Search just our sites by using our customised search engine

Unique Cottages | Electric Scotland's Classified Directory

Click here to get a Printer Friendly PageSmiley

Chapter 13. - Industries and Manufactures

The chief industry of the Forfarshire towns is the manufacture of linen goods, and for these fabrics the county has a world-wide reputation. If it be remembered that in respect of this manufacture amongst Scottish counties Fifeshire is second only to Forfarshire, and that these two shires are separated only by the estuary of the Tay, the great importance of the whole district as a textile centre will be at once manifest. It is doubtless because the soil of Angus was so well suited for growing flax that, in days when spinners and weavers depended for their raw material on home production, the industry should have established itself in this district. But manufacturers now look to foreign countries for the supply of the raw material. In the early days, moreover, that is in the closing decades of the eighteenth and in the opening ones of the nineteenth century, the work was largely carried on in rural districts, the burghs then serving as markets for what was spun and woven in country hamlets. At that time such parishes as Barry, Monifieth, Coupar-Angus, Dunnichen, Kirkden, Logie-Pert, Glamis, Kinnettles, Mains, Menmuir, and Stracathro had scarcely a village where the inhabitants were not mainly weavers. The small farmer grew the flax, his wife spun it, and in winter-time, when out-door work did not demand his energies, he himself turned weaver. There was of course much spinning and weaving in the towns too; but country people brought their yarns and their woven goods to the nearest town—Dundee, Kirriemuir, Forfar, Arbroath, Brechin, or Montrose—and sold them in open market. The time came when every piece of cloth was inspected and stamped by regular officials before it could be produced in the markets, a practice which enhanced the value and the reputation of the productions.

The application of steam power and the invention of spinning and weaving machines produced great changes in Forfarshire. These together with the almost universal employment of foreign raw material practically put an end to textile work in rural districts. The click of the weaver’s shuttle is no longer heard in the country cottage; such rural mills as gave employment to country weavers now stand tenantless or have long been utilised for other purposes; and, worst of all in every respect but that of the vast "development of trade, urban population has enormously increased at the expense of the rural districts.

As early as 1526 Hector Boece speaks of Dundee as a town “in which the people travel very painfully about making and weaving of cloth.” In 1727, when the manufactures of other Forfarshire towns were yet in their infancy, Dundee turned out 1,500,000 yards of linen. In 1738 Arbroath, previously little more than a village, hit almost by accident on the production of a cloth known technically as osnaburgs. After 1746 the flax trade rapidly prospered in Brechin, where also osnaburgs were the chief fabric made. In the same year Forfar began the same manufacture. About this time the manufacture of brown linen was introduced into Kirriemuir, and carried on so successfully that in 1816 the town was second to Dundee in the staple industry. Before 1740 Montrose was distinguished chiefly for its shipping, but about that time it entered the linen trade, which rapidly became of great importance. Its annual market was long the principal one in the county for linen yarn, which was brought from all centres within Forfarshire and even from beyond its limits.

The linen industry was fostered by government bounties till 1832, by which time it was thoroughly established. While linen manufacture has been on the whole steadily and even rapidly progressive, at times it has undergone great depression, as in 1826 and 1847. But perhaps the most critical period was 1830-40, when cautiously and tentatively the manufacturers of Dundee began to spin and weave jute. Even after it was finally adopted as the staple trade, and after machinery suited to the working of the new fibre had been perfected, the industry was hampered because the jute was imported through London and Liverpool. In more recent years a fleet of magnificent ships has brought the raw material direct from India to Dundee. Foreign competition, and especially that of Calcutta, has operated adversely. Nevertheless the ever-increasing markets opened up in nearly every country of the globe and the fact that certain classes of goods can st'II be best made in the old centres of manufacture have enabled Dundee to more than hold its own.

Industries auxiliary to spinning and weaving, the main branches of the linen trade, are bleaching, dyeing, and calendering. The bleach-field is a necessary adjunct of every factory or of every textile district. In no part of the county, however, is bleaching so characteristic an employment as in the valley of the Dighty, doubtless because of its proximity to Dundee. This rivulet not only supplied water for bleaching but in the beginning of last century was spoken of as the hardest worked stream in Great Britain in proportion to its size, for there were then on its banks nine bleach-fields, 17 mills for washing and cleaning yarn, and five mills for beating thread and cloth.

The following excerpt from the latest annual report of the Dundee Chamber of Commerce contains interesting figures in connection with the local staple trade :

The local imports of jute for the year ending 31st December, 1911, amounted to 201,000 tons. The imports of flax were 12,600 tons, tow 4250 tons, and hemp 2500 tons. The exports of jute yarn from the United Kingdom for the year 1911 amounted to 22,020 tons, valued at ^704,000. Jute piece goods were exported to the extent of 149,450,000 yards, valued at ^2,045,000. Jute sacks were exported to the extent of 60,153,000 sacks, valued at £1,051,400 in 1911. Jute manufactures were imported from abroad to the value of £2,162,000, and were re-exported to the value of £1,324,000, leaving a difference of £839,000 as the apparent value of foreign jute manufactures retained for home consumption.

While in a general sense Dundee is the centre of the linen manufacture, and while in Forfarshire linen is still a great industry, the manufacture of linen is small in comparison with that of jute. Dundee is emphatically “juteopolis.”

At one time Dundee had cotton manufactures, and had a wide reputation for knitted bonnets: indeed one of its districts was known as “the Bonnet Hill.” Certain streets in the city still retain names associated with other trades—the refining of sugar, which was continued until about 1830, the making of soap, and the manufacture of glass. Tanning, the preparation of leather, and the making of boots and shoes were extensively carried on, though at present these are in abeyance, in Dundee at least. Arbroath, however, still does a large trade in goods of that class. At one time there were no fewer than 60 master-brewers in Dundee, and brewing is still carried on. The export whiskey trade is very extensive. In Dundee, Montrose, and other centres, a considerable trade is done in flour-milling. Sweets and preserves are made in enormous quantities in Dundee, its marmalade being known all the world over.

Dundee has for centuries been noted for ship-building; and even in these days when iron ships have all but superseded those made of wood, vessels intended for use in the Arctic and the Antarctic, for whale-fishing and for exploration, are largely made in its yards.

Of the finer kinds of timber imported, much is used in Dundee for fitting out passenger steamers. But a striking feature of the local timber trade is its extensive case and box manufacture. A large proportion of the wood imported is of course used in the building trade. Paper is manufactured on both sides of the Tay, and esparto grass, wood pulp, and other necessary materials enter the district through Dundee and its sub-ports.

Next to the staple trade the manufacture of iron goods and machinery is the most important in Forfarshire. Practically all the machinery required for preparing, weaving, and finishing jute textures has all along been made in Dundee. The normal production of jute looms in this centre is from four to five thousand annually. The bulk of these is now exported to Calcutta, but large numbers are also sent to continental countries, Japan, China, and Argentina. The value of textile machinery manufactured here approximates to £300,000 per annum, and from three thousand to four thousand hands are employed in the industry.

Dundee engineering firms also make marine engines, boilers, forgings, and castings; besides which there are such specialities as high speed gearing for electric transmission, and machine-cut wheels. This has grown to such an extent that one firm is now recognised as amongst the largest makers of this class of gearing in the world. Another important industry in Dundee is the production of linoleum machinery for local, continental, and American factories. Machine making is also extensively carried on in Arbroath.

Dundee is a very important financial centre. Indeed it is questionable whether the capital of its great investment companies, which do business mainly with America, is not greater than that devoted to its staple trade.

Forfarshire does its own share in printing and publishing. Some of its newspapers have a circulation almost co-extensive with Scotland. Dundee possesses one of the largest photographic publishing businesses in the world.

Return to Book Index Page


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus