard was created to record initial observations about what gave the town its unique character and sense of place.

Importance of the pend Can pedestrian movement be controlled to reactivate the historic centre? Is there an opportunity for new routes?

Analysis of place Now a dormitory town taken over by cars and convenience, the High Street is Penicuik’s busiest thoroughfare with a constant flow of traffic and is filled with parked cars. This has influenced the rapid growth North from the historic centre towards Edinburgh, not responding to the character of the town, with a housing boom that saw the population rise to the current 17,000. The high street’s importance has deteriorated within the community, with many sites left vacant Penicuik has experienced a loss of identity creating weakened relationships between important buildings and any significant features in the historic centre. Little remains of Penicuik’s paper making heritage. Since the decline of the mills most former sites have been redeveloped for housing and significantly altered the townscape. Here arises the need to reverse the decline of such a unique Scottish town by reinvigorating Penicuik’s litarary identity and vibrant community in order to regenerate the historic core.

1798 Town morphology, showing how Penicuik developed north of the Historic Core, towards Edinburgh, over time.


Reactivating the fractured centre The high street dissects Penicuik’s historic core, carving its way from north-east to south-west and dividing it into two separate realms, each with its own set of unique urban blocks. Public spaces are poorly arranged with cars dominanting the road, making pedestrian movement between the two sides overly complex, whilst the deterioration of local shops means that there is now less of a reason for people to stop. The insertion of a new public building in this particular context would require careful placement in order to make a meaningful contribution to Penicuik, contributing to the re-birth of its struggling historic core. This process begins with a search for redundant sites within the existing infrastructure in which to carefully stitch a new public building.

The gateway

St Mungo’s Church

Town Hall

Royal Hotel

High Street Square

Historic focal point, closing the view at the end of the spacious High Street.

A significant public venue, originally the Cowan Institute.Historically it has been the centre of community life, used for gatherings and community events events. It now serves as the town council’s headquarters

As well as historically being a fire station, coach terminus and venue for dances and functions, it served as Penicuik’s first Post Office, a noteworthy literary association for Penicuik..

Penicuik has one of the most open and spacious town centres in Scotland, allowing more than enough room for commuters to pass through. Historically the square has been used for community events such as the Hunter and Lass.

Water from the well was used to soak rags for pulp to be used in the Valleyfield Mill. It is now inaccessible in the Manse garden, however water can be heard running within a small square opening and travels into a cistern in a ruin by the Valleyfield House.

Built with money left by Alexander Cowan in his will, 5,000 books were purchased for the community. .

st Mungo’s Well.. places of importance

Located at the ‘gateway’ into the town, it has offered refreshments to locals and travellers alike for over two centuries.

The well was given to the town by the Cowan family, providing the town with an adequate supply of pure drinking water.

John Street

Valleyfield House

Prisoners of War Monument

Bank Mill

John Street was pedestrianised in the early 1880’s, with most shops situated here, away from the high street.

Originally in the Cowan family from 1779, coinciding with the Valleyfield Mill. In the early 1950s it was converted to paper mill laboratories.

Memorial erected in 1830 by Alexander Cowan, to the 309 French prisoners of the Napoleonic wars who died while being held in the Mills between 1811 and 1814.

As the last remaining of 7 mills in Penicuik, the Bank Mill remains a significant part of Penicuik’s papermaking past, which should not be forgotten.

The Land adjacent was making so much capital that Midlothian Council allowed it to be taken away from the conservation area, allowing changes to be made which have proved detrimental to the high street.

Pottery workshops have taken place here for over 25 years as well as a weekend organic and fair trade market run by volunteers - a revival of the Cowan’s tradition and with respect to the old co-op.

The memorial has since been renovated and made a focal point in the housing estate built on the site of the former Valleyfield Mill and nearby railway station.

The proposed ‘museum of paper making’ aims to restore Penicuik’s Paper-making heritage, generate hydro-electricity and provide new employment for the town.

Traffic management

Shared surfaces

The gateway into the historic town centre will be reinforced by urban compression, creating a meaningful threshold as commuters enter Penicuik’s conservation area.

The High Street currently offers poorly allocated spaces centred around cars. The introduction of shared surfaces will strengthen the connection between John Street and the historic centre,

John Street will be depedestrianised to allow one-way traffic to flow out of the historic centre, reinvigorating the shops along the current presinct as passing vehicles can quickly stop by.

Since pedestrians and traffic will coexist naturally, traffic will slow down without the need for speed humps or other unneccessary methods. This was historically the case along the High Street until the public space gave way to the dominance of cars.

Book Factory.. interim proposal

Reclaim public areas

Book market

Currently a place where cars park, the open space in front of St Mungos Church could contribute much more positively to the urban scene.

Traditionally the square in front of a Town Hall has always been an central gathering space for the public. Regular stalls will be established as an extension of the internal book store on weekends in order to draw people into the new facility.

At such a prominent position on the High Street, a public square would create a dialogue with the coach terminus and John Street while engaging the Church and Town Hall with the town centre.

This would encourage shops and cafĂŠs along the High Street and John Street to spill out and engage with existing public space. A Saturday morning organic & fair trade market already thrives at Valleyfield House, so this will be welcomed by the community; salvaging the memory of the old high street co-op.

Forum of local activity


An internal public courtyard intertwining with intimate spaces partly comprising a library and book store, strongly relating to the High Street and encouraging community involvement in workshops and exhibitions which will strengthen people’s awareness of Penicuik’s paper making and literary heritage.

A relaxed secondary public space accessed from the internal courtyard which is visible from the High Street, creating an evocative spatial connection between the Town Hall and Book Factory whilst having a relationship with the various eateries along the High Street.

Storytelling Garden

Heritage Walk

An intimate space stepped down from the back of the internal courtyard, the community can engage in group readings, relating to St Mungo’s Well and the site of the former Valleyfield Mill.

This would create public interest in Penicuik’s history and the proposed ‘museum of papermaking’ at Bank Mill. It could be linked with literary festivals & events, raising awareness of the Wild Hawthorn Press whilst bringing visitors into Penicuik from Edinburgh and the surrounding towns.

The Wild Hawthorne Press could use this external space to reference Little Sparta and the work of Ian Hamilton Finlay, bringing a unique twist on Penicuiks own literary heritage.

Dealing with the front elevation

Formal and informal routes

Hierarchy of spaces

Stepping down with the topography

Book Factory.. development

Interconnected Spaces

Rationalising the route.. a new pend

Pedestrian and vehicle movement

Arranging spaces

I felt that my interim approach was still at a diagramatic level, with both the overall town strategy and building not yet resolved. One of the main problem areas was the front sandstone wall which failed to engage with the street and create a public entrance, leading people into the book factory and through to the storytelling garden. Another problem was that the gateway into the town was yet to be fully addressed, as traffic entering the ‘gateway’ into the town would still be passing a huge commercial car park. These issues would need to be addressed in further work.

Book Factory.. post review reflection

Facade is an important consideration in my scheme, being a crucial component in allowing the building to morph and adapt to suit different needs, engaging with public space at the town’s ‘gateway’. The Wyckoff Exchange is a retail store in New York in which a new facade unifies two abandoned warehouses, constructed from two layers of steel, a corten outer and a reflective stainless steel inner. Consealed LEDs illuminate the facade from within, with ‘sporadically’ arranged perforations creating a dynamic visual. There are five retail bays in total, for each the corresponding section of facade becomes a gate, transforming into an awning during opening hours, and clamping down like security shutters at night.

Precedent.. wyckoff exchange - andre kikoski

In order to clarify the front facade of the book factory, I needed to think about what it was trying to achieve. By utilising a louvred facade, the building can be used in a variety of circumstances, able to completely open to the High Street or shut off if necessary. Compared to the previous fixed sandstone wall, this engages the building with the High Street successfully. At night the closed facade is lit up along with the wall opposite, honoring the memory of the of the former stable walls while strengthening the gateway into the High Street. The use of corten steel is inspired by Penicuik’s industrial past, while attempting to engage with the sandstone walls of adjacent listed buildings in the conservation area in a contemporary manner. By further rationalising the route through the building along a wall of books, it becomes both the circulation spine and library, spilling out into staggered levels along its length. The route becomes an internal street of activity, similar to the pends found around the urban blocks of the High Street, while creating a relationship with civic activity in the Town Hall. As with the current High Street Pend, a view is created to Uttershill Castle.

Book Factory.. final review

Book Factory  

Town study

Book Factory  

Town study