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Mediaeval Scotland
Chapter IV. Manufactures


Turning now to the linen manufacture, we find, from the “Assisa de Tolloneis," that, at the time of Bruce, the custom on every 100 lb. of linen was one halfpenny. No further notice of it is found in the public records till 1573, when an Act of Parliament was passed forbidding it to be exported. It seems to have continued to make progress, and in the Parliament of 1639 another Act was passed to encourage this rising industry. After reciting that linen had now become “ane of the pryme commodities of this kingdome, wherby many people are put to worke and money is brought within the same, which, pairtly throughe the deceet used by the bleicheres in lymeing thereof and pairtlie by the uncertaintie of the breadth, is lyklie to come in contempt abroade, to the great prejudice of this kingdome,” therefore it was forbidden for anyone to make or sell linen cloth of less breadth than one ell if the price per ell was ten shillings or above, or of less breadth than three-quarters of an ell if the price was under ten shillings. Bleaching with lime was forbidden under heavy penalties, and all linen was to be presented in the market by the “selvedge and not by the rige.”

That the manufacture had made some progress is shown by the imposition in 1661 of two ounces of bullion for each 100 ells exported, and in the same year another Act was passed to encourage the establishment of companies and societies for making linen cloth stuffs. This Act provided that no stuffs should be exported except made by such a society; that all their raw material should be free of duty for 19 years; that they might make regulations for their trade; and that all vagabonds, idlers, and poor children were to be instructed to fine and mix wool, spin worsted, and knit stockings.

The Act to encourage trade and manufactures, which was passed in 1681, lays down with great minuteness the conditions of textile manufactures at this period in Scotland. The provision as to the breadth of cloth given in former Acts was repeated. All linen was to be made up in pieces and half pieces, the pieces to contain 24 ells. Druggets, fingram, and plaiding were to be of the breadth of 3/4 and one nail. Serges were to be 50 or 52 ells in the piece, with a breadth of 1 ell and 2 inches. They were not to be stretched in the rolling-, and were to be made up in folds 1 ell or 3/4 long.

An extraordinary regulation was made by the Scottish Parliament in 1686, It was declared to be a punishable offence for any person to be buried except in linen dead clothes made in Scotland, under a penalty of 200 or 300 if a nobleman. This regulation actually remained in force till 1707.

A curious transaction took place in 1691. The Convention of Royal Burghs on the 20th October desired their thanks to be conveyed to the Earl of Melville and the Master of Stair for “putting a stop to a new project of erecting a linen manufacture within the kingdom.” This “new project” was that some Englishmen should set up a linen manufactory which would interfere with the home trade. Accordingly the burghs petitioned the Privy Council to put the laws anent the manufacture in force, and ordered a present of 2,000 merks to be sent to the two Secretaries of State “for their good services done,” and 50 as a gratuity to the Under Secretary for his trouble. From an entry in the minutes of Convention in 1694 it would appear, however, that the English company did set up their factory after all.

Further regulations were made in 1693, and the same year a manufactory was established in the citadel of Leith with all the privileges accorded by the laws, for the space of 21 years. They had very arbitrary powers over their workmen, and could retain them until they served out their time. They had also a seal granted them to seal all their stuff with, and their privileges extended to their bleaching fields at Bonington, and later (1695) to Corstorphine. They could make laws and regulations and appoint a bailie to hold courts for the punishment of offences committed by their workmen. The workmen and others could claim exemption from certain public burdens, such as billeting of soldiers, and moreover, did not require to pay excise duties for any liquors consumed by themselves.

In 1700 John Corse, of Glasgow, petitioned that he might be allowed to have a linen manufactory with all the privileges. Further Acts of Parliament for measuring and sealing linen were passed 1700, 1701, and 1703. The merchants of Edinburgh petitioned against the wearing of linen in 1705 on the ground that it interfered with the woollen manufacturers.

Of the silk textiles we have very scanty traces in early Scottish history. In the time of David I. hucksters were forbidden to buy silk except in fair time. On account of the poverty of the kingdom, and the expense of importing silk, it was forbidden in 1471 to be worn except by knights, ministers, heralds, and persons worth ^ioo per annum of rent. A Commission was appointed in 1579 to inquire anent the art of silk manufacture. The result of this was the establishment in Perth, in 1581, of a considerable silk manufactory by a Robert Dickson. Privilege was given him by Parliament to set agoing a manufactory, and to bring into the realm and teach the art of making and working silk as good as that of France or Flanders, and to sell it cheaper. The raw material required, and the drugs for dyeing the fabric, were to be imported by him free of duty, and the products of his factory were to be also untaxed. He and his workmen, to the number of 100, were to be exempt from all burdens, taxation, and impositions. And these privileges were to last for 30 years. There is no trace of any other silk manufactory till 1697, when two merchants, by name Ormeston and Elliot, obtained a grant from the Privy Council to enable them to establish a manufactory for the purpose of winding, throwing, twisting, and dyeing silk.

In 1703 a petition from the silk manufacturers was presented to the Parliament of Scotland, but the consideration of it was delayed until the condition of the whole manufacture could be considered.

We do not propose to carry the history of textile manufactures at this time later than the Union; but it is curious to compare the dismal prophecies that were then made of the inevitable decline of Scottish trade and commerce which was supposed to be the certain results of that measure with the actual facts of history. When the Act of Union was under the consideration of the Scottish Parliament, the then Lord Belhaven made a famous speech which produced a great impression on the country, and which is still preserved in the libraries of the curious. Speaking in a vein of prophecy, always a dangerous line for a practical politician, he says, referring to the commercial and manufacturing interests of the towns :—

“My Lord Chancellor,—When I consider this affair of an union betwixt the two nations, as it is expressed in the several articles thereof, and now the subject of our deliberation at this time, I find my mind crowded with a variety of very melancholy thoughts. ... I think I see the royal state of burghs walking their desolate streets, hanging down their heads under disappointments; wormed out of all the branches of their old trade, uncertain what hand to turn to, necessitated to become prentices to their unkind neighbours, and yet, after all, finding their trade so fortified by companies and secured by prescriptions that they despair of any success therein.

. . . I think I see the honest, industrious tradesman loaded with new taxes and impositions, disappointed of the equivalents, drinking water in place of ale, and eating saltless porridge.”

It is perhaps fortunate that though we are permitted to prophesy, we are denied the power of bringing our prophecies to pass.

Having treated of the early textile manufactures of Scotland, we come now to the other branches. And probably one of the earliest was that of salt. In the reign of David I. salt works became objects of great attention, and constant reference is made to them in the Chartularies. That King granted to the monks of Kelso a salt work on the northern shore of the Forth, and to the monks of Newbattle one at “Blackeland,” and another at “Calentyr.” From the same King the Abbey of Cambuskenneth got a salt pan, the monks of Holyrood a salt pan and twenty-six acres of land at Airth, and the monks of Jedburgh a salt work at Stirling. William the Lion was the owner of several salt works, and bestowed one on the Abbey of Aberbrothock. Roland of Galloway gave the monks of Kelso a salt work on the Solway, with liberty to take wood from his forests for the pans. Duncan of Carrick made a similar gift to the Abbey of Melrose from his lands of Turnberry, in Ayrshire, and the same convent had other salt pans near Ayr from Roger de Scalebroc. In 1536 the price of salt was to be fixed by Royal Commissioners along with the Provost of Edinburgh; and the Magistrates in all coast towns were empowered to settle at what rate imported salt was to be sold at. Various improvements were introduced into the manufacture shortly afterwards. In 1563 an Act of Parliament prohibited anyone from making salt after the new method introduced by certain strangers without special license for fifty years. No salt could be exported from any salt work without a written license, only granted on proof that six bolls weekly from each pan had been reserved for home consumption. At this period considerable quantities of this article were imported from Spain and Brittany, but in 1587 Lady Burleigh was granted for seven years the privilege of making refined salt for salting salmon and other fish which could not be salted with “ small salt,” and thus the necessity for using the foreign commodity was obviated. Further improvements were introduced by Eustacius Roche, a Fleming, and in consideration thereof he received in 1599 a monopoly of the manufacture of “great salt.” In 1640 an Act was passed prohibiting Sunday work in the salt pans, which was confirmed in 1661.'

A curious account of this industry is given in the report made to the Government of the Protector as to the excise and customs in Scotland in 1656. From that account we gather that the northern parts of Scotland were then chiefly served with foreign salt from France, and the western with English salt; and that the chief native supply came from the salt pans between St. Andrews and Stirling on the one side of the Forth, and between Stirling and Berwick on the other. The proprietors of these pans were usually called “masters,” and the workers “makers.” The latter received no wages, but contracted to supply the masters with a certain amount of salt per pan, and the overplus they kept for themselves. The masters provided all the coals, and stored their proportion of the salt in “garnels ” for exportation chiefly to England or beyond the seas. The makers sold their proportion to cadgers, who hawked it about the country in creels on horseback for home consumption. Tucker, who makes the report, gives a very poor account of the workmen or makers. He says that “besides their infinite poverty^ and miserableness they are to be esteemed rather brutes than rationals”; and in another place speaks of their “vilenesse ” and “unworthinesse.” The whole amount of custom paid on home-made salt in the year 1656 was only 810. In 1661 Colonel Ludovic Leslie and Colonel James Scott obtained a monopoly of the manufacture for twelve years, and in 1681 all the salt works in Scotland were declared to be public manufactories, and to be entitled to all the privileges thereof. Robert Cuninghame, of Auchinbarvie, had a grant in 1686, confirmed and extended in 1693, for the purpose of making a harbour at Saltcoats, on the Ayrshire coast, for the better exportation of the coal and salt “ wherewith that country abounds.” Sir John Shaw, of Greenock, introduced a new method of making salt, and in consequence the privileges of a manufactory were extended to him and his partners in 1696. Other improvements were made by Mr. William Erskine, who got similar . privileges; and later on by Mr. George Campbell, a merchant in Edinburgh. Salt occupied a considerable share of attention during the negotiations for the Union in 1706, and the Duke of Athole protested against any duty being laid on it by the contemplated measure.

Of the early fictile industries in Scotland our knowledge is very limited. Rude pottery was undoubtedly made in considerable quantities even in the prehistoric ages, and before the use of the wheel was known. Occasionally specimens of a later period have been discovered, but there is no evidence of any extensive manufacture until comparatively modern times. “Duo godecta vytrea” are recorded in 1291 as being contained in a chest in the dormitory at Holyrood, but they may have been of foreign origin.

In 1690 Sir George Hay of Nethercliff had the gift of a license to make glass and iron in Scotland for thirty-one years, which was confirmed by the Scotch Parliament in 1612. His work was established at Wemyss in Fife. “Braid” glass, or window glass, was made equal in quality to best Danskine; but bottles and other ware not being of sufficient excellence, some specimens were brought from England and deposited in Edinburgh Castle to serve as patterns in point of quality. In 1621 the Privy Council granted Hay a monopoly of the manufacture, but restricted the price to twelve pounds the “cradle” or case. A tax of 5 per cent, on the value was put on glass in 1655 ; and a little later an ounce of bullion was to be brought to the Mint for every twelve dozen of drinking glasses and glass bottles exported. James Turner, a cabinetmaker in Edinburgh, “having with much labour, pains, and expenses, attained to the skill and art of making of cabinets, mirror glasses, and the like curious work,” the Deacon and Incorporation of the Wrights of Edinburgh interrupted his factory, seized on his tools, and fined him 20 sterling; but the Privy Council in 1678 and in 1685, and Parliament in 1695, decreed that he should have full liberty to exercise his work and trade without molestation from anyone. Another glass manufactory was set up at Leith, to which in 1689 the Privy Council granted the privileges of a manufactory, and prohibited the introduction of foreign bottles into the country, only providing that the Leith work should not charge more than two and sixpence the dozen. In 1698 the manufactory at Wemyss seems to "have passed into the hands of Lord Elcho, who received an Act of Parliament confirming the grant of the privileges of a manufactory formerly' made by the Privy Council, and giving him a monopoly for nine years of certain new kinds of glass never before made in Scotland (viz., coach glasses and moulded glasses) unless some other manufactory was started within two years. It was specially provided that this grant was not to prejudice the privileges formerly given to the manufactory at Leith or to that at Aitchison’s Haven, which was established by William Morison, of Preston Grange, in 1697, for the making of all sorts of glass, “as bottles, vials, drinking, window, mirror, and warck glasses.” Among the foreigners who were engaged at Morison’s work was a Frenchman, Leblanc, who was skilled in the art of polishing glass, an art never hitherto practised in Scotland. The first glass work in Glasgow was started in 1701 by James Montgomery, who applied to the Privy Council for a license to make bottles to supply the West Country, seeing that the transit of such breakable goods from Leith and Morison’s Haven was attended with vast charge and great hazard. He proposed to use wood ashes and fern ash, of which there was great abundance in the West Country, to make, first, good white soap, and the rest into glass. The Privy Council granted his request accordingly. Robert Douglas, Leith, had a manufactory of porceIain and earthenware there in 1695, and in 1703 an Act was passed in favour of William Montgomery, of Macbiehill, and George Linn, merchant in Edinburgh, who set up “a pot-house with kilns, mills, warehouse, and other conveniences for making Lame, Purslane, and Earthen Ware,” and had brought competent persons from abroad to teach the natives the proper mode of manufacture, giving them not only the ordinary privileges of a manufactory, but a monopoly for fifteen years.

Soap was not an article manufactured in Scotland at a very early period. What was used seems to have been imported apparently from the Low Countries. It is mentioned as part of the “conveth” of the Abbey of Scone in 1164, and the custom payable on each “kyste or schryno of sapo,” as given in the Assisa de Tolloneis was twopence. In 1619 a privilege was granted to Nathaniel Uddart to make soap at his works in Leith, and in 1621 the Privy Council prohibited the importation of foreign soap, but fixed the maximum price of the native manufacture at 24 per barrel (of 16 stones) for green soap, and ^32 per same barrel of white soap. This grant was, however, very unpopular, and in consequence of the numerous complaints made about it, the prohibition against foreign importation was threatened to be withdrawn unless a better article was provided at a cheaper rate. This patent lasted twenty-one years, and at its expiration another was granted to Patrick Maule, of Panmure, "His Majesty’s daily servitor,” for thirty-one years at a yearly rental of 20 sterling. He had at the same time a license to fish and trade in the country and seas of Greenland for materials necessary for his work. In 1695 an Act of Parliament was passed in favour of Robert Douglas (who is described in it as “a great promoter of manufactories” for many years, and is apparently the same individual formerly mentioned), to enable him to get the privileges granted to manufactories for his soap work at Leith, which “had much contributed to setting up the trade with Archangel and Russia,” and these privileges were accordingly granted to him for nineteen years. A petition was presented in 1700 by the same James Montgomery, who erected the glass works in Glasgow, to have the privileges of a manufactory extended to his soap work there.

The manufacture of paper can claim a fairly early origin in Scotland. In 1590, Peter Groot Heare, a German, along with some partners, received a license from the Privy Council to establish a paper work, with all the privileges belonging to a manufactory, for nine years after the 1st of August next. In 1675, another work was set up at Dairy Mills, near Edinburgh, but very soon after it was burnt down. However, in 1679, it was going on and producing gray and blue paper of a better quality than had ever been made before in this country. French workmen were employed, but many Scots were instructed in the trade. The proprietors were impeded in their operations by a “ faulty custom ” in the country of using good rags to make candlewicks. They accordingly petitioned the Privy Council to prohibit rags being used for this purpose, which they did. No further notice of this work occurs in the public records, but it was probably not successful, for in 1693 Nicolas Dupin petitioned the Privy Council for permission to set up a paper manufactory. He was supported in his enterprise by some Scotchmen in London, who told him that there was no good writing paper to be got in Scotland, those who had already attempted the manufacture having failed. He claimed to be able to make all sorts of fine paper as good or better than any made beyond seas, and far cheaper ; and he proposed, besides, to bring in some “ingenious outlandish workmen” to teach their art in the kingdom. All his paper was to have the arms of Scotland as the water mark; and the company were granted the same power over their instructed workmen as the cloth factory at Newmilns had. This company had an Act of the Scotch Parliament passed in its favour in 1695. The Act having recited that “ it being found that the water and air in several parts of this kingdom are very fitt and may contribut much to the success of such a work/’ empowered Dupin and Denis Manes and their partners to be incorporated by the name of “the Scots White Paper Manufactory,” with all the privileges and immunities contained in the Acts for encouraging commercial undertakings.

Sugar came into use in Scotland at a comparatively late period. There was a tax put on it in 1655, which shows it must have been known commonly before that time. In 1681 two sugar works at Glasgow were declared to be manufactories under the provisions of the Acts for encouraging manufactures. These works belonged to Frederick Hamilton and John Corse and other partners, who had an Act of Parliament in their favour, allowing them, in addition to the usual immunities, to grant “transires” without applying to the Custom House. Another work was in operation in Leith in 1695, and had the same privileges which were granted to Glasgow, including that of making 18 tons of rum yearly free of duty. Hugh and James Montgomerie, merchants in Glasgow, had an Act of Incorporation in 1696 for the purpose of starting another sugar work in Glasgow (called “a suggarie”) under the style and title of “The New Sugar Manufactory of Glasgow,” with all the privileges of law, to endure for nineteen years. Another sugar work was started in Glasgow by Matthew and Daniel Campbell in 1700, who also proposed to the Privy Council to distil brandy and other strong waters.

In 1686 the Estates of the Realm, “takeing to consideration the great advantage that the nation may have by the trade of founding lately brought in to this kingdom by John Meikle for casting of bells, cannons, and other such useful instruments" granted him the rights, privileges, and immunities under the Acts of 1661 and 1681.

Cannons would not be of much use without gunpowder, so we find that four years later Mr. James Gordon applied for a license to make that commodity. Gordon was a merchant of London, as his memorial sets forth, “who, by the blessing of God has acquired the most necessary skill of making of salt peter and Gunpowder,” and desired “for the generall benefite of his native Countrey ... to prosecute the said good and beneficiall designe.” An Act was prepared and is recorded in 1690 (though it is doubtful whether it ever passed), granting the necessary permission, prohibiting any one from importing gunpowder, and providing that every barrel of the native manufacture should be sealed with a seal to be provided by Gordon. He was also empowered “to cause take up the bottoms of floors, cellars, vaults, and other out houses such as doucats,40 old castells, Towers, fortalices, churches, chappells, creeks, pitts and coaves, &c., in any place within the kingdome where peterish earth shall be found, and to dispose thereof for the convenience of the gunpowder manufactories.”

The first notice we have in the public records respecting gunpowder is in 1535, when the merchants were ordained to import it. Some time previous to 1630 a patent had been granted for its manufacture in Scotland, for in that year Parliament was petitioned “that the persoun to whome the gift was givin may ather convenientlie and tymouslie take vpon him the dew performance or otherwayes that his patent be recalled.” The Earl of Linlithgow was probably the person meant, as, when monopolies were abolished in 1641, he was recompensed for the outlay he had incurred on his powder-works. Another gunpowder-work was established in 1695 by Sir Alexander Hope of Kerse and others.

In 1693 Parliament, taking into consideration the great loss and inconvenience sustained by the lieges by reason of the want of tradesmen for making coaches, chariots, sedans, coach-harness, and other fittings, empowered William Scott, cabinetmaker, to set up a manufactory for the same, with all the privileges belonging to it. James Lyell of Gairden had “applyed himselfe for these many yeares for improving of lint, hemp, and rape seeds for the making of good oyl out of the grains within this kingdom,” and an Act in his favour was passed in Parliament in 1695. He also set up a manufactory “of rabbet and hair skins ... by bringing them first into wooll and then into hatts, which is now exported, and then returned in fforeign hatts.” Another oil work was established in 1700 by James Turner, but no further notice of it occurs in the public records.

The rapid rise and continual growth of Scottish manufactures after the Union belongs to a later period of history, and does not come within the scope of the present design. But enough has been given to show the keen and anxious desire to encourage manufacturing industries which prevailed in this country for more than two centuries before the desired result was actually achieved.


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