The Story of Weaving in Crieff & Strathearn ( Part Two)
Weavers' Hall in Commissioner Street Crieff
A very early picture of Dallerie Mill c 1855
For Strathearn, the diminution in importance of the Michaelmas Fair or Market in the later part of the 18th century brought about by the collapse of the cattle trade, was to a certain extent offset by the rapid growth of the linen trade. Traditionally, rural communities had always had a weaving tradition although mostly in wool. With the Union of Parliaments, the protective tariffs set up by the English state were abolished and at last Scottish merchants were given equal opportunities to deal with the lucrative London market where the light , cheap linen cloths had begun to usurp the hold of the traditional woollen garment.
The town of Crieff too, had developed its own weaving " industry " in the wake of the decline after the departure of the Tryst to Falkirk . It was prior to the '45 Rising when James Drummond , Third Duke of Perth opened a linen " factory " on the site of what is now the District Library at the junction of Lodge Brae and Comrie Street . Known as the Mason's Hall part of it is still owned by the Masonic Lodge and one can see the much worn stone embellishment on the front facade with the inscription “ St Michael’s Lodge ” still visible.
No doubt Drummond's Jacobite sympathies were the root cause of the factory's destruction by the Hanoverian troops in 1746 but so ended the initial attempt to establish a viable textile trade within the town. In reflection this would have undoubtedly have assisted the local economy of the time. With the Tryst still active for about another 20 or so years, the down turn in local trade may have been averted.
Irrespective of ones attitude to the parties of conflict , it is clear that out of chaos came a semblance of normality and hope. The Government appointed Commissioners to administer the confiscated estates of the deposed Jacobites including the Perth family , until then the dominant Strathearn lairds. A concerted effort was made to establish the linen trade in Crieff . Ground was made available to feu out ( ie to lease in perpetuity ) to enable the individual to build a home with a small garden in which he could grow flax to be spun into linen. The Commissioners also assisted in the development of the linen industry by providing water power for scutching mills at nominal rentals or feus . Scutching was the process which treated the flax prior to heckling and the final spinning of the thread . When the dried flax stalks were going through the scutching mill , the “ scutchers ” threw off a great deal off refuse which was known as pob or pob - tow and was used by the poorer people as fuel . According to Porteous the chief burners of pob - tow were the inhabitants of Bridgend.
There were several scutching mills in operation and they worked mainly in the winter months . Because of the dust, it became obligatory for the thirsty deliverers of flax to receive a bottle of whisky per load ! The spinning of the flax was normally the work of the women folk . Prior to it being spun it was heckled or broken down. The Meadows or Town Green was the principal area of the Crieff where the webs of linen were laid out for bleaching.
It was John Drummond , Second Earl of Perth who had brought the first Flemish weavers to Strathearn in the early part of the 17th century . Prior to linen , wool was spun and woven. Waulk and fulling mills were established near Turret Bridge in what is now Mungall Park and at Drummond Castle in the earlier part of the 18th Century .These prepared and shrank the cloth. Towards the end of the 18th Century a small company carried on a woollen “ manufactory ” at Dallerie . Another such “ manufactory ” was established at the south side of James Square where the Golf Shop is now located . The building was known as the
Warehouse or locally as Mount Rascal .
James McEwan established the Dallerie Woollen Mills which specialised in tartan cloth . It was later bought by Hally and Co of Auchterarder . The Earnvale Woollen Mill was established by James Mitchell at the end of the laid opposite Braidhaugh and functioned for a number of years . It had a somewhat chequered career having been damaged by fire on more than one occasion . The buildings can still be seen from the bridge .They served for a number of years as workshops for Derek Halley , landscape contractor . With planning permission having been granted for a housing development yet another piece of Crieff’’s diminishing industrial heritage is scheduled to disappear before very long .
Commercially wool became an important part of the town’s economy . As with Auchterarder , it developed eventually along power loom lines and utilised the water power of the nearby River Earn and the Turret Burn . An examination of the 1901 ordnance survey map of the area clearly shows the utilisation of this resource with the construction of a lade from the weir at what is the top end of MacRosty Park southwards till it joined the Earn opposite the Braidhaugh at the bridge . The lade with its multiplicity of sluices is sadly no more. The storms of the '80s brought torrential rainfall to the upper reaches of the Turret and the violent flood waters caused havoc lower down with the result that the weir was severely damaged and the lade left high and dry. Despite plans and proposals it appears unlikely that water will flow again down its course . In its hay day, there was a saw mill and a corn mill at Milnab on the site of what is now Park Manor . Further down at the entrance to Morrison' s playing fields at Dallerie was a large and for a long time , a prosperous woollen mill . Established at the end of the 18th century and run by one John McQueen it did not really come to prominence until it was taken over by James McEwan who had been as noted above , been in business on the east side of James Square with a William Hamilton . The business of James McEwan and Sons became famous for its tartans and for the early part of the 18th century employed a large number of people as power loom weavers . The business and premises at Dallerie were purchased in the 1870s by Hallys of Auchterarder who invested money in new buildings and equipment and for a while employed upwards of 300 persons . In a process of rationalisation the works were closed after a little over 10 years and business transferred to their Ruthvenvale Mill in the " Lang Toon ". The factory then became a dyeing and cleaning establishment and eventually was bought and run by the Crieff Hydro as the Strathearn Steam Laundry Company .
The Weavers Society of Crieff
Weaving and spinning had grown over the years from being merely an adjunct to normal agricultural operations to a thriving cottage industry by the 18th century . In most cases it was the farmer’s wife would have spun the wool from the sheep and follow this through by weaving a rough cloth to be turned into garments for her family .Sometimes the spun wool would be sold to the village weaver who in his loom shed would convert the raw material into usable cloth . The invention of the handloom by Joseph Loom in Flanders in the early 1700s had revolutionised things dramatically.
The number of weavers and associated trades had grown rapidly in the villages of Strathearn. In 1768 the Weavers Society was formed in Crieff . Each weaver paid into a fund to support the families of those of his trade to ensure that their widows and their orphans would not be left destitute . A code of rules and regulations were drawn up by the eight founding members and approved in 1770 . Such was the success of the new Society that year by the year numbers grew . At a meeting held on the 9th November 1775 , it was resolved to have an annual procession and to purchase the necessary flags etc., for such occasions . Again the only extant account seems to have that published by Macara in 1881 .
“Immediately after this meeting they set about getting the colours with all possible speed and employed a painter in Paisley to paint after the pattern of their colours at Paisley and they were soon got home and their price was for six yards of crimson silk £2 .2s ; for painting £2.2s ; for the pole to carry them 1/6 ; for the iron and brass for the top of the pole 2/- ; for two tassels 5/- . There was also got 12 1/2 yards of crimson Persian silk for sashes at two shillings and four pence per yard. There was also provided 80 rods to carry in their hands at 1/2d each. Having got every thing provided necessary for the procession they agreed to have their parade on the 4th day of June 1776 years,
being His Majesty's birthday , George III , and a good number of the brethren being present they having by this time increased to about 80 and so after choosing persons to bear office for the ensuing year and going through some other business , they for the first time made a very regular and orderly procession through the town between five and six o'clock afternoon , having a very good band of music attending them , and after the parade spent the night in taking a glass with one another in a most cheerful and harmonious manner .
What would the present natives not give to have a photograph and detailed account of this procession? The appearance of the actors , their dresses , demeanour , size , style of marching , and the music and musical instruments to which they marched ? Also the appearance of the streets , made of rows of thatched biggings , and the crowds of onlookers would make a most interesting and instructive study . The annual processions thereafter were sights worth seeing , and the rural inhabitants crowded the village on such occasions . On the 4th of June 1795 " a petition from the brethren in Comrie was presented craving that the Society would grant them the favour of the colours and the sashes belonging the corporation upon the 13th day of July next , in order that they might have a parade on that day , which they think might be for the honour and advantage of the Society , and that a number of the members from Crieff might attend , " which petition was unanimously agreed unto. At a meeting held on 19th June 1781 , the members of the Society belonging to Auchterarder craved authority to be allowed to erect themselves into a Society at Auchterarder , " and " they would pay instantly five shillings as an acknowledgement of having sprung from the Crieff Society ; which was agreed to ”. A similar petition came from Fowlis Wester in 1819 ,and Muthill followed suit in 1822 , and " they solicit us ( not only as being their maternal society , but being the first and most honourable society in Scotland ) for obtaining the weaver craft . "
The site of the Hall was in Commissioner Street or to be specific Scott Terrace and was rebuilt and turned into flats around the 1930s .
PART THREE to follow will locate at the rise and demise of the weaving fraternity in Strathearn in the first half of the 19th century . From middle class citizens to paupers in but two decades .