‘The Glasgow Exhibition was yesterday visited by upwards of 66,000 persons.’
The total number of visitors to the Exhibition exceeded five-and-a-half million (slightly more than visited the London Exhibition) and amongst the exhibits available to them, in the Women’s Industries Section, was a section from the Home Arts and Industries Association:
‘An interesting and important part of the society’s work at present is the developing and improving of the wool-spinning and weaving industries in the Western Highlands and Islands of Scotland. Nearly 2000 women are employed under one class holder, Mrs Thomas, in spinning, dyeing and weaving; and in this exhibit is shown how the heavy woollen fabrics woven by them may be used for curtains, portieres, etc. Specimens of cloth and also of knitted socks, etc, are shown in a wall case outside the stand.’
This is tantalising for I have only come across one ‘Mrs Thomas’ involved with ‘heavy woollen fabrics’ and ‘knitted socks’ in the region. We know that in 1883 Fanny Thomas had still been taking boat trips to Taransay in connection with her work on the islands , that in 1897 she had endowed the Manish Victoria Cottage Hospital and that she appears to have maintained her interest until her death in Edinburgh in 1902 . The figure of ‘nearly 2000 women’ is astounding but, if this obituary is accurate, then at one time she had 400 stocking knitters on Harris alone!
‘Mrs Muir, of Lerwick, has brought with her three workers, who may be seen carding, spinning and knitting Shetland wool at her stand. This lady shows also a quantity of work knitted in the Fair Isles which is entirely different to the ordinary Shetland work, being bright and gay in colouring, and some of it very intricate in pattern. This kind of work is said to have been introduced into the islands by some of the Spaniards who were wrecked there at the time of the Spanish Armada. Not far from Mrs Muir’s stand is that of the Harris weaver, who, upon a very primitive loom, occasionally illustrates the weaving of the now famous and fashionable Harris tweeds. This loom was sent by Lady Scott, who takes great interest in the “homespun” industry of the Hebrides; and to the exertions of this lady and several others these textile industries owe their revival and recent development.’
I have included the Fair Isle section because, whilst straying outside my usual territory, it includes the story of wrecked sailors from the Armada and other similar tales are heard on the Western Isles.
The ‘Lady Scott’ referred to in regard to the loom upon which the (sadly un-named) Harris weaveress was working was Emilie, widow of Sir Edward Henry Scott and who, coincidently, had become a widow in 1883 which was the same year that Fanny Thomas’s husband Captain FWL Thomas had also died. This is the first direct reference I have found to the work of Lady Scott and it is entirely in keeping with the high regard with which the Scott family are held as proprietors of the North Harris Estate.
Finally, the use of the phrase ‘their revival and recent development‘ with reference to the ‘homespun’ textile industries of the Hebrides fits the pattern seen in the census data on Harris Weavers. .
Source: Glasgow Herald 10th November 1888 page 4
Note: The Home Arts & Industries Association, founded in 1884 by Eglantyne Louisa Jebb, was yet another organisation associated with the burgeoning arts & crafts movement in Britain and was functioning alongside others such as the Scottish Home Industries Association.