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The History of Old Dundee
Woolselling and Clothmaking


Hector Boece, in his Chronicles of Scotland, written in Latin, early in the sixteenth century, and translated shortly afterwards into the vernacular tongue by John Bollenden, describes Dundee as "ye toun quhair we wer born, quhair mony virtews and lauborius pepill ar in makying of claith." This occupation had before his time become a local industry of considerable importance. The material principally used was wool, although flax, grown in the country, and also imported from the "Easter Seas," was already employed in making those linens for which the town has since become famous. The home-grown lint was reckoned the more valuable; but it appears to have been scarce, and its use was restricted to serving for the wants and work of the household, when the daughters—the spinsters—applied their nimble fingers to the rock and spindle, the wheel not yet having come into use,

"And the goodwife's shuttle merrily
Went flashing through the loom;"

for we find that in 1582, the Council "ordanit that na persons presume to buy in the market ony hemmat lint mair nor will satisfie their awn use and labouring, under the pain of confiscation thereof." Wool, the great staple for cloth-making, was, however, plentiful, and was then produced in the neighbouring glens, of fine quality. Bocce says, "In the vale of Esk is sa quhit and small wool, that it lies na compair in Albion." There was no restriction to prevent the burgesses from buying it in quantity, but they had to be wary of the persons from landward that brought it into the burgh for sale, as they were given to sharp practices, and their dealings needed to he well looked after. It was found " that the common weill of the burgh is heavily hurt, and the inhabitants themselves gretlie defraudit, throw buying of wool Ira the awners thereof in mirkl houses or quiet lofts; for remeid of the quhilk, it was ordanit that na neighbour buy ony manner of wool upon ony day in the oulk except Wednesday and Saturday, and then publicly and openly in the Mercat Gait, under the pain of twenty shillings; and that na unfreernen awners of the wool, that uses to have the same in lofts and mirk houses, pretend to open their doors quhairin the wool remains but upon the twa mercat days, and then to the effect that it may be brocht furth openly to the mnercat place and gait to be sauld to the neighbours; and gif there remains ony unsauld, that they transport it again to their lofts until the next mercat day, and then sell it, and na otherways pre\a1ie, under the pain of confiscation of the wool." The system of making surreptitious market in dark places, was, however, persisted in, and "the act against buying and selling of wool in lofts, buiths, and houses, in defraud of the buyers," was repeatedly ordered to be publishit and put to execution in all points."

At a later time a special place was appointed for the wool market."It was concludit that it be keepit be-east the tolbuith stair upon the heieht of the calsay," ("the crown of the calsay," was used as a proverbial expression for a conspicuous place,) "and that na persons hald mercat under stairs." Orders were also given "that nane of the weigh-house wechts be lent to ony person furth of the said house,specially to wool sellers, quha are understood to be unprofitable persons, within this common weill; and that the wool in all time coming be only weighit at the weigh-house," where the standar(l weights were kept.

Notwithstanding these injunctions, "the neighbours and inhabitants yet sustenit grite skayth throw certain unfreemen keeping open buiths and lofts at all occasions, and selling wool in mirk houses with unknown wochts, to the grite defraud of the luir and simple [which is] forder liberty nor is grantit to free burgesses, although it is specially providit by diverse constitutions of the burgh that nane of the said persons sall be permittit to sell but in open mercat. And because it is likeways understood that this defraud cannot be weill remeidit without " the dealers be removed from "the buiths and lofts possessit be them within the bounds of St. Clement's Kirk—quhilk is tryit to be maist improper for that traffic—therefor it is ordiuiit that na persons presume efter this hour to set their lofts, buiths, and houses" to the wool-sellers, "under the pain of ten pounds; and that sic as presently possess the same, be rernovit therefra be the proprietors at the feast of Whitsunday next to come, under the said pain."

St. Clement's Church, although dismantled at the Reformation, remained for some time undestroyed, and it appears to have been used for various purposes—amongst others, as a temporary Grammar School. In the burgh rental roll of 1581, it is described as C George Lowell's," or Lovell's heirs land, some time callit Sanct Clement's Kirk." The erection of the tolbooth in 1562, upon the open ground between it and the Mercat Gait, had closed it in and darkened the front; and after the new school was built in 1589, it had probably been divided into lofts, and partly appropriated for the storage of wool. When time townhouse was extended backward, about ten years ago, portions of the old foundations were discovered, and these indicated that the Church had not been of any considerable size.

Some of the dealers afterwards returned to do business at the proscribed place. "Robert Nicolson and John Johneson were convict in the selling of their wool within lofts and mirk buiths, and were unlawed in five pounds each;" others, although they sold their goods in the proper way, did not accept of the just weight with a good grace. "Alexander Hering was convict in rnispersomng of Violet Rind, gude-wyiff of the weigh-house, saying, that she usit her office unjustly, and weighit his wool with her elbocks, and therefor the Council ordained him to pay forty shillings to the common warks, and make amends to the "slandered gudewyifl," and inhibited him to ofiend ony person in time coming under the pain of twenty pounds; because he had diverse times of before been convict in troublance." He did not, however, amend his behaviour, for not long after he mispersonit two sergeants in the execution of their office, be calling them false buns and knaves," for which lie had to pay five pounds; and at a later time he struck "Alexander Law, cordiner, with ane durk in the arm to the effusion of his blood, and being convict was ordaned to Pay twenty pounds unlaw for the blood, and satisfic the pairty at the sicht of the Council."

In 1604, at a meeting of the Convention of Burghs, a complaint was made at the instance of Haddington, that the Council of 1)undee exacted "ane fleece of wool of ilk pack, by thirteen shillings four pennies custom, and one pennie for weighing," on all that was imported into the burgh; and their commissioner was ordered to come to another meeting prepared to answer the complaint. But they sent no answer, and were "decerned to cease fra uplifting the fleece, at least until they produce their richt, gif they ony have."

The making of woollen cloth had been an important industry in old Dundee. Many of the women would have occupation in spinning the yarn, and the brabiners or weavers that wove the cloth were already numerous, and constituted one of the principal crafts of the burgh. They possessed charters and records of early dates, as also considerable property, and had erected and continued to uphold an altar in St. Mary's Church, to the honour of St. Severus, their patron saint.

At an early time complaints had been made that frauds were used in the rnanfaeture of cloth; and for remedy, Parliament, in 1540, passed an Act ordaining the appointment of persons for examining webs, and scaling or stamping them if found to be sufficient in quality and dye; and the Dundee Town Council afterwards chose "John Mand, Dean of Guild, sealmaster of all stikks of claith, conform to the King's Acts made thereupon." It was found that some of the weavers were rogues, who not only manufactured evil cloth, but stole the materials from which they made it, and " it was ordanit that na manner of kensy wobs be made within the burgh be ony of the inhabitants thereof, under the pain of tynsal of freedom, and gif they be unfreemen that brak the act, the elaith to be confiskit and escheitit to the common affairs of the burgh; and that because the Council find the common weill gretlie hurt throw making of the said wobs be idle and insolent persons, having neither wool nor lit of their awn, but privalie obtene and get them fraudfully of their neighbours." These ingenious bra- biners had already discovered how to make shoddy and other sorts of scandalous cloth, against which there was much indignation. "Sitting in judgement, and ripe avysment had for eschewing of the manifest ungodly fraud iisit in this town be drawers and false colourers of claith, the matter being in presence of the Council, complainit upon and heavily lamented ; and [to the effect] that order be put tliereiutil in time coming, conform to the Act of Parliament made be uinquhile our soverane Lord King James the Fyft—quhom God assolize; efter lang reasoning and mature deliberation baith of merchants and crafts had thereintil, for the common weill and honour of the burgh, at last with ane voice, but discrepance, it was concludit, statute, and pronouncit, that na neighbour nor inhabitant presume efter this day to use or lit ony kind of false colours, or to draw claith," or put "ding, calk, creiche, eaird, or flaill in claith, under the pain of escheating of the claith, the ane half to our soverane Lady's escheat, and time other half to the common guid; and to the effect that diligent trial and apprehension may be easily had of deceitful transgressors, it was ordanit that there be ane qualifeit man chosen to seal all claitli, who sail have for his labour for ilk piece sealing four pennies; and gif he beis fundin culpably sealing insufficient colour, or drawn climith, to tyne his freedom, and be punishit in his person and guids; and the drawers for the first fault to tyne their freedom for year and day, and for the second, for ever."

Then the Council "having consideration of time importable charge of the office of the sealer, and the grite difficulty in trying out of all manner of false colours and drawing of claith, devisit his diligence to be supplyit in this manner: that is to say, that all websters in time to come saIl weave in their marks in all webs they weave, to testify that they have leal1ie and truly done their handywark: secondly, that theirefter the awners of the claith sail cause sew in their marks in the webs or they pass to the walk iiiylnc, to declare thereto that they are true colourit, and that they give na command to the walker to draw them thirdly, that all walkers have efter this day ane seal containing either their name or their mark, quhmairwith they sall seal with lead all claith drest and handlit be them, in signification that they avow the claith undrawn," and neither " creashit, fialit, nor cardit, and they to have for their labours twa pennies; and the walker that delivers ciaith labourit be him, unseaiit, to be hal(lin culpable and a transgressor to be pumsiut." It was further or(Tanit that the seal sail noeht be put to ony claiths littit either black or green furth of white claith," as these colours required to be dyed either in the wool or yarn. "Thomas Gardyne, litster, was chosen to the office of sealer of sufficient claiths; and to the eftbct that claiths and wool littit already whilk are nocht conform to the act may be dispechit, the Council continuit the execution thereof till the Ruid (lay next to come, with certification till all neighbours, that gif ony insufficient claitli be apprehendit efter that day, the act will be execute."

Further injunctions were afterwards given to the fullers and dyers. The masters of the walker craft shall neither deliver nor set their marks to na ciaiths that shall happen to be dichtit be them, without they advertise the keeper of the common seal that lie may set the sainin to the ciaith; "and it was statute " that na birsall nor ursall (which had been considered injurious dyes), "be put on na manner of wool nor claith heirefter." "fien the owners of the cloth had their responsibilities defined; it having been "ordainit that gif ony neighbour have given claith to ony master of the walker craft to be diehtit, that lie come ouiklie upon Friday efternoon to the walker's bucht quhair his claith lies, quhair he sail find the master sealer present, and receive the town's seal to his sufficient colourit and undrawn claithwhites and tartans only sechidit; and "if the awner of the claith" do not come, "the sealer sall seal all sufficient claith quhilk he apprehends in the bucht," and the walker sall pay his fees. "And" if ony neighbour, being requirit be the walker and dichter to tak awa his chaith within eight days efter the sealing thereof, and pay him the sealer's duty, and the price of his awn labour, refuses, then the walker sail be haldin to answer na fkrtlier, and quhat inconvenient stealing, skayth, or dainpnage saIl happen to come upon the claith in the walker's buelit, sail come and fall only upon time awner thereof."


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