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Kinross Weavers

Some notes on the Kinross weavers. They were an organised body, the Kinross Weaver Society being founded in 1756. At that time a large proportion of our male population were weavers. The rules are very interesting and quaint. Not every weaver was admitted to membership, only one of good moral character, a healthy constitution and, to quote the old wording, “in a visible way of supporting himself.” The Society meetings were presided over by a Deacon, who had a baton with which to keep order. He could also impose fines on members who transgressed the rules. These fines are so trifling in amount that we wonder if they would have any restraining effect, until we remember that the total earnings of a weaver in these days did not exceed 5 or 6 shillings a week.

The rule headed “Disorderly Members” is to us amusing. “Any member holding private conversation during a meeting or interrupting another member while speaking was fined 1 penny for each offence, while if a member swore during a meeting the fine became 6 pennies.” The Society regarded all its affairs as strictly private. The rule regarding that reads, “If any member be so void of commonsense as to reveal the private business, he shall
be fined 5 shillings for each offence.”

The Society was also a benefit one and a member becoming ill, providing that his illness was not caused by
“dissipation or misconduct,” received 5 shillings a week while confined to bed. If he died, 30 shillings was paid for his funeral expenses, and if he left a widow, she got one pound a year during her “widowhood and good behaviour.”

One wonders if the Society still existed how the present-day members would look upon the scanty sums thus given by way of benefit. It should be remembered, however, that the membership subscription was only 4 shillings a year.

These old-time weavers had strong political views.
The younger ones were mostly Chartists and looked for
a time when “The People’s Charter” would become law.
Some of them, indeed, went so far as to look round on the various estates in our neighbourhood and to plan how
these should be divided up among the people when the
Charter became law. These men were visionaries and
were not at all practical in the arguments they used, or in the methods by which they sought to attain their ends. We can, however, understand the urge which led them to these views when we remember the miserable insanitary houses in which they lived, the long hours they had to work, and the very small money return they got for their labour.

A Kinross weaver’s weekly earnings then were only 5 or
6 shillings. These men were really much in advance of their time, or indeed of our own time. Many years later, after manhood suffrage had become law, I remember hearing a vast audience in a political meeting in Edinburgh sing with great enthusiasm what was called the “Land Song.”

“The land, the land, ‘twas God who made the land,
God made the land for the people
Why should we be beggars with the ballot in our hand,
God made the land for the people.”

Now these words just give expression to the views held
by our Chartist weavers so many decades earlier. It is true that during recent years many of the reforms de-
manded by the Chartists have been got though not in the
way the old Chartist idealists contemplated. Many of
our large estates have been broken up into separate parts and sold at fair prices to new owners, in many cases to the tenants who occupied them.

It should be noted that these old-time weavers were
keenly interested in political movements, long before they
had the right to vote for members of Parliament. At
the time when the great Reform Bill of 1832 was being
fought out in Parliament, great demonstrations in favour
of it were held all over the country. One such was held
here. This began with a procession through Kinross and
Milnathort, in which all the different trades in our County
took part, carrying banners and emblems of their trade.
In that procession, it is reported that 500 of our handloom weavers marched.

Again in 1884, when Parliament was debating the Franchise Bill of that year, which extended the vote to each householder, the weavers turned out in a body, but their numbers were then much reduced. The power looms, which came into use about the middle of the
century, had taken away very much of their occupation,
and many had drifted into other kinds of work.
One wonders how these old-time weavers contrived t
exist at all. Yet they did, and they had a keen interest
not only in local matters, but also in all that was going
on in the big world outside our small County. They
subscribed for and read the newspapers of their day.
Situated as they were, they could not afford to do this
individually. There were no public reading-rooms then
where they could see the newspapers, but four or five of
them would jointly subscribe for a paper. In Kinross
they seemed to favour the Edinburgh Courant, a paper
which does not now exist. There used to be trouble among these joint subscribers, if anyone was a slow
reader and kept the paper longer than the few hours he
was entitled to. I remember as a lad having an old
weaver pointed out to me as one of these slow readers who habitually offended in this way. The man who read the Convent after him was always at his door demanding the paper long before he had finished his perusal.

Many of the weavers were great readers of good litera-
ture. Indeed, it is largely owing to them that we owe
our present Kinross Public Library, for it was by their
efforts that in 1825 the old “Kinross Tradesmen’s Library”
was formed. This old library, which consisted mainly of
books other than fiction, had its ups and downs, but it
carried on for eighty years with wonderful success till 1906, when the “Public Lihraries Act” was adopted in our town, and the books of the old library were handed over and formed tbe nucleus of the present library. Some of the weavers were so keen on education that, in spite of many difficulties, they contrived to become students at our Universities and thereby to get entry into the learned
profession. I recall one learned Doctor of Divinity who,
in ins youth, was a weaver in Milnathort, and it is reported of him that he was accustomed to fix his Latin and Greek text-books to his loom and study while he worked at the ‘‘fower stoops o’ misery,’’ all unconscious of the position he was destined later to attain to. About the same time, although he was doubtless unaware of it, another Scottish lad, working at a handloom in Blantyre, was in like manner preparing himself for the great work he (Dr. Livingstone) was destined to do for the natives of Central Africa.

Most of these old-time weavers were keen song-bird
fanciers. They went in for canaries, linnets and occas-
ionally sky-larks and bullfinches, and the streets where
the factories and loom stances were usually re-echoed this sweet music which could be heard amid the noise of
the looms. Now there are no handloom weavers left in our district, and the old ‘shiedeldy-shadeldv” rattle of the loom is no longer heard, but their memory remains, and we are grateful for what they did and for the reforms now enjoyed by us which their efforts assisted to bring into being.

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