Weaving in Auchterarder

                           Weaving in Auchterarder   

                      Growth and demise of hand loom weaving and the mills of the town 

Hand loom weavers





Parish Church of Old                                                                                                                ( only the tower                                                                                                          remains )


Cottage weaving was widespread throughout Perthshire. In the western area weavers were supplied by local agents with material from Glasgow manufacturers. In the eastern area the cottage industry was mainly cotton, the weavers being supplied with material from Dundee. At one time flax was grown locally, but by the end of the 19th century it was imported from the Baltic countries. At the same time flax was being displaced, to some extent, by jute. The sheep rearing areas of the Highlands provided the raw material for the manufacture of woollen cloth.

The most important area for cotton working in Perthshire was Stanley, the most northernly cotton mill in Britain. The Stanley Mills, having been associated in turn with Glasgow and Lancashire, were included in the formation of Jute Industries (Dundee) Ltd.
Until recently, the other important cotton weaving centre was James Findlay's mill at Deanston, the village having been dependent on this mill for its livelihood for over 150 years. The Deanston mill closed in 1965.
Perthshire was one of the main areas in Scotland for bleaching and dyeing, due in part to an abundance of pure, soft water. During the 19th century the bleachfields were closely associated with the textile industries.

In the 19th century Auchterarder and Aberthuthven were chiefly occupied by hand-loom weavers. These depended on middle-men who supplied the yarn to the weavers and bought the finished cloth to sell in Glasgow. In 1840 William Hally started with a cart, buying the yarn in Glasgow and bringing it to the hand weavers of Auchterarder. He would return to Glasgow with the woven cloth where it was sold. Ten years later William established a business in Boreland Park and by 1863 he opened the Castleton Mill. In 1869 the firm of Hally & Co., which emerged from this, introduced 60 power-looms; in 1874 the same firm had the Dollerie Mill in Crieff; in 1880 all three mills were incorporated at Ruthvenvale. In 1883 there were 453 looms with 300 workers at this mill. Cloth was exported to Australia, India, China and New Zealand, but not in Europe, while there was also a vigorous home trade. Seventy per cent of the raw material was imported from Belgium and 70 per cent of the finished article exported.

In the inter-war years there was here, as in other mills throughout the country, a great slump in trade. Despite modernisation carried out after the war, all weaving ceased in this mill at the end of 1956.
In 1929 however, a knitwear business, by the name of Gleneagles Knitwear, started and is now the only activity on the premises with over 80% of the products being exported.

The firm of Robert White & Co experienced similar development. This business began in the 1840s with hand looms in individual houses. The first factory was situated off Auchterarder High Street in what is now known as Kinnoull Place. It comprised two rows of buildings, one containing dwelling houses with hand looms, the other housing hand looms only. The present building, Glenruthven Mills, was built about 1874. London was the main customer, although exports went to such places as the United States, Italy and Japan.

This article appeared in the 'Craigie Column' of Dundee Courier newspaper on 19th May 2005Since we published the piece from Mr. Innes Duffus, archivist to the Nine Incorporated Trades of Dundee, about heckling, several people have asked him about the other terms he mentioned in the weaving of flax. He has kindly supplied the following explanation.

"Flax was harvested by pulling the plant complete with roots, from the ground. It was not cut and harvested like cereal crops. It was then allowed to dry in the field then taken in bundles for 'rippling'. Rippling was the removal of the seed. Two men at either end of a long board, in the middle of which was fixed a 'rippling caemb', did this. The comb looked like a big hairbrush with wooden, or later iron, teeth. It was hard. monotonous work, one man on each side striking alternately. The flax would then be tied into bundles and taken for steeping (soaking) in pools of stagnant water (lint pots) or backwaters in the burn. The purpose of this 'retting' was to let the outer woody part of the flax separate from the inner fibres. This process lasted at least a week. There were regular arguments with the landowners who believed, wrongly, that the flax would poison the water and ruin the fishing.

Highly skilled
Continues Mr. Duffus: "Then came 'scutching'. The flax was taken out of the lint pots, dried in the fields and crushed in a flax-brake or beaten over a baulk of wood with wooden mallets until the flax stems were completely broken and the bark removed. Later this was done by mill-scutching, and there were many of these water-powered mills. After scutching came 'heckling', a form of combing which drew the fibres out for spinning. Heckles differed to suit the flax. Some were wider and longer than others and it was a skilled occupation, as even flax from different parts of the same field required different heckles. The men worked in heckling sheds, the work was highly skilled and hecklers were well paid. This is how the term heckling came to be used at political meetings, as I described last week. Next came the well-known spinning and weaving. By law a spindle held 'no fewer than 5,760 threads or 14,400 yards of single yarn'. Yarn was sold by the spindle or 'hank' (a hank being one quarter of a spindle). Finally. after weaving came 'bleaching'. This was the steeping of the cloth in a hot alkaline solution (the 'ley'). washing it out, drying the cloth and then applying an acid (the 'sour'). This was repeated until the cloth was as white as required. Bleach fields in and around Dundee and district are well known even today


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