Weaving and the Textile Industry
If it wasna for the weavers, what would ye do?In the middle of the 19th century, the predominant manufactures in Scotland were textiles: cotton, wool, flax (linen) and silk. Scotland's principal imports at that time were raw materials for the cotton and linen mills. In 1838, well over 100,000 people were employed in the textile industry. Factory employment rose from about 60,000 in 1838 to nearly 80,000 by 1856; seventy per cent of these employees were female. In this period, while the cotton industry remained almost static, employing about 35,000 factory workers, the woollen industry doubled in size from 5,100 workers, in 112 factories, in 1838 to 10,200 workers, in 204 factories, in 1856.
Linen had been a major industry in Scotland for hundreds of years; by 1684 an estimated 12,000 people were employed its manufacture. The industry was stimulated by an act of Parliament of 1686 stipulating that everyone had to be buried in linen winding sheets made from materials which had been grown, spun and woven in Scotland. Further stimulus came from the act of 1748 prohibiting the importing or wearing of French cambrics, "under severe penalties"; and that of 1751 which allowed weavers to work in all parts of Scotland "free of all corporation dues, conjoined with a bounty of 1 1/2 d. [0.6 pence] per yard on all linens exported at and under 18d [7.5 pence] per yard." Linen had by this time become Scotland's most important export. Although superseded by the cotton industry, in 1838, there were still 17,900 linen factory workers, which had grown to 31,700 by 1856 . There appears to have been substantial consolidation in the industry then however, for the number of factories decreased between 1838 and 1856 from 183 to 163 presumably as a scale effect of the economics of increased mechanisation.
Before the American War of Independence, the tobacco trade had been a major source of wealth in Scotland (contributing largely to Glasgow's growth). Subsequently the Americans could sell freely anywhere, resulting in a substantial decrease in Scotland's trade. This resulted in investment being diverted into cotton, and this industry dominated Scotland's economy for the next hundred years. But the influence of America on Scotland was felt again in the 1860s, when the Civil War cut off supplies of raw cotton and Scotland's cotton industry collapsed. This began Scotland's shift from textiles to heavy industry.
The factory-based textile industries were concentrated into different areas. The cotton industry was based mainly in Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire; from the 1851 census, over 37,000 people in Glasgow were involved directly or indirectly in cotton manufacturing, out of a population of 360,000; a weavers' village was founded in 1705 in the Calton area in the east of Glasgow. Glasgow weavers were involved in several serious industrial and political disputes in the 18th and 19th centuries.
The woollen industry developed mainly in Roxburghshire and Selkirkshire but with significant activity in Perthshire and Stirlingshire; until the late 20th century the Border towns of Galashiels, Hawick, Jedburgh and Selkirk were largely dependent on their woollen mills.
The linen industry was based mainly in Fife and Forfarshire, Dundee becoming its centre, with nearly 50,000 people being employed by 1861 in the city and its surroundings, in mills at at hand-looms. Other areas with significant linen manufacturing were Kincardineshire, Perthshire, and Midlothian.
The silk industry was quite small employing under a thousand people, mainly in Paisley. Paisley's main textile businesses by the middle of the 19th century were the production of its famous shawls and of cotton thread.
In 1838, an estimated 85,000 hand-looms were in use in Scotland: about 50,000 for cottons, in Lanarkshire and Renfrewshire, and about 26,000 for linens, mainly in Fife and Forfarshire. Dunfermline was the centre of "harness" work, such as damask table cloths, napkins, with about 3,000 looms. "Ordinary" linen work - sheets and coarse linens ("dowlas and "osnaburghs") was the staple manufacture, located mainly in Forfarshire (around Dundee). This work employed from 17,000 weavers in summer, to 22,000 or 23,000 in winter, nearly all in small detached buildings adjacent the weavers' cottages. The weaving of tartans - employing about 2,500 looms - was concentrated mainly at Stirling and Aberdeen, was done in the weavers' cottages. But Glasgow had been renowned for its plaids in the early 18th century.
An important act of Parliament of 1833 regulated labour in factories and enforcing care for the education of child-workers. A report in 1853 records that the owners of factories in Scotland "so far from considering their schools a trouble, take the greatest pleasure and pride in showing them; for while they profit by the labours of the children, they do not forget that they have a duty to perform in return, not by carrying out the requirements of the act as if it were intended to be a mere matter of form, but by appointing efficient teachers, furnishing them with the means of imparting the instruction so necessary to the welfare of the children in after-life, and by taking care that it is done." In the larger factories, the adult workers could also participate in the schools.
One might be tempted to cynicism by such a glowing report, and question how many factory owners actually were so caring about their employees. But as early as 1784, David Dale established the New Lanark manufacturing village just outside Lanark, whose inhabitants nearly all worked in the cotton spinning factories there. Dale was deeply concerned about the welfare of his workers and provided a school as well as accommodation.
The table below shows how the numbers of children employed in Scottish textile factories decreased from the 1830s on. But there were still significant numbers of under-13s employed in the second half of the century.
In 1787, the Clyde Weavers' Association went on strike in Glasgow when the mill-owners proposed to cut workers' wages. Hitherto strikes had been resolved peaceably, but in this case the army was called in and six weavers were killed. The leader, James Granger, was sentenced to be flogged. Apparently after this event many of the weavers enlisted in the regiment (the 39th) which had been called in.
In 1819-1820, during a period of great radical activity, several Glasgow workmen fled to America to avoid prosecution. One group of weavers marched from Strathaven to Glasgow, with the claimed intention of capturing the city; their leader, James Wilson, was hanged and beheaded.
New Lanark was established by David Dale (1739-1806), who had served an apprenticeship as a weaver in Paisley, then travelled round Scotland as an agent buying home-spun linen. He set up his own business in Glasgow in 1763, importing linen yarn from Holland and Flanders. A devout Christian and lay preacher, when he set up the New Lanark mills in the 1780s, the welfare of his workers was a major concern; New Lanark was a complete village, with accomodation and a school. The site was a dell on the bank of the River Clyde, surrounded by steep and beautifully wooded hills.
From 1791, he became concerned with the plight of impoverished Highlanders who were considering emigrating; he set up spinning mills in Sutherland - at "Spinningdale", burnt down in 1809 - and at Oban; he gave jobs and housing to a group of destitute Highlanders from an emigrant ship wrecked off the west coast. He also gave employment, schooling and accommodation at New Lanark to hundreds of pauper children from Edinburgh and Glasgow.
In 1799 Dale sold New Lanark to another cotton mill manager - his son-in-law, Robert Owen, the famous Welsh social and educational reformer. Owen established a model community at New Lanark, with improved housing and working conditions. He built an Institute for the Formation of Character; the school now included the world's first day-nursery, and had evening classes for the adults. The village store was the forerunner of the cooperative movement in Britain. Owen founded several other "Owenite" communities, including one at New Harmony, Indiana (1825-28), but all failed. He sold all his shares in New Lanark in 1828.
New Lanark in the 1860s had a population of about 1,400, with about 280 houses. It is now a World Heritage Village.
Source: The Imperial Gazetteer of Scotland, Fullerton & Co, c.1865
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