Industrial Devon

‌The project is an innovative public engagement initiative by the Centre for Environmental History and Policy (CEHP) in collaboration with the Ochils Landscape Partnership (OLP), the Stirling University Art Collection, primary schools within the OLP’s area, and post-graduate and undergraduate student volunteers from across a variety of academic disciplines. The project was funded by the Strathmartine Trust.

‌‌‌The key aims of the project are:

  • To strengthen links with the wider community outwith the University and demonstrate innovative teaching and research practice at the University
  • To contribute to primary schools’ programme of learning in terms of the curriculum for excellence (see Teaching Materials)
  • To provide a platform for the development of wider understanding of the principles of sustainability and resilience
  • To facilitate both community engagement with the local environment and its industrial heritage and a deeper understanding of the forces that shaped the spaces, in which we all live, work and play
  • To enhance University student employability by providing opportunities for community heritage engagement and liaison with outside agencies
  • To promote both the growth of the sub-discipline of environmental history and the benefits of interdisciplinary collaboration

The project explores the industrial history of the river Devon corridor in Clackmannanshire. Although the river and its tributaries played an important role both in the industrial development of the county and in shaping the communities along its route, its industrial, environmental and cultural history is often overlooked.

Key objectives:‌

  • To promote understanding of, and also to celebrate, the river’s rich and important industrial heritage
  • To provide a lasting and tangible link between the individual schools through the physical landscape of the Devon corridor
  • To complement the Ochils Landscape Partnership programme project, By the Banks of the Devon, which emphases the quality of habitat and recreational appeal of the river and its tributaries, and in particular the creation of a way-marked footpath through the valley.

Through a series of interlinked classroom and field based sessions facilitated by CEHP staff and University student volunteers,  pupils from six Hillfoots primary schools, including Alva, Menstrie, Tillicoultry, Coalsnaughton, Strathdevon and Muckhart pieced together the industrial history and examined the associated environmental and industrial landscape legacies of a section of the river Devon closest to their school premises. 

The pupils explored the history of their area’s industry by using primary source materials, such the Statistical Accounts, images, artefacts and mapping.  By comparing historic with contemporary materials, this first session provided the pupils with a tangible connection to their local heritage and the role of history in shaping their current environment and community identity. Alva was no longer ‘just Alva’ but the place where Britain’s largest find of native silver was discovered and Coalsnaughton village really was built on coal both geologically and economically. 

This was followed by an exploration of the physical landscape to identify any remaining industrial archaeology or ‘visible’ clues to the past and sampling of soil and water to assess the environmental impacts, the ‘invisible clues, of their local industry. As part of understanding the industrial legacy, Mimulus seeds were also planted in the soil materials removed from the post industrial sites to facilitate discussion on both the nutrient quality of the soil and the impact of pollution on plant growth. 

The findings from the field and lab analyses provide interesting indicative indicators of past industrial activity at all sites and served as an excellent point of departure for discussion in the field and in the classroom of industrial society and environment interfaces.  This discussion included notions of pollution and environmental protection, uniqueness and identity, and landscape change. It also allowed the introduction to aspects of the geo-sciences, including geological and historical timescales, field recording and sampling, the periodic table and x-ray based analyses of industrial soils.

The class based and field sessions were brought together in the production of a team poster and ‘subsequent’ creative writing/drawing exercises that both charted the pupil’s discoveries as landscape detectives and explored perceptions of what life or work in the historic industry might have been like as well as their views of the post-industrial landscape. The pupil’s creative and written work was exhibited as part of the Ochils Festival and curated by the University Art Collection from June to September 2014.

Represented here/below is a selection of photographs of the exhibition launch, the exhibition and the pupil’s poems and posters (including a selection of invitations specially designed by the pupils of Tillicoultry Primary School. 

Exhibition and Launch


Examples of the Exhibition Launch Invites


 The Six School Posters

Muckhart Primary School

Explored the history of milling and lime burning at Muckhart Mill on the banks of the Devon and followed the historic route down to the site from their school exploring the visible clues in the landscape on the way.

The children discovered lots of invisible calcium which was expected but also zinc in their samples which suggests that the limestone burnt in the kiln was not local.

Image credits: ‘Mill Gearing’, Julian Bell

Strathdevon Primary School, Dollar

Explored the environmental and social history of the linen bleaching industry at Dollarfield and its relationship to the river Devon

The children discovered chlorine in their soil sampling most likely associated with the bleaching process.

Image credits: ‘River Devon above Dollarfield with Bleach works’ and ‘Workers Dollarfield Bleach works’, Dollar Museum

Coalsnaughton Primary School

Explored the history of Drummie Mine (Tillicoultry 1 & 2) and the environmental legacies of waste, dereliction and acid mine drainage.

The children found high levels of calcium leached from the bedrock in their water sampling, which neutralised the drainage (Ph 6.5) from the mine before it drained into the Devon.  Nature repairing itself!

Tillicoultry Primary School

Explored the historic growth of the settlement and its relationship to the textile industry with a particular focus on the environmental impacts of dying cloth.

The children found chromium in their soil sampling, at Glenfoot on the banks of Mill burn at the confluence with the Devon, which may be either naturally occurring from the bedrock or washed downstream as a result of the dyeing process. Chromium is used as a mordant to fix the colour to the cloth.

Alva Primary School

Explored the history of metal mining in Silver Glen; who the owner and miners were, how long the mine lasted for, where the silver went, how water was used at the site and the problems of mining waste.

The children examined the area close to the old mine spoil heaps at Burnside at the foot of the glen and found traces of silver in their soil samples.

Menstrie Primary School

Explored the history of Doll’s distillery with a specific focus on the historic water supply, transport and disposal of waste, particularly draff, pot ale and spent lees that were potentially contaminated with copper from the still.

The children identified copper in several of their soil samples suggesting that the waste may have been either fed to livestock or spread on the surrounding land as fertiliser.

 Some examples of the poems



The Curriculum for Excellence serves as the basis for the project’s pedagogical design and follows the principles for curriculum design outlined therein.  The project provides a coherent and relevant experience through the examination of the impact of local industry from many points of view:  social, economic, and environmental.  The project also provides pupils with a depth of knowledge of the history of a single industry while simultaneously allowing for breadth by including scientific analysis of the impact of this history on the local environment.  The progression of the project builds on elements of their communities with which the students are already familiar and moves on to explore the origins and impacts of these elements using methods of research that allow for challenge and enjoyment.  The multiple learning styles addressed by the project provide opportunities for personalisation and choice, ensuring that individual learning needs are met without sacrificing high aspirations for all pupils.  

In meeting the key objectives laid out by the project, pupils develop the four capabilities stipulated in the Curriculum for Excellence:  successful learners, confident individuals, responsible citizens and effective contributors.  Pupils who participate in the project use literacy skills to gather evidence from primary sources, work in groups to take soil samples and to synthesize their learning in the final poster project, make reasoned evaluations concerning the environmental impact of their town’s industry, and link history and science to learn in a new way.  The project gives pupils the opportunity to develop and communicate their own beliefs concerning the industrial heritage of the River Devon in the final creative writing project, and to evaluate the environmental issues that continue to impact the region.  Finally, because of its explicitly community-based focus, the project naturally requires pupils to participate responsibly in their community, resulting in a deeper understanding of its historical and environmental legacy. 

Below are some examples of the material used across the three sessions (Please feel free to adapt or copy if you wish to use them, alternatively we are happy to supply originals but please share you project ideas with the team. We would love to hear about how they are being used – link to contacts here


Maps and questionnaires

Using a series of modern and historic maps together with a series of questions the children working in small groups were able to explore the changes in the landscape across time.

Mystery picture exercise

In order to give students the experience of ‘thinking like historians’, they were provided the mystery images depicted below and were encouraged to make a hypothesis about what they saw based on evidence from the image.

Field work

The children used geological and soil maps together with rock samples to understand how the ground beneath their feet was formed, what it is made of and how this related to both the historic location of their village and its associated industry.  Working in their small groups the children sampled the soil using a hand held auger, described its colour, texture and structure at regular intervals along a single transect. They then recorded this information along with the depth of sample and its OS grid reference using a hand held GPS ready for analysis in the laboratory.

Understanding the Soil/Water Analysis

It was explained to the children how the samples were analysed (X-ray Fluorescence spectrometry or XRF for short using diagrammatic imagery such as depicted below). Then working in their small groups the children were provided with a graph of their results and using a periodic table they identified the elements present in their soil/water samples and then compared their results to background concentrations using data from Scotland’s Soils web site

Creative writing

Along with their posters, students completed an individual creative writing assignment that was a synthesis of what they had learned during the previous two sessions.  The template below was intended to guide their thinking prior to writing so they would have a mix of ‘fact’ and ‘fiction’ to incorporate into a story.

Dr. Catherine Mills, University of Stirling, Division of History and Politics (Project lead)

Professor Ian Simpson, University of Stirling, Biological and Environmental Sciences (Field-work Lead)

Jennifer Geller, University of Stirling, Division of History and Politics (Project support)

Student volunteers

The team of undergraduate and postgraduate volunteers were drawn from across the academic disciplines primarily history, and both environmental geography and science.

Euan Burt (Environmental Science); Alison Chidwick (Environmental Geography); Lauren Dixon (Environmental Science and Politics); Katy Jack (History PhD); Christopher McKay, (MSc in Environment, Heritage and Policy);  Eilidh MacRaild (Environmental Geography); James McKean (MSc in Environment, Heritage and Policy) and Heather Wilkinson (History)

Volunteering on the project offered Stirling University students the opportunity to enhance their employability and transferable skills.

  • Through liaison with outside agencies including local schools
  • by promoting community engagement with the local environment and its industrial heritage
  • ‘hands on’ exploration of ways in which a lasting and tangible link between community, heritage and education can be achieved and replicated

Participation in the project also offered, particularly the undergraduate students,  early experience of ‘real world’ archival research and environmental investigation in preparation of their dissertation but importantly to play a unique role in its dissemination.


Special thanks go to:

  • The landowners for allowing the children to sample the soil/water: R Marshall; Sterling Mills; Dollarfield Caravan Park; E Geddes (Straith Estates); Julian Bell; Diageo (Mr. Ally Paul)
  • Bill Jamieson (mapping); Ronnie Balfour (Equipment); Dr. Claire Wilson (Tillicoultry field work); Dr. Paul Adderley (analysis and charts); Dr. Shane MacLeod (field work support); Helen Ewen (water analysis); Janet Carolan at Dollar Museum; Alloa Archives and Library; Dr. Kirsty McAllister (OLP) and  Amanda Joaquin (Clackmannanshire Council Volunteer officer)

The Strathmartine Trust for generously funding the project

© University of Stirling FK9 4LA Scotland UK • Telephone +44 1786 473171 • Scottish Charity No SC011159
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