The British and Irish Spinning and Weaving School

It appears that this institution was the likely link between Harris and Herts. and I have uncovered a reference in ‘Womanhood 6’, the publication edited by Ada S Ballin, which states:


‘At the British and Irish Spinning and Weaving School, in New Bond Street, with its branch school at Bushey…’


In 1902 Volume 8 of this publication would refer to:


The stall for Harris goods, superintended by Mrs. Thomas…’


which I think was in regard to an Exhibition of Home Industries that had been held in Scotland and which links Fanny Thomas to the island and to Home Industries/Arts & Crafts almost up to the time of her death and certainly during the period when the School in Bushey was opening & operating.

Although she is not specifically mentioned, the lady ‘on the ground’ in Harris at this time was Mrs S Macdonald, (born in Grantown-on-Spey as Sarah Grant) of Kyles House near ‘Obbe’ and of the Scottish Home Industries Association.
In 1895 this wife of the Farmer and Merchant Roderick had written her piece that appeared in a Scottish Home Industries booklet and was then referred to in the Scott Report of 1914.
(It is this account by Sarah Macdonald’s on the origins of Harris Tweed that has informed most subsequent accounts.)

I am hoping to learn more about the School in Bushey from the Local Studies Centre in the museum there but meanwhile the presence of the Tapestry Weavers in Bushey appears to provide additional evidence regarding the wide range of activities undertaken by the ladies associated with the Home Industries movement and Harris.

Lululaund?

In the previous piece on Tapestry Weavers I posed the question as to what had led the ladies from Harris to Bushey? A little further examination of that little village in Hertfordshire produced a possibility which, although highly conjectural, I thought I would describe:

In 1886 a remarkable house was conceived and by 1894 people were living in it. It was known as Lululaund and was built for the artist  Hubert von Herkomer who was linked with the Arts & Crafts movement. Lululaund has been described as an ‘Arts and Crafts fairytale home’ .

In 1899, The Land Magazine had published the Duchess of Sutherland’s account of The Revival of Home Industries and the newly-founded Scottish Home Industries Association, inspired by Ruskin’s Arts & Crafts movement,  had ‘Mrs S Macdonald‘ as its champion in An-t-Ob or ‘Obbe’. FWL Thomas had died in 1885 and in 1890 the widowed Fanny Thomas married James Flowers Beckett and moved from Leith to Sussex but remained linked to Harris at this time via her Tweed depot in London.

The pieces were in place, therefore, for seven skilled young ladies from Harris to find themselves working in Hertfordshire producing items for the extraordinary residence of an artist named Herkomer. I have no proof, and have contacted the museum in Bushey for assistance, but at least I now have a possible explanation where before there was none.

Tapestry Weavers

I was doing some highly focussed (OK, slightly random!) searching and came across four young ladies from Harris who in 1901 were employed as Tapestry Weavers.
What made this surprising was that the young ladies, aged from 15 to 25, were all credited with having been born in Obbe, Scotland but at the time of the census were boarders in the house of a 40 year-old Metropolitan Police Constable in Bushey, Hertfordshire.
Quite how this quartet came to be living at 39 Park Road, Bushey, situated a mile each way between Watford and Greater London, and precisely where they were employed remains unknown but this is the first time that I have seen such a group and hence I thought it worth a brief mention.

Ah, but what is this I see? Three more from Obbe but this time at 34 Silvester Terrace in Bushey, the Head of Number 32 being a local man, George Corney who was a Master Baker.
The two houses are home to George, his Wife and their Niece together with a Domestic Servant and no less than six Tapestry Weavers, four Carpet Weavers and two more who appear as Mixed Weavers.
Of this dozen, two are Blind and one is Deaf & Dumb.
Three of the Tapestry Weavers are 17 & 18 year-old young ladies from ‘Obbe, Harris, North Britain’.

So a total of seven female Tapestry Weavers from Harris, all specifying their birthplace as ‘Obbe’, were possibly working together but for whom and where is uncertain for, unhelpfully, the Baker lists the ladies relationship to him not as ‘Boarder’ or ‘Lodger’ but as ‘Weaver’.
I suspect that George was the landlord for the ladies at number 34, for it is clearly a separate household but the first person on the list is not shown as the Head of the Household which is the expected practice.

All rather confusing, but a tale worth the telling, nevertheless!

Three Tenants of Strond

In 1861, 12 of the 32 families in Strond (ED7) recorded their Head of Household as a ‘Tenant’.
There were no Tenants’ in the 26 households of ‘Oab’ (ED6), the 5 of ‘Borisdale’ (ED7) nor the 5 of Rodel (ED7) thus these 12 were the only Tenants along the Sound of Harris between Rodel and An-t-Ob.
The whole of Harris at that time had 64 ‘Tenant’ households, which can be compared to the total of 233 Crofter households of Harris none of whom were amongst the 68 households in this region.
I am particularly interested in three of these Tenant families:
Angus Kerr, 70, Tenant, b. Harris (my great,great,great granduncle)
Marion Kerr, 61, Wife, b. Harris
Malcolm Kerr, 30, Farmer’s Shepherd, Son, b. Harris (marries Isabella Maclean, daughter of one of the 18 Tenants in Strond of 1841)
Effy Kerr, 26, Daughter, b. Harris (spinster)
Roderick Kerr, 22, Post, Son, b. Harris (bachelor)
Mary Kerr, 20, Daughter, b. Harris (see below)
Angus & Marion’s other three children:
Marion b. 1821, fate not yet discovered;
Angus (Rodel Farm Grieve & Coachman) b. 1829 married, on the 5th of April 1870, Lexy Morrison daughter of Kyles Scalpay’s Schoolmaster;
William b. 1826, a Fisherman who drowned, unmarried, in1862
Mary Kerr would, on the 12th of February 1867, marry Angus Macsween the Tenant, who was a son of John Macsween the Weaver and his wife Anne Campbell:
Angus Macsween, 34, Tenant, b. Harris
Lexy Macsween, 36, Ag Lab, Sister, b. Harris
Malcolm Macsween, 26, Sailor (Merchant Service), Brother, b. Harris
Kenneth Macsween, 24, Sailor (Merchant Service), Brother, b. Harris
Jessie Campbell, 22, General Servant, Cousin, b. Harris
John Gillies, 9, Nephew, b. Harris
John Gillies aged 9 is the son of Kenneth Gillies the Tenant and his wife who was born Marion Macsween. It would appear that she was the sister of Angus Macsween, hence John Gillies being his nephew.
Kenneth Gillies, 50, Tenant, b. Harris
Marion Gillies, 43, Wife, b. Harris
Donald Gillies, 20, Son, b. Harris
Ann Gillies, 17, Daughter, b. Harris
William Gillies, 13, Son, b. Harris
Catherine Gillies, 6, Daughter, b. Harris
Allan Gillies, 48, Brother, b. Harris
Mary McDearmid, 20, Pauper, Friend, b. Harris
John Gillies would, on the 14th of April 1891, marry Flora Morrison, the daughter of William Morrison & Christian Kerr, she herself being a daughter of Angus Kerr the Tenant. William, a Fisherman, drowned off Thurso on the 25th of December 1890. John Gillies, a Sailor, was one of small and somewhat mysterious group calling themselves ‘Yacht’s Man’ in 1891.
William Morrison, 30, Fisherman, b. Harris
Christy Morrison, 29, Wife, b. Harris
Flora Morrison, 4, Daughter, b. Harris
Angus Morrison, 2, son, b. Harris
Christy Morrison, 2 months, Daughter, b. Harris
All four of these families lived along the Sound of Harris between Borrisdale, Strond and An-t-Ob ,but it was only when looking at Angus Kerr’s fellow Tenants in Strond in 1861 that I realised the ‘Tenant’ connection and its possible significance within this part of the island at this time.
There were no Crofters anywhere between Rodel and An-t-Ob, just these dozen Tenants in Strond who represent more than a third of the households in that place and nearly a fifth of those in the region.
The 5 households at Rodel were the Factor’s, those of three Farmer’s Shepherds and finally that of an Agricultural Labourer. The 5 in Borrisdale were those of a Tailor, a Retired Weaver, a Retired Tenant, a Retired Herd and finally that of a Pauper who had previously been a General Servant.
The pattern is clear: at Rodel Farm are those working directly for the Dunmore’s on what might be described as the ‘Home Farm’. Over the hill at the Eastern end of the Sound were retired employees with one economically active Tailor. It is only when we get to the Farm of Strond that we find other activity taking place in the form of our dozen Tenants and their neighbouring households:
One Mason, a Gardener, three Fishermen, the Ground Officer’s widow, two Shoemaker’s Widows (one with her shoemaking son) an Agricultural Labourer, the Public Shepherd, a ‘Seaman Packet’ and three Sailors, a County Constable, the Retired Factor’s Clerk, two Retired Tenants, a Weaveress, a very elderly Weaver and a Retired Weaveress who is now a Pauper.
In these 20 non-Tenant households we can see something of the ‘flavour’ of the area and, although it would take a complete analysis of each of the 179 individual’s occupation to be more precise, I am prepared to say that this mixture of Fishers, Sailors, Weavers and ‘Officials’ employed by the proprietor is reasonably representative. Thus Strond in 1861 was the site of a group of tenants tending the farmland who were accompanied by men who made their living from the sea and others who were providing support to the owners. It is not until we get to An-t-Ob that this dominance that stretches from Rodel through Borrisdale and Strond is broken.
These demographics, in combination with the family connections as outlined above, appear to me to give credence to my growing conviction that my (distant) uncle Angus’s family was one of those whose status/standing/class (I am struggling to find the appropriate term!) meant that they escaped the (ill)treatment that the Factor, John Robson Macdonald, was notoriously inflicting on so many less fortunate souls.
Angus was one of the 28 Tenants in An-t-Ob and Strond in 1841 but one of the only 12 remaining in that same area by 1861. His children worked in trusted positions in the households, or on the land, of the Factor and Farmers of Harris and married into similar families whose offspring were similarly employed – Isabella Maclean, for example, worked at Rodel in the home of a Fish Curer who later became a Farmer and then was employed by Kenneth Macdonald the Sheep Farmer at Big Borve before marrying Malcolm the Shepherd.

This process eventually resulted in one of Angus’s granddaughters, Marion, becoming a Farmer’s Wife.
She married the eldest son of the Fish-Curer-turned-Farmer whom her Aunt Isabella once worked for. Marion Kerr, the daughter of Angus Kerr the Farm Grieve, set-up home on Rodel Farm as Mrs John Campbell, her husband and his father being the two Farmers resident in Rodel.
I have touched upon this before and elsewhere in this blog, too, but had not previously examined the way the pattern that Angus the Tenant’s descendants wove fitted into the larger picture of the area.
I think one could quite reasonably claim that they were ‘comfortably woven into the fabric of society’…

A Couple of Old Posts…

…that I thought I would mention as they might prove useful to other researchers.

The first, ‘Where’s Malcolm?’ , is an account of how I stumbled upon the fantastic Maritime History Archive in Newfoundland and what I discovered there.

The second, ‘The Belfast News-Letter’ , shows how a search of newspaper archives can supply some surprising information.

You might also like to read my transcript of the Stornoway Gazette’s obituary of Alexander John Kerr .

Horsacleit Lodge

Seeing this photo of the lodge from one of my ‘Contacts’ on Flickr (Contacts are like Facebook Friends or Twitter Followers) inspired me to learn more about the story of the lodge.

I checked what, if anything,  I had previously written and discovered just a passing reference to the name itself being derived from the Norse for ‘Horse Cliff’ (It may also appear spelt as ‘Horsaclett’ or ‘Horsaclete’).

The next port of call was the RCAHMS which provided this Site Record from the Canmore section of their Search Resources . At this point I didn’t look at the Public Contribution to that record.

However, I did find a comment at the British Listed Buildings site.

We are extremely fortunate to be able to access and contribute to these wonderful online resources and my aim in writing this is merely to highlight, & thereby encourage, such collaboration and cross-referencing.

Of course, we are also able to take a ‘virtual walk’ around the area thanks to Google Street View !