The twist mill imported raw cotton in bales and converted it into thread, sometimes known as cotton twist. Obscene profits allowed for the swift construction of a “Jeanie house”, where the thread was woven into cloth, and other ancillary buildings. The fortunes of Catrine over the centuries were determined by world events far away from the village. The balance was tipped by a sequence of wars and economic ups and downs: In 1793 war broke out with France; cotton supplies dried up; the Royal Bank of Scotland nearly collapsed due to unwise investments; business generally was in decline and so began a series of enforced shutdowns of the mill, decimating profits in the process. In 1801 the entire Cotton Works (and hence most of the village too as it was part of the works) were sold to James Finlay & Co. This company had sufficient capital to invest in Catrine at a time when its competitors were struggling to stave off bankruptcy and this technique served Finlay well over the years.
In 1806 Catrine was the first cotton works in Scotland to install power looms. In 1816 a gas works began to operate. Catrine had street lighting, two years before London. In 1823 the bleaching works was built. In 1828 Catrine was completely modernised when the engineer William Fairbairn remodelled the water system. The highlight of this was the installation of the giant wheels (the “Lions of Catrine”), two fifty foot diameter suspension water wheels, which powered the entire works, and which at the time were the largest water wheels in Britain.
Despite all these wonders, there could still be “trouble at mill”. With a dip in the economy in 1834 and 1835, there was sufficient unrest at Catrine that at one point, the militia had to stand off nearby. By 1844, management of the works had been allowed to drift sufficiently that the now loss-making works were put up for sale. It was not a tempting prospect and there were no takers. Meantime, Finlay was diversifying into other business interests, most particularly in tea estates in India and elsewhere. Profits from these enabled a programme of reinvestment at Catrine, which enabled it to prosper until the outbreak of the Second World War. As the mill plodded on, so too did the village, and Victorian Catrine grew up on the south bank of the Ayr. Banks, churches and hotels opened (some later closed). In 1903 the railway belatedly arrived in Catrine, only to close to passengers in 1943. After World War II, Finlay, brimming with confidence, built the New Mill at Catrine.
New streets were built in the housing scheme up on the hillside to attract workers, although a writer at the time fretted about it being so far for the housewives to walk to the shops (about 4 minutes) that there was a danger of the place becoming a town of two Catrines. The famous giant wheels were unnecessarily reduced to scrap metal and firewood so that a new hydro-electric scheme could be built on the site but then the hydro site was relocated to (what is now) the car park for the whisky bond. After years of rationing, the British public would buy anything, but when rationing ceased and choice increased, Finlay’s goods looked old-fashioned and expensive next to cheaper imports. Trade declined and by 1968 the New Mill had also closed.
The Old Mill itself had been demolished in the early 1960s and the New Mill building soon followed it to the land of memory. To make things worse, Ayrshire’s deep coal mining industry was also collapsing and the removal of these two largest employers in East Ayrshire, textiles and coal, began a generation of decline, deprivation and despair. It is only in recent years as the housing market in Glasgow has overheated and new roads have made the area accessible, that forlorn and empty properties are being redeveloped and new housing is once again being built.