Occupations - Weaving
Religion & Politics
Living Room (The 'But')
Weaving has evolved in Scotland ever
since the first communities were established with Stonehouse prospering
during the weaving boom of the 18th and 19th Century.
During the period 1790-1850 Scottish hand weaving experienced great
swings in the variety of fabric worked with linen the dominant material
prior to 1790, moving to the production of cotton until the mid 19th
century. The innovations of Hargreaves, Cartwright, Crompton and Kay
revolutionised the weaving industry around 1770, reaching its peak with
the invention of the Jacquard handloom at the latter end of the 19th
century. The Jacquard handloom enabled weavers to produce fine
During the demise of the weaving industry, the Stonehouse weavers were
able to adapt better than most, establishing a reputation in the craft
of silk hand weaving, employing 531 inhabitants in 1861. Working
closely with Strathaven, the Stonehouse weavers produced silk scarves,
handkerchiefs and assorted exports for the Indian, as well as the home
market. The demand for silk material declined after the first world
war. With power loom weaving increasing, the hand loom weavers could
not compete with the prices of cotton, woollen and linen materials due
to the materials being bought in larger quantities.
Hand loom weaving was a family business, the trade being handed down
from father to son. There was also a great dependency on women in the
weaving process, undertaking such tasks as pin winding, tambouring and
Stonehouse weavers obtained their materials from agents in the village,
as well as from Strathaven and Larkhall returning the finished cloth
after several weeks. These agents included Thomas Frew of Queen Street,
Strathaven, Caldwell and Young of King Street and Robert Miller of
Until 1820-1830 handloom weaving was the highest paid employment of the
ordinary working classes but as pay became poor and
work scarce towards the end of the 19th century, the weavers turned to
agriculture and the mines to supplement their income.
The Stonehouse Silk Industry
“Unfortunately for the
Stonehouse silk industry, it has been found
impossible to start a co-operative manufacturing company here. Many
hands are out of work, and it is feared that more will be thrown idle.
The outlook for the weavers is at present very dark, and if time does
not heal matters our handloom weaving will be destined to become a
thing of the past.”
In the second half of the 19th century there were still weavers working
in Hamilton, Larkhall, Stonehouse and Strathaven. The last two weavers
from Lanarkshire, as far as we can tell, were Robert and James Hamilton
of Camnethan Street. James died at the age of 84 in 1959 and completed
his last ‘wab’ in 1939. The silk loom belonging to the Hamilton
Brothers now rests in the Royal Scottish Museum, Edinburgh. In Rev.
Robert Pollock’s statistical account of 1950 he states that there
still working looms in the village but that they were principally
museum pieces. The annual medical report of Stonehouse Hospital in 1903
states there were still 35 weaving shops in working order in the
When weaving was at its peak in the early 1800’s, the weavers were
prosperous enough to own their own property. Streets of privately owned
cottages were built, such as those in Hill Road and Camnethan Street.
The houses were generally, though not always, one storey terraced
houses with the front door opening to the street. This door led to a
stone-flagged entry which gave access to the weaving shop on one side
and to the living quarters of one or two rooms to the other. A ladder
from the entry to the loft gave storage and extra sleeping space. A
washhouse was usually added at the rear of the building. The weaving
shop would hold from one to six looms which were worked by the weaver
and his family. The first of these houses cost approximately £45
- £60, with the repayments being only a little more than the cost
of rent. The introduction of building societies around 1830 led to
progressive new building developments and with the establishment of two
friendly societies in the mid 19th century a sickness relief fund was
set up for weavers. Many of these cottages have now been restored,
retaining their character and fine sandstone appearance.
Originally all these cottages were thatched. During the hot summers,
the thatched roofs were prone to fires, which could often spread to
adjoining cottages. In 1857 the nearest fire service was in Hamilton.
In the event of a fire, the people would be alerted by a bell in the
old jail house. Fires were quite common in the eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries, so the people were extremely organised forming
chains of buckets from the nearest well. In 1857 the Black Bull was
burned to the ground despite the valiant efforts of the crowd. To
prevent birds nesting, a fine mesh was laid over the thatch. The last
thatched cottage in the village was around the mid-nineteen sixties.
Religion & Politics
The Scottish hand loom weavers were devoutly religious. Not all
Scottish weaving families adhered to the Established
Church. The influx
of trade from Ireland ensured a sizeable proportion were Roman
Catholic. Boghall Street in particular was known for its Irish
immigrants at this time. Religion was
practised at home as well as at
church and often children were taught to read through reading the
Bible. This was particularly the case with the weaving community,
probably the most educated of all tradesmen. Politically the weavers
were traditionally radical, none more so than in the 1820 insurrection
to which Strathaven namely ‘Perly Wilson’ was famed. Ever since the
beginnings of the weaving communities the weavers have been a strong
force politically. They were often able to influence laws, and in 1473
were able to forbid importation of cloth from England to boost the
industry in Scotland.
The oldest implement for spinning was the spindle, a very slow process.
It is believed the spindle was invented in India about 2000 years ago.
The spindle was developed and incorporated on a wheel for unwinding raw
silk from cocoons provided by the Chinese. This method was improved in
India and reached Britain by the 14th century. The European version was
initially used for wool produce and is became known as the wool wheel.
By the end of the 18th century, the use of spinning wheels was common,
particularly the muckle wheel and the more sophisticated ‘saxon’ wheel
which is more familiar today. The purpose of the spinning wheel was to
twist the fibres being spun and wind the resulting yarn on to bobbins.
The process used in spinning has remained unchanged in 2000-3000 years,
through experimentation with the natural materials available to man.
With the introduction of the wool wheel, twisting and winding still
remained time consuming separate operations, but with the development
of the bobbin and flyer, twisting and winding were combined in one
operation. During the 18th century, linen became one of the most
important industry in Scotland.
Woollen thread spun at home, would be sold or used for knitting or
embroidery. In addition to spinning for their own needs, women could
earn a little money spinning for a weaver and the wider market.
Weaving was a predominantly a male occupation though many women and
girls worked spinning or “tambouring”; a type of embroidery. This
involved stretching cloth over a circular frame (like a drum or
tambourine) and then embroidering the cloth with flowers or whatever
design was required. The women worked in their own homes with work
provided by an agent. They might have to work between 12 to 15 hours
per day in order to make 5 to 10 shillings per week.
Many working class girls did not go to school prior to 1850, working as
soon as they were able. Young girls in ordinary working families did
samplers in order to practise their needlework with the object of
getting a job (such as embroidering flowers on tablecloths). Girls in
wealthier families also made needlework samplers, but only as a pastime.
A common example of a sampler would include the letters of the alphabet
and might also contain the names of the family in boxes (father, mother
and sister, etc.) and various objects depicted in needlework. Although
there was much writing on the sampler, the girl might not necessarily
have been able to read or write. Often girls who made samplers were
just following a pattern made up for them by someone else. Usually the
ages of ‘sampler’ sewers ranged from 5 to 13 years. Examples of
samplers can be found at the John Hastie Museum, Strathaven and Airdrie
Weavers Cottage Museum.
Living Room (The ‘But’)
The whole family had to live in one room combining, living room,
kitchen and bedroom. The average family size in those days was about
six to eight people, but it was not uncommon for a dozen or more to
live in one room. Many living rooms had a ‘set-in’ or ‘hole in the
wall’ bed, but it was very common to have two of them side by side. At
least four people would commonly sleep in these ‘set-in’ beds, i.e.,
one bed; mother, father and three or four children might sleep together
or with two beds - one bed might have the mother and father in it,
while the other bed might contain six children. If the family was so
big all could not be accommodated in the ‘set-in’ beds, then the
surplus would sleep on straw mattresses in the loft.
There was no gas until 1844, when the Gas Company was established to
provide street lighting; neither was there electricity until around
1932-34. All cooking was done over the coal fire (coal was plentiful
and cheap in Stonehouse). In Airdrie, some fireplaces may have been
more ‘high-tech’ for the period, due to the abundance of forges and
steel works nearby. In rural areas more basic fireplaces were in use.
The sort of foods consumed included porridge, vegetables, soup, oat
cakes, bannocks (thick oat cakes), potatoes, buttermilk, salted herring
and ling. Meat, when obtained was generally used in making soup. There
were no fridges to keep perishables like meat fresh. This had to be
salted or smoked to be preserved. Bread was uncommon in Scotland in
this period; wheat was not grown because of the climate - hence there
was little flour to make bread. Oats being the main crop in the
country; oatcakes took the place of bread in Scotland. There was a
great dependence on potatoes, especially during the 19th Century, among
the poorer classes. Oatmeal, however, remained more important in the
diet than bread or potatoes despite the cheapness of bread or the
difficulties in preparing oatmeal.
Milk, particularly in the form of buttermilk, was also popular, whereas
tea, sugar, butter, salt and meat were considered luxuries. Many
Stonehouse weavers used the open space at the back of their cottages to
grow vegetables to supplement their diet. The weavers may have had a
few chickens (both in the garden and in the house) and there may have
been a few eggs lying around to fry.
In the early part of the 19th Century there was no running water supply
in the cottage, (no taps, flushing toilets, baths, sinks, etc). All
water supplies had to be collected from the nearest well. Going to the
well for water was often a very social event, with groups of women
collecting round the well to have a chat, while awaiting their turn.
Wells were common throughout the village and can be located on early
ordnance survey maps. At the latter end of the 19th Century communal
taps were installed in the streets. To the best of my knowledge the
first water pipes were installed in King Street, in 1894 by the County
Council. It wasn’t until around 1904 that water taps were installed
into common housing.
Soap was available if there was a candle factory nearby or if people
cared to make it themselves. Home-made soap was made by boiling animal
fat for hours on end until a scum formed on top. This scum was then
scrapped off and became soap as it cooled down. Washing clothes was a
hard slow process, generally done every five or six weeks. Most people
might have had only a couple of suits of working clothes, wearing the
same clothes for two weeks. They would also have a good set of clothes
for “Sunday best”.
Candles were made from tallow; made from animal fat; a very smelly and
unpleasant process. In 1836 a small establishment manufactured cotton
into lamp and candle wicks. Prior to 1860 anyone talking about an oil
lamp usually was referring to a cruzie lamp. Fish oil, whale oil or oil
made from animal fat was put in the top tray, along with a wick at the
spout (the oil seeped up the wick). The lower tray caught any drips
from the top tray as the wick was burning.
In addition to the smells of cooking, dampness, unwashed bodies and
toilet waste, many houses might also have the reek of burning fish oil
vapour. People too poor to have candles or cruzie lamps would collect
rushes from streams. Once dried out they were placed in wooden holders
and burned for light.
A gas company was established in 1844, through investment from
shareholders. The company was based at the foot of Union Street, where
it supplied gas to the Street Lighting Company. Although poorly lit,
the street lighting was of great need in the long dark winter nights.
Through improvements and further investment, the Street Lighting
Company was able to install 27 gas lamps by 1888. This company later
came under the control of the Parish
Council in September 1897.
At night a lamp lighter or ‘leerie’, walked along the streets lighting
lamps with a long pole with a flickering flame on one end. The children
were fascinated by this and the lamp lighters often found he had a
crowd following him. In 1899 Robert Bruce was appointed lamp lighter to
the village. The production of gas proved profitable for the coal
mines, for in 1883 the gas company consumed 229 tons of coal. In 1884
street lamps were supplied with gas free of charge. Gas still lit the
streets until around 1950 with the exception of a few lights in the
newly developed ‘electric’ scheme.