Tailoresses of Harris and Lewis

I remarked earlier of my surprise at discovering an ancestral Tailoress in the 1891 census for Harris but it transpires that Isabella Kerr, MS Maclean (Wife of my 1st cousin 4 times removed) of Strond was far from alone:

1891
HARRIS – 7 (18 men)
Chirsty MacQueen, 50, Kintulavig, Wife, Kilmuir, Inverness

Mary Morrison, 29, Obbe, Sister, b. Harris
Cathy Mary Morrison, 18, Obbe, Sister, b. Harris
Christy Morrison, 27, Obbe, Wife, b. Harris
Christy Macleod, 24, Obbe, Daughter, b. Harris

Isabella Kerr, 60, Strond, Wife, b. Harris

Ann Macleod, 28, Borve, Berneray, Wife, b. Harris

STORNOWAY – 3
Marion Stewart, 36, Keith Street, Daughter, b. Stornoway
Ann Mackenzie, 25, 13 Newton Street, Wife, b. Stornoway
Maud Chiswell, 20, 55 Bayhead Street, Daughter, b. England

UIG – 1
Mary Maciver, 82, Callanish, b. Uig

1901
STORNOWAY – 1
Mary Macleod, 57, 20 Point Street, Head, b. Stornoway

UIG – 1
Anne Macarthur, 33, 26 Breasclete, Head, b. England

BARVAS – 1
Flora Murray, 28, 21 Barvas, Wife, b. Barvas

HARRIS (15 men)

Assuming that ‘Tailoress’ refers to someone who makes men’s clothing, as compared to a Dressmaker doing the same for ladies, then we can see that this cross-gender occupation had but a brief episode on Harris and doesn’t appear to have fared much better on Lewis, where 2 of the 7 were from England.

By way of contrast, in Scotland as a whole there were 4,200 Tailoresses in 1891 and over 5000 by 1901 (although checking those returns I came across a 4 month-old described as a ‘Tailoress’ so those figures might be somewhat exaggerated! – but these were the days of Victorian Child Labour and I suspect that at least some of those under10s were indeed working).

Back in the fresh-air of the islands, where children were less-likely to be exposed to the inhumanity of being treated as a ‘human resource’, tailoring remained largely a ‘personal’ service with individual tailors visiting their clients as is evidenced elsewhere in these ramblings of mine.

In such circumstances, the four young ladies of ‘Obbe’ are a particular surprise and I do wonder what story lies behind the presence of these half-dozen women in the South of Harris?

We can see from the Tailors of Harris, who were 18 in number in 1891 and 15 by 1901, that the demise of this brief dalliance was not accompanied by an increase in the demand for male tailors. This tempts me to conjecture of an early attempt at ‘adding value’ by creating garments on the island for export rather than complete webs of tweed but, if so, it apparently failed.

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