Women in Scotland: Farming and Fishing

In our last post we looked at women working in manufacturing. In fact, in many parishes it was the women who predominantly worked in this sector, spinning. However, there were also women still working on the land. In Morebattle and Mow, County of Roxburgh, “little more yarn is spun than what is necessary for private use. The women in this part of the country being accustomed to work much in the agricultural operations of the field, are little disposed for sedentary employments, and therefore, in general, sit down to the spinning wheel with great reluctance. From the present disposition and habits, both of males and females in this place, the introduction of manufactures among them would not, it is probable, meet with great success.” (OSA, Vol. XVI, 1795, p. 510)

Working in the fields

As reported in the parish of Watten, County of Caithness, “our women, perhaps, are more employed in the field, for at least 8 months in the year, than in most other places of the kingdom.” (OSA, Vol. XI, 1794, p. 271) The simple reason for this was that women earned more working in the fields. This actually lead to a lack of servant posts being filled, especially during the summer months, such as was the case in Torphichen, County of Linlithgow. “Servant women are difficult to be had too in summer, as they make nearly as much in harvest as their half year’s wages would be, and can do very well the rest of the time by spinning flax; indeed there are many women who do very well the year round, by spinning flax, with their harvest wages.” (OSA, Vol. IV, 1792, p. 471) This was also reported by the parish of Alford, County of Aberdeen, where “work is never done by the piece or day, but an agreed-upon-sum, together with the reapers victuals, (frequently accompanied by very ridiculous stipulations)… These harvest fees have been rising for some years, and are now 1 L. 15 s. or 2 L. for a man, and 1 L. for a woman, besides victuals”. (OSA, Vol. XV, 1795, p. 469) We will look a little more closely at servants in our next post.

Agricultural work was very hard and labourious, just as it was for men, and this was duly noted in the parish reports. It included clearing weeds, hoeing, carrying creels of manure or produce, sowing, reaping, dressing corn. Here are some examples of the work women actually undertook on the land:

Stornoway, County of Ross and Cromarty – “The ground being prepared, as soon as the season permits, the seed is sprinkled from the hand in small quantities; the plots of ground being so small, narrow, and crooked, should the seed be cast as in large long fields, much of it would be lost. After sowing the seed, a harrow with a heather brush at the tail of it is used, which men and women drag after them, by means of a rope across their breast and shoulders. The women are miserable slaves; they do the work of brutes, carry the manure in creels on their backs from the byre to the field, and use their fingers as a five-pronged grape to fill them.” (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 131)

Painting called Midday Rest by Robert Cree Crawford, 1878, depicting three women taking a break while working in the field.

Crawford, Robert Cree; Midday Rest, 1878. Picture credit: Glasgow Museums.

Prestonpans, County of Haddington – “The land is cleared of weeds, by sowing in drills, and horse-hoeing the interstices; and women are often employed to pick them out with the hand. The land designed for wheat is ploughed as soon as it is cleared of the preceding crop.” (OSA, Vol. XVII, 1796, p. 62)

Kingsbarns, County of Fife – “Much of the wheat and beans on the low lands are sown in drills, which, along with the potato and turnip, give a vast deal of employment to young women in hoeing. About 113 are so occupied. In fact, from the time of planting potatoes, which usually begins at the end of April, until harvest be completed, they are seldom off the fields. Their payment when so employed is 8d. per day, without meat; and when lifting potatoes, 1s. with their dinner. A good labourer with the spade obtains from 1s. 4d. to 1s. 6d. per day in summer, and from 1s. to 1s. 2d. in winter. The harvest wages are, for men, L. 2, with some potato and lint ground, and supper meal, and for women, L. 1, 13s. with the above bounties.” (NSA, Vol. IX, 1845, p. 97)

Stornoway, County of Ross and Cromarty – “In this, and all the other parishes of the island, the women carry on as much at least of the labours of agriculture as the men; they carry the manure in baskets on their backs; they pulverize the ground after it is sown, with heavy hand-rakes, (harrows being seldom used), and labour hard at digging the ground, both with crooked and straight spades.” (OSA, Vol. XIX, 1797, p. 258)

Snizort, County of Inverness – “The soil is broken up by the caschrom, and when sown is harrowed by women, who are also employed in carrying out the manure in creels to the field, and other drudgeries of the same nature. It cannot but give pain to every benevolent mind to see not only young women whose delicate frame should exempt them from such hard labours, but even mothers employed as beasts of burden.” (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 293)

Kilmuir, County of Inverness – “When the ground is thus turned over and sown, the harrowing department generally falls to the lot of the women. Owing to the lightness of the narrow, which they are able to drag after them, the ground cannot be made, sufficiently smooth, and to remedy this they commence anew with the “racan,” which is a block of wood having a few teeth in it, with a handle about three feet in length. As they have few or no carts, they are under the necessity of carrying manure, peats, potatoes, and all such commodities in creels upon their backs. So little do the women care for the weight of the creel, though full of peat or potatoes on their backs, that, while walking with it, they are engaged either at spinning on the distaff, or knitting stockings. Sacks, or canvas bags, are seldom used; instead of which they have bags which they call “plats,” made of beautifully plaited bulrushes. Of the same useful material they likewise make their ropes, and sometimes cables for their boats. Although the agricultural processes of the small tenants are in this manner conducted, the tacksmen are possessed of ploughs and carts, and other implements of husbandry, of the best and most approved modern construction.” (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 279)

Kilmuir, County of Inverness – “The women, for the most part, thrash the corn by a light flail of peculiar but simple construction. The quantity of barley raised is but very small, which the natives seldom reap with a sickle, but when ripe they pull it from the roots, then equalize it, and tie it up in small bunches. When it becomes seasoned, they cut off the ears with a knife, and preserve the straw for thatching their dwellings.” (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 285)

Bedrule, County of Roxburgh – A number of women were “chiefly employed in what is called out-work, as hoeing the turnip, making the hay, reaping the harvest, removing the corn from the stack to the barns etc.” (OSA, Vol. XV, 1795, p. 558)

Strath, County of Inverness – “The mode of dressing the corn to be ground by what is called gradan, is here still in use. By this operation they save the trouble of threshing and kiln-drying the grain. Fire is set to the straw, and the flame and heat parches the grain; it is then made into meal on the quern. This meal looks very black, but tastes well enough, and is esteemed very wholesome. The whole of the work is performed by the women. The only apology given by themselves, for this mode of preparing the grain, is, that the quantity of grain which the generality have is very small, and many of them are at a great distance from a mill.” (OSA, Vol. XVI, 1795, p. 228)

Transportation of goods

As well as working on the land, women transported produce to the markets to be sold. In Inveresk, County of Edinburgh, “the whole produce of the gardens, together with salt, and sand for washing floors, and other articles, till of late that carts have been introduced, were carried in baskets or creels on the backs of women, to be sold in Edinburgh, where, after they had made their market, it was usual for them to return loaded with goods, or parcels of various sorts, for the inhabitants here, or with dirty linens to be washed in the pure water of the Esk.”(OSA, Vol. XVI, 1795, p. 15) Yes, women even carried sand to Edinburgh, which was the hardest labour of all and least paid! “For they carry their burden, which is not less than 200 lb. weight, every morning to Edinburgh, return at noon, and pass the afternoon and evening in the quarry, digging the stones, and beating them into sand. By this labour, which is incessant for six days in the week, they gain only about 5 d. a day.” (OSA, Vol. XVI, 1795, p. 17)

The fishing industry

Women also worked in the fishing industry, undertaking a variety of tasks, including making the fishing nets, gathering bait, baiting hooks, gutting the fish and taking the fish to market (often involving heavy loads and miles of trekking). In the parish of Avoch, County of Ross and Cromarty, women even carried the men to the boats on their backs! While in Burntisland, County of Fife, women drunk undiluted spirits to help them get through the disagreeable work of curing herrings.

Photograph of the Fisher Jessie statue in Peterhead, Scotland. (A naturalistic bronze cast statue of a fish-wife and little girl, the woman carrying a creel and a basket.)

Fisher Jessie Statue, Peterhead. Iain Macaulay available through license CC BY-SA 2.0. (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/) via Wikimedia Commons.

In Dundee, County of Forfar, “women from Achmithie carry crabs, lobsters, and dried fish to Dundee, a distance of twenty-four miles, and return with the price in the evening. These women are
particularly strong and active.” (NSA, Vol. XI, 1845, p. 40)

In Rathven, County of Banff, men “marry at an early age, and the object of their choice is always a fisherman’s daughter, who is generally from eighteen to twenty-two years of age. These women lead a most laborious life, and frequently go from ten to twenty-five miles into the country, with a heavy load of fish. They seldom receive money for this fish, but take in exchange meal, barley, butter, and cheese. They assist in all the labour connected with the boats on shore, and show great dexterity in baiting the hooks and arranging the lines.” (NSA, Vol. XIII, 1845, p. 257)

Slains, County of Aberdeen – “The women are generally employed to gather the bait. About the one half of the fish caught here is carried in boats to Leith, Dundee, or Perth; the other half is carried by the women to Aberdeen…” (OSA, Vol. V, 1793, p. 277)

Uig, County of Ross and Cromarty – “All the people dwell in little farm-villages, and they fish in the summer-season. The women do not fish; but almost at all times, when there is occasion to go to sea, they never decline that service, and row powerfully.” (OSA, Vol. XIX, 1797, p. 284)

Avoch, County of Ross and Cromarty – “No less remarkable are the inhabitants of this thriving village in general, for their industry and diligence. They manufacture, of the best materials they can procure, not only all their own fishing apparatus, but also a great quantity of herring and salmon nets yearly, for the use of other stations in the North and West Highlands. From Monday morning to Saturday afternoon, the men seldom loiter at home 24 hours at a time, when the weather is at all favourable for going to sea. And the women and children, besides the care of their houses, and the common operations of gathering and affixing bait, and of vending the fish over all the neighbouring country, do a great deal of those manufactures.” (OSA, Vol. XV, 1795, p. 630) “Their women are, in general, hardy and robust, and can bear immense burdens. Some of them will carry a hundred weight of wet fish a good many miles up the country. As the bay is flat, and no pier has yet been build, so that the boats must often take ground a good way off from the shore, these poissardes [fish wives] have a peculiar custom of carrying out and in their husbands on their backs, “to keep their men’s feet dry,” as they say. They bring out, in like manner, all the fish and fishing tackles, and at these operations, they never repine to wade, in all weathers, a considerable distance into the water. Hard as this usage must appear, yet there are few other women so cleanly, healthy, or so long livers in the country.” (OSA, Vol. XV, 1795, p. 637)

Boindie, County of Banff – “One cooper and three women wait on shore for each herring-boat. Coopers’ wages are 12s. per week; in the fishing season, 14s. and 15s. Women receive for gutting and packing a full barrel, 7s. At this rate, with a sufficient supply of work, they might earn 5s. by a day’s work. The expense of curing a barrel of herrings is about 8s. besides the price of the fish.” (NSA, Vol. XIII, 1845, p. 236)

In the parish report for Banff, County of Banff, “the following table exhibits the state of the herring fishery, as regards the port of Banff alone, for the last five years.” (NSA, Vol. XIII, 1845, p. 41)

1831. 1832. 1833. 1834. 1835.
No. of barrels cured, 1759 1959 1265 938 631
No. of boats employed, 14 16 18 22 8
No. of fishermen, 56 64 12 88 32
No. of women in curing and packing, 41 46 48 60 21
No. of coopers, 6 6 6 8 4
No. of curers 6 5 5 6 4

 

It would be interesting to discover why figures dropped considerably in 1835!

Latheron, County of Caithness – “The herring being thus separated from the nets, are immediately landed and deposited in the curing box, where a number of women are engaged in gutting and packing them in barrels with salt.” (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 101)

Burntisland, County of Fife – “About 36 hands, including apprentices, are constantly employed as coopers; and about 60 females are occasionally employed in the curing of the herrings. The occupation is cold and disagreeable; but even this cannot warrant a pernicious practice that has long prevailed, of giving daily to those engaged in it, and some of these are young females, a considerable quantity of undiluted spirits.” (NSA, Vol. IX, 1845, p. 417)

Bressay, Burra, and Quarff, County of Shetland – “The curing of herring in Bressay employs about thirty women and children in the season… The manufacture of herring-nets now engages attention, and promises to be a useful employment.” (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 16)

Women also worked in the whale-fishing industry. In one company set up in Burntisland, County of Fife, from twelve to fifteen women were employed to clean the bone, compared with twelve oilmen and coopers. (NSA, Vol. IX, 1845, p. 418)

The Fish-Wives of Fisherrow

The parish report of Inveresk, County of Edinburgh, gives a fascinating insight into the lives of the fish-wives of Fisherrow, describing both their work and their demeanor. “They are the wives and daughters of fishermen, who generally marry in their own cast, or tribe, as great part of their business, to which they must have been bred, is to gather bait for their husbands, and bait their line. Four days in the week, however, they carry fish in creels (osier baskets) to Edinburgh; and when the boats come in late to the harbour in the forenoon, so as to leave them no more than time to reach Edinburgh before dinner, it is not unusual for them to perform their journey of five miles, by relays, three of them being employed in carrying one basket, and shifting it from one to another every hundred yards, by which means they have been known to arrive at the Fishmarket in less than 1/4 ths of an hour.” (OSA, Vol. XVI, 1795, p. 17)

They were very good at expressing themselves through language and gesture, and so were extremely gifted at selling. “Having so great a share in the maintenance of the family, they have no small away in it, as may be inferred from a saying not unusual among them. When speaking of a young woman, reported to be on the point of marriage. “Hout!” say they, “How can the keep a man, “who can hardly maintain herself?” As they do the work of men, their manners are masculine, and their strength and activity is equal to their work. Their amusements are of the masculine kind. On holidays they frequently play at golf; and on Shrove Tuesday there is a standing match at foot-ball, between the married and unmarried women, in which the former are always victors.” (OSA, Vol. XVI, 1795, p. 19)

Gathering kelp

Women also gathered and manufactured kelp. In Shapinshay, County of Orkney, “the summer months are occupied in burning kelp, which is the great manufacture of this country. The men almost of the whole islands, and many of the women, also exert themselves in this species of industry; and their joint efforts some seasons produce upwards of 3000 tons, which, at a moderate rate, brings near 20,000 l. to the inhabitants.” (OSA, Vol. XVII, 1796, p. 240) In Bressay, Burra, and Quarff, County of Shetland, “the manufacture of kelp in Bressay employs twenty or thirty boys and girls, who receive 9s. or more in the month, and have to work at least three hours every tide, by day or night. An overseer is employed, who receives at the rate of L. 2 per ton for his own wages and payment of the workers.” (NSA, Vol. XV, 1845, p. 16)

In Nigg, County of Kincardine, “to help their maintenance, the fisher-women at times, and also some women of the country, from the beginning of summer, go to the rocks at low tide, and gather the fucus palmatus, dulse; fucus esculentus, badderlock and fucus pinnatifidus, pepper dulse, which are relished in this part of the country, and fell them… The sea-ware, or bladder-fucus, grows up in three years on the rocks round the Ness and Bay chiefly, to a condition for being cut, dried, and burned into kelp. In 1791, 11 tons, of a fine quality, were made by 33 women, mostly young women, at 8 d. per day, with the direction of an overseer.” (OSA, Vol. VII, 1793, p. 207) However, in the later parish report for Nigg it was stated that “for many years past it has been discontinued, there being no demand for it. There was also, several years ago, a salt manufactory in the bay of Nigg, but it also has been given up. Lint was formerly sown and manufactured by private families in the parish, now there is no manufacture of the kind.” (NSA, Vol. XI, 1845, p. 209)

Conclusion

Looking through these excerpts on women in the farming and fishing industries, it is clear to see their common traits: strength, resourcefulness, dexterity and determination. They displayed a real fortitude and did not shirk hard work. This is illustrated again and again throughout the parish reports, and, we hope, is reflected in this series of posts on women in Scotland. In our next post,  we will continue looking at other kinds of work undertaken by women, some of which may surprise you!

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Women in Scotland: Manufacturing

This is the first post in our new series looking at women in Scotland. If you search for the subject “women” in the Statistical Accounts of Scotland the results are very revealing. They are dominated by references to the work women were doing in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

This work included:

  • spinning and weaving;
  • being servants;
  • in agriculture;
  • in the fishing industry;
  • in mining.

In the report for Campsie, County of Stirling, there is a very interesting table showing how females in that parish were employed in 1793. (OSA, Vol. XV, 1795, p. 361)

Wives to the different householders 410
Daughters, residing in their parents families 170
Servants in gentlemen’s families 26
Menial servants to the farmers and different householders in the parish 110
As sempstresses and mantua makers 12
Midwives 3
The remaining 71 are either widows or unmarried women, who reside in  cot-houses 71
Of the married women and young persons, residing in their parents houses, there may be about 150 who pencil calico [at] the print-fields.

 

With regards to midwives, not all were trained and some parishes did not have even one! We will look at midwives again in a later post. Other themes we will touch upon in future posts on women in Scotland are health, social status, dress, crime and punishment, and superstitions.

Spinning

In many parishes, it was women who carried out the principle, and sometimes only, form of manufacturing at that time – spinning. In Moulin, County of Perth, “the principal branch of manufacture, carried on in the parish, is the spinning of linen yarn, the staple commodity of the country. In winter, it is the only employment of the women. A woman spins, at an average, 16 cuts the day, the size of the yarn being ordinarily a spindle or 48 cuts from a pound of lint. A woman, who is a good spinner, and employed in nothing else, may earn 3 s. the week; but 1 s. is a high enough estimate of the earnings of a woman, who has a family of 2 or 3 young children to take care of.” (OSA, Vol. V, 1793, p. 61) In Blackford, County of Perth, “the women are the only manufacturers in this parish. From the flax that is raised in it, they spin a good deal of linen yarn, and make many pieces of coarse linen cloth for sale; and, by their industry, raise a part of the rent that is paid to the landlord.” (OSA, Vol. III, 1792, p. 212)

Females started spinning when they were very young, and some carried on til old age. In the parish report for Moulin, County of Perth, you can find the ages of women spinners and their typical work rate: “The women, from 10 years old and upwards, employ themselves in spinning linen yarn, almost wholly for sale, from the beginning or middle of November, till about the end of March, a period of 21 weeks. Of the 789 females above 8 years of age, 272, who are married, may be supposed to spin at the rate of one spindle the week. From the remainder, 517, one fifth part, 103, may be deducted, consisting of girls, old women, etc. whose work cannot be reckoned of any account. The rest, 414, may be supposed to spin at the rate of two spindles.” (OSA, Vol. V, 1793, p. 63) You can discover more information on spinning and the wages paid for this work in many parish reports, such as that of Auchertool, County of Fife (OSA, Vol. VIII, 1793, p. 115), Birsay and Harray, County of Orkney (OSA, Vol. XIV, 1795, p. 324) and  Forgan, County of Fife (OSA, Vol. XVI, 1795, p. 95).

Painting called 'Woman Spinning' by Thomas Stuart Smith. Picture credit: The Stirling Smith Art Gallery & Museum.

Smith, Thomas Stuart; Woman Spinning. Picture credit: The Stirling Smith Art Gallery & Museum.

By the time of the Statistical Accounts of Scotland changes in spinning had already taken place. These included:

– the amount women spun,with the introduction of the wheel for spinning with both hands (Leslie, County of Fife, OSA, Vol. VI, 1793, p. 43)

– an increase in the use of machinery which replaced the spinning wheel altogether (Dalry, County of Ayrshire, OSA, Vol. XII, 1794, p. 103)

– spinning being replaced by weaving (Carmylie, County of Forfar, NSA, Vol. XI, 1845, p. 371 and Newtyle, County of Forfar, NSA, Vol. XI, 1845, p. 565)

Women were increasingly being employed by large manufacturers. As stated in the parish report of Newtyle, County of Forfar, “since the spinning-wheel gave place to the spinning-mill, females have betaken themselves to weaving, and there are now nearly as many women employed at the loom as men.” (NSA, Vol. XI, 1845, p. 565) In the parish of Kirkmichael, County of Ayrshire, “the large Glasgow warehouses appoint agents here, who give out the cotton to the hand-loom weavers, and are responsible for its manufacture into the required fabric. By this means, a large sum of money is transmitted weekly from Glasgow to the country.” (NSA, Vol. V, 1845, p. 503)

In Avondale, County of Lanark, during the late 1770s “a considerable part of the yarn was manufactured for the behoof of people in the place, and the remainder was carried to the great manufacturing towns. Now [1793] the weavers are almost wholly employed by the Glasgow and Paisley manufacturers, and cotton yarn is the principal material.” (OSA, Vol. IX, 1793, p. 387) In the parish of Glenmuick, County of Aberdeen, women were sent flax for spinning by the manufacturers of Aberdeen (OSA, Vol. XII, 1794, p. 218), whereas in Lochs, County of Ross and Cromarty, “several merchants at Aberdeen send a great quantity of flax annually to a trustee at Stornoway, who distributes it to be spun, not only in this, but in all the parishes of Lewis.” (OSA, Vol. XIX, 1797, p. 278)

Tambouring and flowering muslins

Some women were also learning new skills and being employed to tambour or flower muslins instead. For example, in Hamilton, County of Lanark, “formerly, almost all the weavers manufactured linen only, and either employed themselves, or derived their employment from others on the spot. Now they get employment from the great manufacturers in Glasgow, etc. and cotton yarn is the principal material. Young women, who were formerly put to the spinning-wheel, now learn to flower muslin, and apply to the agents of the same manufacturers for employment.” (OSA, Vol. II, 1792, p. 199) In Kilwinning, County of Ayrshire, “women, and girls from 7 years old, are employed in tambouring muslins. The others flower muslins with the needle. The gauzes and muslins are sent here, for that purpose, by the manufacturers of Glasgow and Paisley.” (OSA, Vol. XI, 1794, p. 160) This was also the case for the parish of Kilbirnie, County of Ayrshire. “This branch of industry is very well paid at present, as, without any outlay or much broken time, an expert and diligent sewer will earn from 7s. to 10s. a week, though probably the average gains, one with another, throughout the year, do not exceed 1s. per day. This employment furnishes the means of decent support to many respectable females, and is decidedly preferred by nearly all the young women, natives of Kilbirnie, to working in either of the manufactories.” (NSA, Vol. V, 1845, p. 717)

Weaving

Women were also involved in the weaving industry, both of cotton and silk. In Hamilton, County of Lanark, “formerly, almost all the weavers manufactured linen only, and either employed themselves, or derived their employment from others on the spot. Now they get employment from the great manufacturers in Glasgow, etc. and cotton yarn is the principal material.” (OSA, Vol. II, 1792, p. 199) With a big increase in demand, especially due to imports to other countries, such as France, this method of manufacture was hard to sustain. For a discussion on this and the fact that hand-loom weavers earned so little, go to the parish report for St Vigeans. (NSA, Vol. XI, 1845, p. 507)

In Dalry, County of Ayrshire, “some years ago, when the silk manufacture flourished, there were above 100 silk weavers in the village, besides a few in the country part of the parish; and these were generally employed by the silk manufacturers in Paisley or Glasgow. But now the number of such weavers is greatly reduced, and cotton weaving has become the chief trade of the place.” (OSA, Vol. XII, 1794, p. 103) The writer of the parish report made the effort to find out the numbers of men, women, and children employed in the different branches of silk and cotton working:

Silk weavers 36
Women to prepare the silk yarn for the loom 8
Cotton weavers 107
Women and children to prepare the yarn for the loom 127

 

This highlights the fact that not only women were employed in the weaving industry. In Maybole, County of Ayrshire, “it is very common for women to weave. Boys are put at an early age to the loom, and the hours of working are, more especially in times of depression, very long. I have known the weaver to labour, with little intermission, fourteen and sixteen hours a-day, and after all earn but the miserable pittance of 6s. or 7s. per week, a sum barely adequate to support his family in the meanest way;” (NSA, Vol. V, 1845, p. 371)

As an aside, in Kilmuir, County of Inverness, “perhaps the most interesting custom which prevails in the parish is the manner of fulling, or waulking cloths, which is always performed by females” and is a step in woolen cloth-making. For a description of this process read the parish report (NSA, Vol. XIV, 1845, p. 286).

Introduction of Machinery

It is very interesting to look at the consequences of the introduction of machinery. As reported by the parish of Dundee, County of Forfar, “the general use of machinery has almost wholly superseded that of the spinning-wheel, and sent the females to a less appropriate labour for their support. Old men and old women no longer able to undergo the labour of the loom, and young persons of both sexes not yet strong enough for that work, are employed in winding for the warper and the weaver, and thereby contribute something to the general funds of the family.” (NSA, Vol. XI, 1845, p. 27)

In Renfrew, County of Renfrew, “the first and most important [manufacturing] is the muslin weaving. Connected with this branch, there are 257 looms, of which 176 are called harnessed looms. Each of the whole occupies one man,-except a few, which are wrought by women; and every two occupy one woman winding yarn. But in addition to these, every harnessed loom requires the assistance of a boy or girl, from seven or eight, years of age, up to probably fourteen or fifteen. There are thus, 257 weavers, 176 children drawing, and at least 128 women winding, making in all 561.” (NSA, Vol. VII, 1845, p. 23)

In the parish of Dalry, County of Ayrshire, mule jennies were introduced to spin cotton, “having 15 constantly going, and a small carding mill which goes by water, for preparation. And as they mean to extend their work to the number of 30 jennies, they are now building a carding-mill on a larger scale, to go by water, to answer the purpose of preparation for the above number. The cotton yarn is not manufactured in the place, but is sent to the Paisley or Glasgow markets. Those at present employed in the above work, including men, women, and children, may be about 50.” (OSA, Vol. XII, 1794, p. 104)

A fascinating insight into changes in machinery and employment practices can be found in the parish report for Glasgow, County of Lanark, where “about the year 1795, Mr Archibald Buchanan of Catrine, now one of the oldest practical spinners in Britain, and one of the earliest pupils of Arkwright, became connected with Messrs James Finlay and Company of Glasgow, and engaged in refitting their works at Ballindalloch in Stirlingshire”. (NSA, Vol. VI, 1845, p. 143).

Knitting stockings

At the time of the Old Statistical Accounts of Scotland, parishes located in the County of Aberdeen chiefly manufactured stockings. In Forbes and Kearn, County of Aberdeen, the knitting of stockings was the occupation of which “most of the women, throughout the whole year, and some boys and old men, during the winter season, are employed. They receive for spinning, doubling, twisting and weaving each pair, from 10 d. to 2 s. Sterling, according to the fineness or coarseness of the materials, and the dimensions of the stockings.” (OSA, Vol. XI, 1794, p. 195) In Leochel, County of Aberdeen, “a considerable number of women, chiefly of the aged and poorer class, employ themselves in knitting stockings from worsted, furnished to them by the Messrs Hadden in Aberdeen, and thereby earn annually from L. 70 to L. 100.” (NSA, Vol. XII, 1845, p. 1127)

As reported in the parish of Alford, County of Aberdeen, it was only the manufacture that was carried out by the people of Aberdeenshire. The wool itself was imported from England as it was of better quality. “It is spun and worked into stockings, at a price proportioned to their fineness or coarseness; and the average gain of a good worker, will be 2 s. per week.” (OSA, Vol. XV, 1795, p. 472) In Rayne, County of Aberdeen, “it is supposed, that this article [stockings] may yield to the parish about 400 L. Sterling. The hose are of that coarse kind, which bring for working the pair 12 or 14 pence Sterling; and some of the women will knit two pairs, or two pairs and a half in the week.” (OSA, Vol. XV, 1795, p. 115)

However, the knitting of stockings in the parish of New Machar, County of Aberdeen, was beginning to suffer as “from the invention of stocking looms, the price of women’s work being much reduced, they have begun to direct their attention to spinning, in which they will find their account.” (OSA, Vol. VI, 1793, p. 469) Wars with France and Holland also had an affect on this manufacturing, leading to another diversification. In Rayne, “through the persevering enterprise of few eminent capitalists in Aberdeen, it was succeeded by one a similar kind, viz. the knitting of coarse worsted vests or under-jackets, for seafaring persons, and of blue woolen bonnets, commonly worn by labouring men and boys, which are also knitted with wires, and afterwards milled. This is the common employment of all the aged, and many of the young women in the district of Gazioch; and at the rate of 3d. to 4d. for knitting a jacket, and 1d. to 2.d. for a bonnet, it will yield, with some coarse stockings, to those of this parish alone, about L.600 per annum.” (NSA, Vol. XII, 1845, p. 431)

Other types of manufacturing

Here are some examples of other types of manufacturing undertaken by women, as reported by the parishes of Scotland.

Painting by Haynes King of a girl at a window sewing.

King, Haynes; Industry (Girl at Window, Sewing). Picture credit: Beverley Art Gallery.

  • Needlework

Newton-Upon-Ayr, County of Ayrshire – “As nearly as can be estimated, there are 600 or 700 women, principally girls and unmarried women, employed in hand-sewing for warehouses in Glasgow… The Ayrshire needle-work, so extensively known and justly celebrated, was executed in this parish forty years ago: and it has been gradually improving until the present day. It consists of various patterns sewed on muslin and cambric for ladies’ dresses, babies’ robes, caps, &c. From the year 1815, when point was introduced into the work, the demand for it in London and other parts of England, as well as in Dublin and Edinburgh, has increased to a considerable extent. It is also sent to France, Russia, and Germany, and is exposed to sale in the shops of Paris. This valuable means of employment affords a fair profit to the manufacturer, and gives support to many respectable females, who by dint of industry, can earn from 1s. to 1s. 6d. and, in some cases, 2s. per day. In this work, which is confined to Ayr and its neighbourhood, several hundreds are engaged: and it is calculated that at least from 50 to 60 of them, who are chiefly young women, reside in the parish of Newton.” (NSA, Vol. V, 1845, p. 99)

Kirkcolm, County of Wigton – “The only thing worth mentioning under this head [‘Manufactures’] is, that in almost every house in the village, and indeed through the parish generally, young women are much employed in embroidering muslim webs, obtained from Glasgow or Ayrshire. By embroidering they earn, according to their expertness and the time they can devote to this word, from 8d. to 1s. 3d. a day, and sometimes more.” (NSA, Vol. IV, 1845, p. 119)

  • Printing

Bonhill, County of Dumbarton – “Of the hands employed at the printfields [i.e. cotton-printing works], there is nearly an equal number of both sexes. The wages given to the women, at first, were generally at the rate of 3 s. per week. They are now in general paid by the piece, and they may be said to earn 14 s. per month, at an average. The greater part of the women are employed in pencilling. A great variety of colours cannot be put upon the printed cloth without the assistance of the pencil.” (OSA, Vol. III, 1792, p. 447)

Campsie, County of Stirling – “by far the most extensive [printfield] is Letinox-mill Field, which was first established as a print-work about 1786. About 1790 it contained twenty printing tables and six flat presses. At that period, however, a great many women were employed to pencil on colour. This method is now entirely abandoned.” (NSA, Vol. VIII, 1845, p. 254)

  • Bleachfields

A bleachfield was an open area of land used for spreading cloth and fabrics on the ground to be bleached by the action of the sun and water. There were many bleachfields in 18th-century Scotland, including those in the parish of Markinch, County of Fife (NSA, Vol. IX, 1845, p. 676), St Vigeans, County of Forfar (NSA, Vol. XI, 1845, p. 509), and Banff, County of Banff, where 40 people were employed (OSA, Vol. XX, 1798, p. 356).

In Tibbermore, County of Perth, “as early as 1774, Huntingtowerfield was formed for the purpose of bleaching linen cloth. This work was carried out with great spirit and success for forty years, by Messrs Richardson and Co., when it was let by the present proprietors, Sir John Richardson of Pitfour, and Robert Smythe, Esq. of Metheven, to Messrs William Turnbull and Son. Under the energy and activity of the present lease-holder, the work has now become one of the first in Scotland. At present about 40 Scotch acres are covered with cloth. The quantity whitened annually is about a million a-half of yards, besides from 80 to 100 tons of linen yarn, for a power-loom factory in the neighbourbood. The number of people employed is about 150, of whom nearly one-third are women and boys… Immediately below this work, on the same Lead, are the flour and barley-mills, the property of Mr Turnbull, the tacksman of the bleachfield, at which a considerable amount of business is done.” (NSA, Vol. X, 1845, p. 1034)

Conclusion

Women played a massive part in the manufacturing industries of Scotland, willing and able to support themselves, their family and their parish. They have had to adapt to changes in demands and technology – and they have done this ably. These qualities are recurrent in future posts, including our next one where we turn our intention to women working in the farming and fishing industries.

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