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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 weaving-shops.

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."

The draw-boy 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."

The quieter 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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