I cannot recall the precise circumstances that led me to happen upon the term ‘Web Maker’ in the 19th Century census returns but here are the five occurrences of the term in Harris:
Marion Macdonald, 52, North Harris, Web Maker Wool, Wife
Kate, 22, Web Maker Wool, Daughter
Bella, 18, Web Maker Wool, Daughter
Flora Macdonald, 36, No 3 Derisgil, Web Maker, Wife
Mary, 4 months
John Macdonald, 88, Retired Fisherman, Boarder
Mary Macdonald, 40, General Servant Domestic
John Macdonald, 15, Farm Labourer
Marion Mackay, 60, No 37 North Harris, Web Maker
Malcolm, 55(?), Shopkeeper Draper Grocer, Son
Annie, 29, Housekeeper, Daughter
Catherine, 23, Cook, Daughter
Malcolm Macleod, 9, Nephew
Jane Macleod, 21, General Domestic Servant
James Wilson, 37, Commercial Agent, Boarder
I have searched elsewhere in the UK censuses for other appearances of the occupation but it appears to have sprung-up in Harris by 1891 and is limited to these three particular households.
Searching the internet for the term ‘Web Maker’ in the context of weaving is exceedingly difficult as the phrase has a completely different widespread usage in the 21st Century!
Why it suddenly appears in Harris at this time and whether it refers to preparing the Warp for weaving, or the actual production of a ‘Web’ of woven cloth, is unknown.
In 1891 Flora Macdonald had a neighbour at No 2 who is described as a ‘Weaveress’ which suggests that a ‘Web Maker’ played a different role?
The presence in 1901 of the Web Maker Marion with her Draper son might indicate that she was involved in some post-weaving process?
The mystery remains but the release of the 1911 census next year will show whether the term ‘caught-on’ once Harris Tweed had become a specific, protected product or whether these three households will remain an unexplained anomaly.
Update: Scotland’s People have a very handy list of Occupations and the term ‘Webster’ equates to that of Weaver. There is no specific reference to ‘Web-Maker’ so it appears reasonable to equate Web-Maker, Webster & Weaver – for the moment!