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Mediaeval Scotland
Chapter III. Manufactures


To those who believe that the national greatness of this country depends in no small measure on the prosperity of its manufacturing and commercial industries, it will not be without interest to trace the origin and growth of these amongst ourselves. And the most prominent point in the history of early Scottish manufactures is the persistent national desire to promote and develop them. Often the means adopted seem to our ideas to be erroneous, and very often they fail. But the object aimed at was never lost sight of. From the days when William the Lion founded his royal burghs with practically exclusive monopolies of manufactures and commerce in order to encourage trade, to the times when James VI. crowded the Statute Books with Acts of Parliament for the same purpose, the one idea was to stimulate by every means commercial enterprise.

It would be impossible within the compass of the present work to give in detail the rise of manufactures in each burgh or district. All we propose is to note the various steps which were taken from time to time by public authority to promote commercial interests, and to trace as far as possible the results achieved.

During the prehistoric ages our knowledge of the arts and industries of the early tribes is extremely limited. It would be rash to assume that absolute barbarism prevailed in every part of the country and at all periods. Every now and then some relic of the forgotten past turns up which shows a technical skill and artistic knowledge which can hardly be reconciled with the commonly received notions of the state of the primitive inhabitants of this country. Celtic traditions point to the very high antiquity, and to a very remarkable development, of native industries. Fifteen centuries before the Christian era, Tigherumas Mac Ollaig was the first, according to these venerable legends, to put colours into cloth and ornamental borders to garments. The catalogue of the possessions of Ailill and Medbh given in the ancient tale of the Tdin Bo Chuailgue enumerates raiment of crimson, blue, black, green, yellow, speckled, grey, and striped and other colours not easily identified. The costumes of the chiefs described in the same story also display a wonderful variety of manufactured stuffs. Conchobar Mac Nessa wore a crimson five-folding fuan or tunic with a shirt of cloth of gold. Another warrior, Munremur Mac Gercin, was attired in a dark long-wooled cloak and a shirt of striped silk. A margin Mac Ecelsalach shone conspicuous among the clans in a blue five bordered shirt, with carved clasps of white bronze (findruine) and buttons of gold, and “a cloak mottled with the splendour of all the most beautiful colours.” From the Brehon Laws and the Book of Rights, published by the Celtic Society in 1847, Professor Eugene O’Curry has made out the complete process of the manufacture and dyeing of the textiles used by the ancient Celts. Embroidery and needlework were also carried to a high pitch of perfection. S. Columb Cille had an embroideress named Coca, as is recorded in the Feilire Aenghuis, who rests in Cille Choca (now Kilcock) in Kildare.

Whatever we may think of these traditions, it is impossible to doubt the evidence of existing relics. From the perishable nature of the materials it would be an occurrence of the most extreme rarity to find— except, perhaps, in the soil and climate of Egypt— textile fabrics in existence even of a period much later than those claimed by the Celtic annals. But when we look at some of the sculptured stones and at the work on many of the gold and silver ornaments of the prehistoric ages, and, above all, at the illuminations on some of the early Celtic manuscripts such as the Book of Kells, executed probably in the sixth or seventh century, we must admit an intellectual culture far in excess of what might have been expected. It is remarkable that the Scots of Dalri-ada do not seem to have brought with them from their Ulster homes arts and culture which undoubtedly flourished there, though probably at a later period than that assigned by their traditions. And it is still more curious that the same race remained inert and unmoved by the various influences which in other parts of Scotland began to stimulate commercial enterprise. On the other hand, the Saxon settlers, if they did not leave a high civilization behind them, possessed a capability for future development, which soon began to tell on national progress. Of the state of the native Caledonian tribes we can say very little. But whenever these various races began to be blended in one nationality, and settled down under a recognized government, the latent energies immediately, though gradually, came into activity, and ultimately have risen into the first rank.

Probably the oldest existing specimen of early Scottish textile manufacture is a garment preserved in the National Museum of Antiquities in Edinburgh, which was found many years ago in a prehistoric grave in Orkney. It is impossible to assign a date to it, as from the extreme rarity of such finds we have no means of comparison. Even when history begins, a long period elapses before any notice is taken of manufactures of any kind. During the century and a half of peace and prosperity which closed with the death of Alexander III. there is some ground for believing that textile manufactures existed to a certain extent in this country. In the “Leges Burgorum,” or laws of the burghs of Scotland, we find the 22nd law prohibiting any one but a burgess from making cloth or dyeing it. Part of this ancient code dates back to the reign of David I. In the original Cartulary of Glasgow, a volume of venerable antiquity, written in a hand of the thirteenth century is a little capitular, giving the privileges of the burghs at that period. The second of these provides that no one without the burgh shall presume to make cloth, on pain of the king’s amercement unforgiven— an enactment probably of the reign of William the Lion. In the charter granted by the same king to the city of Perth all manufacture of cloth in the sheriffdom is prohibited except by those who were burgesses of that royal and favoured town. Similar provisions exist in the charters granted during the same reign to Aberdeen and the burgh and shire of Inverness. And it is to this period and to the policy of William the Lion that we must date the exclusive privileges of the burghs which can be traced down to a very much later time.

In 1398 cloth exported to foreign parts was to pay 2s. of custom in the pound. Woollen cloth was to be measured by the rig and not by the selvidge in 1469.

The weavers of Edinburgh received a seal of cause in 1475. In 1491 six weavers were tried by the magistrates of Dunfermline. Woollen cloth manufactured in Scotland was exported to Amsterdam in 1495. The “ Walkers ” of Edinburgh were incorporated in 1500. The Convention of Royal Burghs sitting at Edinburgh in 1529 ordered that “ na manner of walcar nor wobster mak ony claith of thar awin to sell agane.” In 1473 the importation of cloth from England was prohibited, the reason assigned being that the Scotch only got cloth, which they could make at home, for their salmon and other fish, instead of gold and silver as formerly ; and ten years later a duty of 4 oz. of standard silver was imposed on every “serplath ” of cloth brought into the country by the merchants. In 1540 the Parliament of Scotland enacted that in every burgh there should be a qualified man chosen to seal all cloth in token of its good quality ; and if any cloth of inferior sort was found, half of the goods of the offender were to be forfeited to the King, and the other half to the burgh. It would be interesting to know if any of these old seals, probably of lead, are still in existence. In the Parliament of 1567 it was provided that the old Acts anent “wobsters,” “walkers,” and makers of white cloth were to be put in force, with this addition, that care was to be taken that the cloth was not “flokkit,” or, in other words, with the nap raised or improperly thickened. In order to promote woollen manufactures and to give employment to poor persons it was forbidden in 1581 to export wool out of the country.

Shortly after this period James VI. made a strong effort to improve native industries, and among other expedients three skilled workmen from the Low Countries named John Gardin, Philip Fermant, and John Banko were brought to Scotland for the purpose of establishing a textile manufactory. They were engaged to remain in the country for five years, and were to be accompanied by thirty attendants, including a skilled “ litster ” or dyer. They were to manufacture as good cloth as was made in Flanders, Holland, or England, and of the same patterns and quality; and they were further bound to teach Scottish born apprentices all the secrets of their trade. Nicolas Vduart, burgess of Edinburgh, was appointed overseer of the factory, and was ordered to see that the strangers had everything provided for them, including a wright to set up their looms. Each piece of cloth of satisfactory quality was to be stamped, and to have a seal of lead attached to it. They were to manufacture “serges,” “growgrams,” "bombesies,” “stem-mingis,” “ beyis,” fustians, bed covers, and other fabrics ; they were to have a proper place in Edinburgh, and other principal towns, for selling their goods on market days ; all necessary materials for their machinery were to be supplied free ; they were to be exempt from all taxation and public burdens, and were to have, if they required, a church and minister of their own. In spite of this care for their spiritual welfare the strangers were evidently not beyond the supervision of the clergy of the “gude toon" of Edinburgh. For in 1588 it is recorded in the records of the burgh that “ be ressoun of the difference in materis of relligion betuix the kirk and the twa Flemyng wobsters,” they were to end their work between the date of the entry (8th May) and 1st September next to come, and in the meantime to confer with the ministers “ anes at the leist ilk owlk in the ile of the kirk” ; and if they did not make their peace with the Kirk they were to depart the realm on the date named. The town of Edinburgh paid them /68 6s. 8d. for their travelling expenses, which was afterwards repaid the burgh by the Laird of Dairsie and Mr. Arch. Wilkin, and finally given to the Trinity Kirk for making repairs on it.

The Convention of Royal Burghs recommended in 1570 that the exportation of wool outwith the realm should be forbidden by an Act of Parliament, but in 1578 the same body deterrftined that no impediment should be put in the way of those who export to Norway “schone, salt, malt, or linen cloth,” in order that they might bring back timber. The desire to restrain any foreign traffic in wool was a very strong point at this period'with the mercantile interest in Scotland. The Convention at Linlithgow made an Act prohibiting the export of wool under a penalty of 500 merks. James Fleming, sometime a burgess of Perth, was reported to the Convention of Royal Burghs as “ amassing in sundry pairts of the realme ane intolerable quantity of wool ” to transport to Flanders, and all magistrates were commanded to prevent ships carrying it. It is evident, however, that this policy was not unanimous. In 1600 the city of Edinburgh, being accused of slackness in the matter of restraining the export of wool, produced to the Convention an instrument “be awyse of men of men of law” showing that this policy would be eventually very prejudicial to the burghs, but the burghs would not be persuaded and persisted in their action. However, the Privy Council, on the 5th of February, 1600, took the matter up and annulled and discharged the pretended Act as a usurpation of the Royal authority, and gave free license to all merchants to’ export wool and linen cloth and to import all sorts of English cloth, up to the 1st December following. The Scottish Parliament provided by an Act in 1601 that unless the burghs availed themselves of the privileges formerly granted to them for the manufacture of textiles before the next term of Michaelmas they should lose the immunities promised, and the King should then have the right of granting such to anyone.

At an extraordinary sederunt of the Privy Council on the 24th of July the Bailies of Edinburgh appeared to answer to a charge made against them by the strangers lately brought into the country from Flanders for improving the cloth manufacture that they were neither “intertaneit nor putt to the werk,” and “that they were sinderit,2s quhilk wald be a grit hinder to the perfectioun of the said werk,” and the Bailies were ordered to keep them together in Edinburgh, notwithstanding any ordinance set down by the Commissioners of burghs anent separating the strangers and planting them severally in other towns. And until they were set to work Edinburgh was to provide them with meat and drink and to be proportionately relieved by the other burghs. Another Act of the Estates in February, 1601, is referred to in the minute of 14th February of the Convention of Burghs, but it is not to be found in the Record Edition. Apparently it provided that twenty more craftsmen, “makeris of claith and lauboureris of woll ” should be brought from abroad, and the burghs accordingly agreed to uplift 12,000 merks towards the expense. On the 2nd of June the Privy Council demanded a definite answer from the Convention, to be given not later than the 9th of July, as to when they would be prepared to set up cloth making. Accordingly, the Convention, having directed commissioners to proceed to France, Flanders, and England on the 30th of July, heard a report from Andrew Hunter, who had gone to Norwich, that he had hopes of agreeing with one Gabriel Bischop, clothmaker there, to come to Scotland, and also from Thomas Fischer, who had gone to France, that he had not been successful. A committee was appointed to make a final arrangement, and they had, on the 10th of July, a long conference with Bischop, and agreed with him to come to Edinburgh and set up a cloth manufactory there. Hunter had also procured the services of certain Dutch weavers from Leyden, and they were divided amongst the other burghs. Ayr took three of them —George Baert, “plotter29 and camber”; James Claers, weaver; and Arane Janson, “scherar.” Perth received Jacque de la Rudge, “camber and spyner”; Jacob Petersen, “scherar” ; and Abigail Vanhort, “spyner woman”; and Claus Losseir, Cornelius Dermis, and Henre de Turk went to Dundee. The same day the Commissioners approved of the following articles being laid before Privy Council :—(First) that the burghs should have power to put in force the Acts against the export of wool ; (second) that no duty should be imposed on cloth not transported out of the country ; (third) that the magistrates of each burgh, and they only, should have the control of the cloth made in the burgh ; and (fourth) that Andrew Hunter should not be troubled on account of his liabilities as sole cautioner for Thomas Foulis and Robert Jousy.

A difference of opinion still existed between the King and the burghs as to the best method of utilizing the services of the strangers. The King accordingly addressed a letter to the Convention urging the Commissioners further to consider the matter, but it does not appear what the result was.

From a minute of the Convention of Burghs on the 2nd of February, 1605, it would appear that an Act of Parliament had been passed on the 7th of June giving an offer to the burghs to work the cloth factories, though no mention is made of it in the Record Edition of the Acts. The burghs declined the offer on the double ground that they had no more interest in cloth manufacture than any other part of the realm, and that they had sustained great losses by the former attempts to set it up; but they agreed to give their “ fortefecatioun and concurrence ” to anyone who would undertake the work.

The next notice to be found of these foreigners is in 1609, when they were established in the Canon-gate of Edinburgh, and were being still molested by the magistrates ; but, on appeal to the Privy Council, they were exempted from their interference. During the remainder of the reign of James VI., who consistently and perseveringly took every opportunity of promoting and improving native manufactures, considerable progress seems to have been made in the woollen industries. In 1613 Scottish cloth, plaiding, and kerseys were exported to the Low Countries, showing that home wants were not only fully supplied, but a surplus left for foreign trade.

One of the first Acts of Charles I. in 1625 was strongly to recommend the burghs of Scotland still to continue establishing manufactories, and the same advice was repeated in 1633. A further step was taken in 1641, when a Royal Executive Commission was created by Act of Parliament, specially for the purpose of encouraging Scottish industries. After reciting the various measures formerly taken for the same purpose, and specially referring to the Acts of Parliament of 1581 and 1597; of Privy Council of May, 1597; July, 1600; November, 1601 ; December, 1601 ; May, 1612; October, 1614; August, 1616 ; July, 1620; February, 1623; July, 1623, and the Acts of Convention of June, 1605; November, 1625; and August, 1626, the Act declares that in spite of all that had been done no considerable progress had been made “for want of cherishing, inter-teenement, and right order of prosecutione thereof”; and accordingly gives and. grants to certain persons to be nominated by the Privy Council full powers to give every encouragement to all sorts of manufactories within the kingdom. These powers of the Commissioners were very wide indeed. They could summon before them anyone who could give any information ; they could make rules and fix wages; and could compel idle and dissolute persons either to work or go to the houses of correction, which were to be erected if need be. They could also make corporations, and grant to them all the privileges formerly conferred. It was further declared that all Spanish wool and other necessaries required for the works should be imported duty free ; and that the manufactured products should be free from custom for fifteen years. The workmen were to be exempted from all taxation, and were not to be interfered with by anyone. In the Minutes of Parliament of 8th September, 1641, a very important overture was considered, and ordered to be given in to the Estates to be advised upon. After reciting that the want of manufactories within the kingdom occasioned great poverty and loss, inasmuch as fifteen hundred thousand pounds (Scots) were sent out of the country yearly to buy foreign manufactured goods, and caused besides various other evils, it was desired that in every shire a school should be erected in one or other of the burghs, at the expense of the burgh, and that every parish within the shire should send either one or two boys, according to the valuation of the parish, to be taught for seven years all sort of “working cloth, or seys, spinning, weaving, waaking, litting, and dressing.” Towards the expense of maintaining and teaching the boys an assessment of a merk from every chalder victual, or 100 merks of valued rent was to be paid, one-half by the owners, the other half by the occupiers. Every boy was to be above ten years of age. This is probably the earliest attempt at systematic technical teaching in Scotland.

In 1645 the privileges of manufacturers and their workmen in being exempt from all military service and public taxation were again ratified. In March, 1655, the Protector gave instructions to his Council in Scotland to advance manufactories by every means in their power, and to advise and report thereanent.

For a very long time (tradition says for several centuries) Haddington had been the seat of a woollen manufactory, established in a suburb called the Nungate. During Cromwell’s time an English company, of which a Colonel Stansfield was the principal partner, expended a large sum of money in purchasing lands formerly belonging to the monastery of Haddington, and erecting mills and machinery, at a place called New Mills. After the restoration Colonel Stansfield was knighted, and in 1687 he was barbarously murdered by his eldest son. The trial was a very curious one, on account of the stress laid by the King’s Advocate when prosecuting on the fact that the corpse of Sir Philip Stansfield had bled when touched by the murderer.

About this time other woollen factories were established at Bonnington, near Edinburgh, at Ayr, and, in 1681, at Glasgow, by James Armour, who had an Act of Parliament in his favour permitting him to import his raw material free of duty, allowing his products to be untaxed for nineteen years, and granting his workers the usual exemptions from watching, warding, and militia service. This was not, however, the earliest attempt to establish woollen manufactories in Glasgow. In 1648 the burgh appointed John Johnstone to “speir35 out” men fitting to be employed, and to report. Next year a bargain was made with James Bell to sell his “work loomes” and make over his interest in the work to the town; and in 1650 “ane Inglis clothiar,” apparently one Simon Pitchersgill, was put in charge of the work at a salary of 45. Probably the venture was not very successful, for in 1652 it was intimated by “touk of drume ” that the factory would be let to the highest bidder, and accordingly a new tack was granted to James Hamilton, Thomas Allan, and John Neill.

The old tenant, however, got it again in 1653, and in 1660 it was let to the weavers for seven years, at an annual rent of 60.

During the years 1661-1673 several Acts of Parliament came into force with the object of still further stimulating and encouraging native industries. The raw materials of all manufactures were freed from custom. The former Acts were confirmed and extended. In each parish competent persons were to be appointed to teach the poorer children to fine and spin wool and to knit stockings. An impost of 20 per cent, was laid on various commodities, such as ribbons, thread, etc., on the manufacturers first finding caution to produce an article as good and as cheap as that imported, and to employ native apprentices. All these privileges and encouragements were once more confirmed and granted by another Act in 1681, and in the same year the weavers of Glasgow were incorporated. Through the exertions of the Duke of York, a body of merchants were associated for the purpose of setting up another textile factory at New Mills. The work made a modest commencement with two looms, but soon extended to twenty-five, and was incorporated by Act of Parliament in 1693. Up to this year the production had not been extensive, for in 1683 General Dalyell and Graham of Claver-house had to import cloth from England for their troops. The army clothing was obtained from that country, though the New Mills Company offered to make it as cheaply and of as good quality. But after the Act of 1693 Parliament ordered all the woollen cloth required for the army to be of home manufacture. After that the company seem to have prospered, and came very frequently under the notice of Parliament. They were exempted from supply in 1695; they obtained an Act against foreign importation in 1696; another special Act in their favour was prepared in 1700, and they were exempted specially from taxation in the years 1704, 1705, and 1706.

From this period down to the Union the woollen industry made considerable progress. Factories were started in 1701 at Musselburgh, Glasgow, and near Edinburgh. Shortly afterwards we find them at North Mills, Aberdeen, and elsewhere.


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