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Reminiscences of the Royal Burgh of Haddington
Incorporation of Weavers


WEAVING is a very ancient art. It is written in the Bible, that “Unto Adam also and to his wife did the Lord God make coats of skins and clothed them.” There is the greatest reason in saying, that woven garments, in the kind providence of God, were the next which man wore, in the preparation of which there was, in these ancient days as well as now, a beautiful illustration of the division of labour, from the tiller of the ground to raise the natural product, whether in flax or wool, to the weaver, and all the other handicrafts which were employed, before man could get his garments ready for wear.

The “wabsters,” or weavers, were another of the nine incorporated trades of Haddington, or bunch of wands; and although once a very strong Corporation, it some years ago died fairly out George Fairbairn, of Athelstaneford (who died in 1873), was the last member.

Sixty years ago there were Lawries, Verts, Fairbairns, Barries, Woods, Douglas, Muirheads, Hendersons, Aitchisons, etc., in the corporation. The introduction of power-looms extinguished the domestic habits and economy of spinning. The birr of the spinning-wheel, and the click of the reel, and “guid hame-spun yarn,” are quite unknown to the present generation, and “guid hame-made sheets” form not a part of .a young woman’s providing now-a-days.

"Customer’s wark,” once common among weavers of that time, is now almost unknown..

Latterly, for the sake of keeping up the craft, the corporation made members who were not bred weavers at all, and who made a kind of essay in counting threads and driving the shuttle for a few minutes. Henry Shiells, James Anderson, and George Fairbairn, were “stuck-to” members. The craft had a front-seat in the old Collegiate Church, with the motto on it,

“Time flies swifter than a weaver’s shuttle.”

Perhaps the only country handloom-weaver now in East Lothian, is Mr John Vert, at Bangley, Braefoot. Long ago, almost every village had its weaver or weavers. Mr Roger Robson, however, erected a wauk-mill in the burgh, and deserves encouragement in his trade, and after him the West flour mill has been converted into a factory. Messrs Roughead and Park also carry on a considerable extensive sacking manufactory.

There were the “creeshie” or woollen weavers and the linen weavers, and connected with the trade were hecklers, who prepared the rough flax for the spinning-wheel. Tammie Guthrie was a famous heckler in the burgh long ago. Every merchant sold lint braids, and tow lint was extensively grown, especially on light lands round the coast, and to this day hinds and cotters, on some farms, are paid by farmers a sum of money in lieu of lint-money, which was grown for them. There were a number of staunch men in the Corporation of Weavers, whose word in faction times was as good as their bond, and who were never turncoats in their party. Such was. old Robert Fairbairn, of the old Wauk-Mill, and Willie Wood, whose toast at convivial meetings was always “Love and unity.”

A woollen manufactory was in existence near the East Mill, at the end of last century, but did not prosper, and was given up. The building is now part of Miss Wilkie’s property. Two brothers, of the name of Dawson, came from Yorkshire and settled in the burgh for some time. They made blankets, but did not succeed. One of them went by the name of “Yorkie,” and was a droll fellow, and very fond of Scotch whisky. Some one once sent him a mock summons from “John Pimple,” which much concerned him. He went to consult Dr Lorimer about it. He was charged, he said, with walking on the crown of his head, which he denied. The Rev. Doctor, no doubt, gave him wholesome advice. Speaking of the Pringles (of whom there were three families) one day, “Yorkie” said it was neither Thomas nor Andrew he meant, but James (a tanner), “who spoke, and who spoke like thunder! ”

A story is told of one Lungie Smith, an old weaver. At faction time Lungie had got on the spree, and rising from the loom one day “dour dry,” without his coat, went into the Bell Inn, where some of the craft were met. The landlady, at that time Mrs Fairbairn, cried out to him, “Gudeman, gang yer ways; ye canna be served here.” “Gie’s nane of yer ill-tongue, mistress,” he answered, "bring me a bottle of yer best.”

The bleachfield common to all the burgesses of Haddington for bleaching, was where the late Archibald Dunlop built the distillery. The Lawries and the Verts had their workshops there. The powder magazine was also there, until it was removed to M‘Calps Park.

Ground bleaching was also done in the Haugh, on the side of the river. A famous character was Kirstie Lawrie, the “Queen of the Haugh.” Many a time when youngsters annoyed her and roused her temper, she used to run after them with the water scoop. Pity any servant-girl who incurred her displeasure! Her tongue was not slack.

The Abbey, like other country hamlets, had its weaver, in the person of Thomas Foggo. Thomas was precentor in the church of the Rev. Robert Chalmers, who was as good a man as ever lived, and whose memory is still fragrant to many. Thomas was going home to the Abbey from Haddington after delivering some customer's work, and had got a “horn” too much and fallen into a ditch. Mr Chalmers, who was walking along the road, spied his precentor in a sad plight The worthy man helped him up and only said, “Oh, Thomas, man, you have been sair left to yourself to-day,” which remark passed into a by-word, and continues among old Haddingtonians to this day.

Stocking-weaving was once carried on to a small extent in the burgh by George and Robert Haldane. Charlie Crombie, a well-known Haddington man, was their journeyman. Charlie's name deserves to be kept in remembrance. He was a respectable man, was long officer to the Gardeners' Society, and beadle to Dr Sibbald.

When Charlie was asked who was to preach in the kirk to-day, his answer was “Dr Sibbit, sir". His wife Tibbie was also a well-known character, and a very useful woman in her day.

There are no stocking-makers in Haddington now. The Wabsters belonged to the Congress or Captain Fall's party in 1734, and went to Dunbar to the election dinner as is narrated in the Congress stanzas.

At the hamlet of Bangley Braefoot, there lived until recently Archibald Dewar and old John Vert, weavers, and William Wait, tailor, who were all elders in three different kirks at Haddington. They were a happy small community, and lived in peace and unity with each other. When a pig was to be killed, or bees “skeped,” or potatoes lifted, they assisted one another. The place got the name of Elder Town, and as before noticed, Mr John Vert, son of the above, still resides there.


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