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|
|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.
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).
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)
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  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)
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:
|Women to prepare the silk yarn for the loom||8|
|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).
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.
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)
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)
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)
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.