The Paisley Shawl and the
People who made it Chapter
VIII - The Draw-Boys
EVERY Paisley boy, no matter of what station in
life, was sure to have a relative who was a harness weaver, and it was one
of the delights of his life to be sent on an errand to these friends.
Perhaps it would be to a low, thatched cottage in Maxwellton or Lylesland,
or to a more pretentious two-storey house in Castle Street or Charleston. If
it happened to be the time of the four o'clock smoke, the weavers would be
seen lounging at the close mouth, with their hands under their white aprons,
the pipe in the cheek, bauchles on the feet, and a red worsted night-cap on
the head. Debate was sure to be in full swing, and one more dogmatic than
the rest would be laying down the law to the circle of admiring and
contentious shop-mates. This was a time that they enjoyed.
In the periods of depression many of the weavers
emigrated to the Colonies. A gentleman travelling in Canada stopped at a
tidy and prosperous looking farm-steading, and finding that the occupant had
been a Paisley weaver, asked how he liked his new life. The reply was that
he had plenty, but he sadly missed the "crack at the close mouth!"
But however absorbed in debate the weaver might be,
the young visitor would be received with a kindly smile and a pat on the
head, for the weavers were fond of the bairns, and always made them welcome.
There, on the ground floor, would be the four or six-loomed shop, with its
clean, bright windows, for the care of the windows opposite a harness loom
was confided to the draw-boy, and there was often great emulation among them
as to who should have the cleanest windows. The same care, however, did not
extend to the fire-place, which was beneath the dignity of a draw-boy, and
was always untidy, save in shops where there was a female "draw-boy"
employed, as was not infrequently the case. Then the fire-place was a model
of tidiness, for Maggie could never "thole" the sight of a dirty fireside.
Would that all the wives of our working-men in the present time had such
excellent taste. The uneven floor was the bare earth, a cold place for the
unshod feet of the draw-boy in winter, and under each loom was a hole, into
which all "ravellings," or waste threads, were collected. These waste
threads were usually a perquisite of the draw-boys, who bartered them for "blackman"
and "bools" with some of the half-witted hawkers who frequented the
Overhead the young visitor
would regard with wonder the mysterious beams, shafts, and cords, and all
the complicated works of the loom. The threads of the "simple" with their
mass of lashes and bridles, at the side of the loom, intruded on the
passage, ready for the draw-boy, who was meanwhile playing a game at "bools,"
or spinning his "peerie" in the street. At meal hours, when he had more
time, his favourite sports were shinty and races. There would be an
ink-bottle hanging near the weaver's hand, so that he might jot down an
argument, or mayhap a verse of rhyme in the midst of his work, and the cage
at the window with the imprisoned lark or niavis singing the songs of those
delightful woods and braes that were close at hand.
Upstairs was the bright kitchen, with the clean
hearth-stone, and "ingle blinkin' bonnily," the well-scoured dishes shining
like gold and silver, the peacocks' feathers ornamenting the mantle-piece,
and the bookcase in the corner, a thing never absent from the house of the
weaver. There was the mother, industrious woman, busy with her wheel,
winding the pirns to be sent down in an old hat as soon as the weavers would
resume work, and the daughter kenching bridles or tambouring. Nor can ever
be forgotten the feast of bread and cheese then set forth, and the bowl of
rich sweet milk (for the mother's folk, in the next street, kept cows),
followed by an invitation to go down to the garden.
There at the back of the house, as with nearly all the
weavers, was the "yaird," with its turnips and kail stocks getting ready for
the joyous time o' Hallowe'en. The draw-boys acknowledged no right of
private property in turnips or kail stocks at Hallowe'en time. There were
not many fine fruits in these gardens, but always some grand
gooseberries—golden sulphurs, or the "big, smooth, green anes," or the "wee,
red, hairy anes "—a feast for gods, let alone for boys. But while one might
make free with the gooseberries, there were always two or three big bushes
of black currants which were held sacred, and dared not be touched, for
these supplied the jam so much in demand for "sair throats" in the coming
winter. Then the flowers. No rare or costly blooms, but sturdy, herbaceous
Scotch flowers, mostly of strong, aromatic flavour. "Simmer wud," spearmint,
and balm; the coarse-smelling tansy, or the more delicately perfumed
rosemary or lavender, dear to all thrifty housewives. And then the dusty
millers, Highland-man's garters, bachelor's buttons, daisies, flaming orange
lillies, and, in the spring, a wealth of yellow daffodils. Of these the
visitor would get a " bab " (bouquets were unknown) to be envied by all the
children on the way home.
This was the kind of
garden that the boys enjoyed and long remembered. Some of the weavers were
florists and cultivated to great perfection pansies and roses, but into
these gardens the boys had no admission, and, consequently, no sweet
memories cluster around them. Some gardens, however, had excellent fruit
trees, and it was a not uncommon thing for the "shop" to take a holiday when
the fruit was ripe. This they generally did on a Monday. The weavers' part
was to shake the trees, while the draw-boys picked up the falling fruit. The
boys were rewarded with "pouch fulls," especially of those that the birds
had damaged, and had a feast which always made this holiday earnestly
desired. The "maisters" usually adjourned to a neighbouring public house for
a dram and a debate. Although all this has now passed away, the memory still
lingers with delight on these homely scenes.
The Weavers' Union generally arranged once a year for a trip in the summer
time "doon the water," which was looked forward to with great interest,
especially by the boys, who longed to explore the wonders of the deep. A
delegate in each district sold the tickets, and draw-boys had them at
half-price. Most frequently a steamer was hired, to sail from the Sneddon,
when the tide allowed, and after the devious navigation of the Cart to the
"water neb," got joyfully out on the swelling waters of the Clyde, and made
for the Gareloch or Largs, where a happy time was spent, the boys gathering
whelks and "dulse" and hunting for I partans." The coming home, however, was
occasionally uncertain and protracted owing to the tide, for high water was
necessary to reach Paisley. But these adventures only gave the weavers, and
particularly the happy boys, full scope for long descriptions of the wonders
seen and the perils surmounted on the eventful voyage.
But to return to the draw-boy proper. Let us try to
picture this terrible urchin as known to Paisley in the days of the harness
weaving. The draw-boy was so called because he assisted the weaver at a
complicated harness pattern by drawing certain cords which raised the warp
threads, in the way which has since been more effectually done by the
Jacquard machine. We used to question if the draw-boys were the sons of the
weavers. We rather incline to the belief that most of them were "hafflin"
herd laddies sent in to the town by the farmers, as totally unfit to be
broken into any useful work. They were the terror of Charleston. Children at
play in the street would bolt up a close with their "bools" and "peeries"
whenever the marauding draw-boy appeared. Every widow woman who sold
"parleys and black-man," that is, gingerbread and sweetmeats, held them in
horror. They knew every orchard in the West End, and what time the
gooseberries and apples thereof were ready—for stealing! The sour-milk carts
had a bad time of it if ever the milkman left his post, and the passage of
the Block Printers' Band would turn out a regiment of tatters which would
quite eclipse those which Falstaff marched with through Coventry. They were
all advocates of the "equal divide," and held fast to the doctrine that
"turnips are public property."
was often clad in the cast-off garments of his master, made down to his
shape by some unhandy amateur tailor. His carroty head was usually adorned
by a blue Kilmarnock bonnet, Once upon a time it had boasted of a red "tourie"
on the top, but that had gone long ago, being burnt off and a big hole made
by dint of burning "peoys," or masses of damp gunpowder, on his head.
Instead of the "tourie," there shot through the bonnet an irrepressible tuft
of red hair, like the helmet of Navarre, "still blazing in the van."
Of course every draw-boy kept rabbits and "doos" and
white mice or guinea-pigs, and had many a pitched battle over the ownership
of these animals. The draw-boy's ideas of "meum et tuum" were rather vague.
He believed in—
"The good old
rule, the simple plan, That they should take who have the power, And
they should keep who can."
draw-boys were sure to have a nest of sparrows, or "spruggies," as they
called them in the "shop," which they fed with "drummock," a compound of
meal and water, supposed, for some reason, to be specially suitable for
these motherless birds.
But when any member of
this "harum scarum" fraternity was elevated to the dignity of the "seat
tree" as a full-fledged weaver, the transformation was immediate and
complete. No politician translated from the stormy arena of the House of
Commons to the quiet seclusion of the House of Lords, could ever show a more
decided change. Henceforth by him no orchards were robbed, no old wives
terrified, no "doos" or rabbits kept. The affairs of the State took
possession of his soul. Such terrible questions as "how to pay the National
Debt," or "deepen the Cart," absorbed all his energies, so that the minor
question of paying his own debts seldom entered his mind. He cherished hopes
of being made a Deacon of the Auld Kirk, or a Manager of the West Relief, so
that in walk and conversation he became an altered man.
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