Untangling the Web (Makers)

A couple of years ago I wrote about the unusual occurrenceof the term ‘Web Maker’as an occupation amongst the good ladies of Harris in 1891 & 1901, endingwith the promise to investigate further when the 1911 Census had become searchable.
I am revisiting the topic because in fact the termdisappeared almost as quickly as it had popped-up in 1891! It is an occupationwholly unique to Harris and, with the sole exception recorded from 1901 in myearlier piece, exclusively in the 1891 Census.
However, its usage in that year was far more commonplacethan I first indicated for, because I was still at an early stage in teachingmyself how to interrogate the database, I had overlooked those ladies whorather than being recorded as a ‘Web Maker’ were listed as being a ‘Webmaker’.
A small but highly significant difference!
Thus in 1891 we find no less than 136 women on Harris whowere Web Makers/Webmakers and of these no less than 121 specify that what theyproducing was ‘Tweed’.
This is significant for two important reasons:
Firstly, it reinforces my finding that the term ‘HarrisTweed’ made a very late appearance on the stageand only once those ladies promoting the ‘Home Industries’ via a variety oforganisations had begun their endeavours.
Secondly, as I have been unable to discover anydistinguishing features separating ‘web making’ from ‘weaving’ as being termsfor the production of woven cloth from spun yarn, it means that we can add tothe number of weaveresses these webmakers and hence review the economic importanceof the production of Harris Tweed to Harris in 1891.
In 1891 Harris Tweed appears to have been being made by atleast 247 Weaveressesand 136 Webmakers so that a total of 383 women were creating Harris Tweed at thistime.
As there were some 2,662 women & girls living in Harris in 1891, thatfigure represents over 14% of the female population of the island!
This all fits rather well with an account from 1888, which incidentally also demonstrates the longevity of the involvement of  ‘Mrs Captain Thomas’with the work of regenerating the island following the famines & failure ofthe Kelp-industry earlier in the Century.

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