>Glasgow International Exhibition 1888

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‘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.

>’The Hebridean Breed’ – The True Kyloe

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‘Cattle; Their Breeds, Management and Diseases; With An Index’ by William Youatt was published in 1834 by Baldwin & Cradock (London) for The Society For The Diffusion Of Useful Knowledge (SDUK) as the latest addition to their ‘Library of Useful Knowledge’.
The SDUK, as can be read here , was begun by Lord Peter Henry Brougham who was Rector of the University of Glasgow from 1824 to 1826 and instrumental in establishing the University of London. .
William Youatt (1776-1847) was an outstanding Veterinary Surgeon born in Exeter in the county of  Devon. He devotes several pages (p64-73) to ‘The Hebridean Breed’ and I have extracted some of his more interesting observations (in italics), rearranging them under ten different headings and with some comments of my own:
THE WEST HIGHLAND CATTLE/THE HEBRIDEAN BREED
DESCRIPTIONS
There is little or no variety of breeds of cattle in the Hebrides. They are pure West Highlanders.
Apparently the most ancient breed of cattle in the country.
We have been favoured with the following excellent description of the true Kyloe, or West Highland bull, by Malcolm M’Neill, Esq., of the Isle of Islay, the southernmost of the inner range of the Hebrides:
‘The Highland bull should be black, the head not large, the ears thin, the muzzle fine, and rather turned up. He should be broad in the face, the eyes prominent, and the countenance calm and placid. The horns should taper finely to a point; and, neither drooping too much, nor rising too high, should be of a waxy colour, and widely set on at the root. The neck should be fine, particularly where it joins the head, and rising with a gentle curve from the shoulder. The breast wide, and projecting well before the legs. The shoulders broad at the top, and the chine so full as to leave but little hollow behind them. The girth behind the shoulder deep; the back straight, wide, and flat; the ribs broad; the space between them and the hips small; the belly not sinking low in the middle; yet, in the whole, not forming the round and barrel-like carcase which some have described. The thigh tapering to the hock-joint; the bones larger in proportion to the size than in the breeds of the southern districts. The tail set on a level with the back. The legs short and straight. The whole carcase covered with a thick long coat of hair, and plenty of hair also about the face and horns, and that hair not curly.’
Mr. Macgillivray, in his ‘Prize Essay on the present State of the Outer Hebrides,’ says,
‘The black cattle are small, but well proportioned; and on the tacksmen’s farms (a tacksman is one who has a large tract of land, which he holds by lease) they are generally of good breed, and, although not heavy, very handsome. They are covered with a thick and long pile during winter and spring; and a good pile is considered one of the essential qualifications of a cow.
The most common colours are black, red, brown, or brandered, (that is, a mixture of red and brown in stripes—brindled.’) A whitish dun colour is also pretty frequently seen, not unlike that of the original wild cattle of Scotland…and it is remarked, that in all their traditions or fables of what are called fairy-cattle, this is the colour ascribed to these animals’
Mr. Macgillivray’ was William Macgillivray, the Naturalist who farmed at Northton and who is mentioned in this piece regarding an annotation on Bald’s Map of Harris.
The value of the West Highland cattle consists in their being hardy, and easily fed; in that they will live, and sometimes thrive, on the coarsest pastures; that they will frequently gain from a fourth to a third of their original weight in six months’ good feeding; that the proportion of offal is not greater than in the most improved larger breeds; that they will lay their flesh and fat equably on the best parts; and that, when fat, the beef is closed fine in the grain, highly flavoured, and so well mixed or marbled, that it commands a superior price in every market.
Mr. Moorhouse, from Craven, in Yorkshire, in 1763, was the first Englishman who came into the Hebrides to buy cattle. In the absence of her husband, Mr. M’Donald, of Kingsburgh, he was kindly entertained by Flora M’Donald, who made up for him the same bed that, seventeen years before, had received the unfortunate Prince Charles.
‘KYLOE’
…no other breed of cattle will thrive on these islands…the Kyloes could not possibly be improved by being crossed with any others…attempts at crossing have only destroyed the symmetry of the Kyloes, and rendered them more delicate, and less suitable to the climate and the pasture.
The origin of the term Kyloe is obscure. Some writers, and among whom is Sir John Sinclair, have curiously traced it to their crossing the many Kyloes, or ferries which abound in the West of Scotland; others, and with more propriety, and one of whom is Mr. Macdonald, the author of the Agriculture of the Highlands, tells us, that it is a corruption of the Gaelic word which signifies Highland, and is commonly pronounced as if spelled Kael.
An earlier short piece on Black Cattle, Kyloes and Crodh Dubh.
18th CENTURY NEGLECT?
Forty years ago the treatment of cattle was, with very few exceptions, absurd and ruinous, to a strange degree, through the whole of the Hebrides. With the exception of the milch cows, but not even of the calves, they were all wintered in the field: if they were scantily fed with hay, it was coarse, and withered, and half-rotten; or if they got a little straw, they were thought to be well taken care of. The majority got little more than seaweed, heather, and rushes. One-fifth of the cattle, on an average, used to perish every winter from starvation. It proved the excellency of the breed, that in the course of two or three months so many of them got again into good store-condition, and might almost be said to be half-fat, and could scarcely be restrained by any fence: in fact, there are numerous instances of these cattle, which had been reduced to the most dreadful state of impoverishment, becoming fattened for the butcher in a few months, after being placed on some of the rich summer pastures of Islay, Lewis, or Skye.
It may well have been that, circa 1794, the dominance of the Kelp Industry and the imbalance it imposed between the needs of agricultural subsistence and the demands of commerce might help explain this otherwise ‘strange degree’ of apparent neglect?
THE DROVES
The calves are separated from their dams two or three weeks before the cast-cows are sent to the cattle-tryst at the end of October, for it is believed that if the cows had milk in their udders they might be injured in the long journeys they are then to take; the greater part of them being driven as far as the Lowland districts, whence they gradually find their way to the central and southern counties of England.
It is true that grazing has never been the principal object of the Hebridean farmer, or has scarcely been deemed worthy of his attention: there are very few cattle fattened upon any of the islands…
Can we be certain that, in much older times, when the nucleated settlement known as a ‘baile’ or township was farming using the run-rig system, that the ‘Hebridean’ farmers did NOT fatten their cattle on the land?
The different islands of the Hebrides contain about one hundred and fifty thousand of these cattle, of which it is calculated that one-fifth are sent annually to the main land, principally through Jura, or across from the ferry of the Isle of Skye. If these average about 5L. per head, the amount will be 150,000L., or more than the rental of the whole of the islands, which Mr. Macdonald calculated at 106,720L, but which now produces a greater sum. Cattle, therefore, constitute the staple commodity of the Hebrides. Three thousand five hundred are annually exported from the island of Islay alone.
This is astounding: the year is 1834 and the Clearances (that so cruelly replaced human feet with the hooves of sheep) are still occurring yet the estimated income from island cattle is nearly 150% of that from island rents. Were island estates ever really as unprofitable as their proprietors claimed?
We have stated that more than 20,000 of the Hebridean cattle are conveyed to the mainland, some of whom find their way even to the southernmost counties of England ; but like the other Highland cattle their journey is usually slow and interrupted. Many of these small cattle are permanently arrested in their journey, and kept on low farms to consume the coarse grass, which other breeds refuse to eat; these are finished off on turnips, which are given them in the field about the end of Autumn, and they are sold about Christmas.
The pace of these journeys may have appeared leisurely but I imagine that, for the drovers at least, they were arduous, risky, dangerous and uncertain undertakings.
Their first resting-place is not a great way from the coast, for they are frequently wintered on the coarse pastures of Dumbartonshire ; and in the next summer, after grazing awhile on the lower grounds, they are driven farther south, where they are fed during the second winter on turnips and hay. In April they are in good condition, and prepared for the early grass, on which they are finished.
There is more on the subject of cattle sales and droves in these pieces:
‘HEBUDANS’
Little is known of the history of the Hebudans, except that they descended from the same stock with the Irish and the Highlanders; but were oftener exposed to the incursions of roving tribes from every quarter, and who successively mingled with, and were lost among, but never superseded the original inhabitants.
I believe that accords reasonably well with our current understanding.
‘…for more than three centuries, the Hebrides were the resort of refugees, smugglers, and freebooters; and, at no very remote period, the inhabitants were singularly uncultivated, ignorant, idle, and miserable.’
I have no idea whether the islands ever enjoyed three hundred consecutive years of visitations from ‘refugees, smugglers, and freebooters’ but I suspect that comment tells us more about William Youatt than it does about anything regarding the history of the Hebrides.
His description of the island Gael ‘at no very remote period’ as ‘uncultivated, ignorant, idle and miserable’ is, quite simply, uncultivated, ignorant, idle, and miserable…
After, however, the union between the English and Scottish kingdoms, and when civilization had commenced on the mainland, the Hebrideans began to be reclaimed, and that was chiefly manifested in, and promoted by, a change of occupation. Although they did not abandon their seafaring life, they became honest, and were industrious fishermen, and they began to learn to be agriculturists.
Odd when one stops to consider of all those Old Norse names on the islands that mean ‘Farmstead’ and that fishing had only relatively recently replaced farming, due to the displacement of people…
HOUSING
The cows were housed during the winter; but among the small farmers this was conducted in a singular way—for one rude dwelling contained and sheltered both the family and the cattle.
The habitations of these people are usually divided into three apartments. The first, which occupies half of the hut, is the general entrance, and contains the agricultural implements, poultry, and cattle. The second, comprising a fourth of the hut, is that in which the family reside; and the inner one, of the same size, is the sleeping room and granary.
There are no chimneys; the smoke fills the whole hut, and escapes partly by a hole in the roof, partly by the door, and partly by orifices formed between the wall and the roof as substitutes for windows, and which, in stormy weather, are closed by a bundle of straw.
The fire is placed in the middle of the floor. The soot accumulates on the roof, and, in rainy weather, is continually dropping, and for the purpose of obtaining it for manure, the hut is unroofed in the beginning of May.
The family had their beds of straw or heath in the niches of the walls, while the litter was never removed from the cattle, but fresh layers of straw were occasionally laid down, and so the floor rose with the accumulation of dung and litter, until the season of spreading it upon the land, when it was at length taken away.
The evolution of house-types is a fascinating area of study:
The substantial and complex nature of ‘blackhouse’ construction may be glimpsed in these images:
The evidence given to the 1883 Napier Commission by Thomas Brydone, Factor of South Harris, is relevant:
MILK
The…milk is exceedingly rich, and the butter procured from it is excellent.
…the dairy is considered as a matter of little consequence in the Hebrides; and the farmer rarely keeps more milch cows than will furnish his family with milk and butter and cheese.
In North Uist and Tiree the dairy is more successfully followed than in the other islands, partly on account of the goodness of the herbage, but principally because the cows yield milk for a longer time after calving than in the neighbouring isles. The management of the dairy is exceedingly simple, and, from the very simplicity of it, other districts may learn a useful lesson. The cows are driven as slowly and quietly as possible to the fold; the wild character of the animals, as well as a regard to the quality of the milk, show the propriety of this. They are carefully drained to the last drop, not only on account of the superior richness of the latter portion of the milk, but because the retention of any part is apt to hasten, if it does not produce, that which is one of the principal objections to the Highland cows as milkers, the speedy drying up of their milk.
Youatt’s opinions on islanders is awful but his attitude to animal husbandry is exemplary.
The milk is carried to the house with as little disturbance as practicable, and put into vessels of not more than two or three inches in depth. The cream is supposed to rise more rapidly in these shallow vessels; and it is removed in the course of eighteen hours.
An episode of the BBC’s historical reconstruction programme ‘The Edwardian Farm’ (unfortunately not available on iPlayer iPlayer )included this very same approach. The series, based upon practices in use some 70 years after the publication of Youatt’s book, was based in his own home county of Devon.
A cow will not, on the average, yield more than 22 lbs. of butter (of 24 oz. each) in the summer season: she will yield about 90 lbs. of cheese, which is much liked by some on account of the aromatic flavour which is given to it by the mixture of rose-leaves, cinnamon, mace, cloves, and lemon with the rennet.
I am a little confused for there was no weight system that divided a pound into 24 ounces thus it appears that each of these 22 pounds of butter weighed 24 ounces which is one-and-a-half pounds and therefore suggests a yield of 33 lbs of butter? (You may be interested in a guide to Old Scottish Weights and Measures )
The milk of the cows is said to be excellent, but on account of the filthy habits of too many of the cotters, the butter and cheese are eaten by few beside the natives.
The longevity of many islanders suggests that their dairy produce wasn’t too toxic despite these ‘filthy habits’ and it is worth remembering that it would be another quarter-of-a-century before the ‘miasma’ theory of disease was overthrown, following yet another Cholera epidemic in London…
SEA-WARE & SPRING
In the spring all the cattle are in poor condition, and those of the small tenants are in most wretched plight: sea-weed (chiefly Fucus canaliculars), boiled with husks of grain and a little meal or other substances, are then employed to support them; and in many places the cattle during the winter and spring regularly betake themselves to the sea-shore at ebbtide to feed upon the fuci.
I cannot find Fucus canaliculars but Pelvetia canaliculata Pelvetia canaliculata (Channeled Wrack) is a member of the Family Fucaceae that is certainly edible!
The rapidity of vegetation in the latter part of the spring is astonishing in these islands. A good pasture can scarcely be left a fortnight without growing high and rank; and even the unenclosed and marshy and heathy grounds are comparatively luxuriant.
SUMMER & SHIELINGS
In summer the cows and the milch-sheep are sent to the inland glens and moors, which are covered with hard grasses and rushes, because the portion that yields soft grass is not sufficient for their consumption during the whole year. They are attended by a woman from each family, who has a small hut or shealing for her habitation, and who makes the little butter and cheese which their scanty milk affords.
The history of the Shieling is a fascinating topic that I intend examining in detail at a later date.
In summer all the cattle are pastured; the calves are sent to their dams twice in the day, and the strippings, or last part of the milk, is taken away by the dairy-maid, for it is commonly supposed, that if the calf is allowed to draw all the milk he can, it will keep the dam in low condition, and prevent her being in calf in proper time.
This refers to the practice on farms.
ONE FINAL OBSERVATION
Oxen are never used for the plough or on the road on any of the Hebrides.
Source:

>’A Fashionable Kettledrum’ – the Gentlewoman’s Self-Help Institute

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It is an evening in May1870 and we are in the company of one ‘Azamut-Batuk‘ who is gathering material for his publication, ‘A little book about Great Britain’, that will appear later in the same year.
In fact we are with Nicolas Leon Thieblin who wrote for the Pall Mall Gazette under the pseudonym of the ‘Turk’ and his article was first published in that newspaper on Friday the 13th of May under the title ‘A Meeting at Stafford House‘.
Stafford House was home to the Duke & Duchess of Sutherland and was the most valuable private house in London. We know it today as Lancaster House, home to the Foreign & Commonwealth Office, and the change of name occurred when it was bought in 1912 by a son of the county of Lancashire who had made himself a rather large fortune out of soap. His name, by the way, was William Hesketh Lever.
But I digress and we must return to the event that brought our ‘Turk’ to the ‘palace’ (as Queen Victoria is alleged to have described it when making a comparison with her own meagre residence in London) which was a meeting of the ‘Gentlewoman’s Self-Help Institute’ attended, as noted by Thieblin, by such men as the Earl of Shaftesbury and Mr Gladstone, the Prime Minister.
The Institute (to which I can find no further reference) had eight Patrons but it is the two who head the list that interest me the most; the Duchess of Sutherland and the Dowager Countess of Dunmore who had been a widow for almost a quater-of-a-century. . At this point I should make it clear that this Duchess of Sutherland was Anne Hay-Mackenzie and wife of the 3rd Duke of Sutherland. It was his Grandfather, the 1st Duke, who, with the encouragement of his wife (Elizabeth, Duchess of Sutherland, who inherited her title at the age of one) had been responsible for the appalling Clearances of Sutherland. The Duchess of Sutherland who wrote on The Revival Of Home Industries for The Land Magazine in 1899 was Millicent, the 3rd Duke and Anne’s daughter-in-law, whose husband the 4th Duke had inherited the title in 1892.
The aim of the Institute was to ‘seek to place within the reach of educated ladies, widows, and daughters of clergymen, barristers, military and naval officers, and professional men, who may have been reduced from easy circumstances to narrow means, an opportunity of turning their natural or acquired abilities to account. To this end it had acquired premises at Bessborough Gardens in Pimlico ‘…for the reception and sale of articles produced by ladies in reduced circumstances. These rooms are now crowded with a great variety of articles of every description — oil paintings, drawings, modelled waxwork, guipure and other lace, wool-work, embroidery, baby-clothes, and plain work of all sorts.’ It was an upper-class craft sale!
I say ‘upper-class’ because Any lady wishing to become a working member has to furnish two references as to respectability, certifying to her being a gentlewoman by birth and education, which will be laid before the ladies’ committee by the lady superintendent, Mrs. Howard, and, if approved, the lady so applying will be required to procure a nomination from a subscriber to the Institute, when she will become eligible to partake of the benefits of the institution in any way most advantageous to herself.’ A ‘subscriber’ paid a guinea a year (or donated ten guineas for life membership) to secure the right to nominate one of these ladies. They could pay multiples of these amounts and nominate more ladies accordingly.
I mentioned that this was the sole reference to the Institute that I could find however in ‘Webster’s Royal Red Book, or Court & Fashionable Register, 1897′ is listed the ‘Gentlewoman’s Self-Help Society’ at 20-22 Maddox Street, London. Whether or not this was related to the Institute of 1870 I cannot say but it is interesting to note the existence of, and therefore a perceived need for, this similar-sounding organisation some 27 years after that May meeting in palatial Stafford House.

>A Small Boy in Aberdeen

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The 1911 Census marks a significant point in my researches because it is the first to include my Dad. There is something slightly strange about seeing one’s father listed as a 4 year-old boy and especially so as all my grandparents were already dead by the time I myself was 4 and hence, although I have ‘met’ them in the censuses, they exist only as shadows in my mind.
I do not intend to dwell upon the details of the household at 56 St Swithin Street (save to say that my dad’s two aunts were both Teachers and that the Boarder at his grandmother’s house taught Science at Gordon’s College), but look instead at the occupations of the neighbours at numbers 52 to 54:
We have an employer in the form of the Manager of a ‘Coal & Lime Importers, Oil Refiners & Grain Merchants Limited Company’; another employer who was a House Painter; a third employer who was a ‘Motor Car Agent’ and whose daughter was a ‘Clerk & Typist’ in the Motor Trade; and finally a ‘Retired Gilder & Picture Framer’ whose daughter was a self-employed Piano Teacher and whose two sons were employed as a ‘Dentists Mechanic’ and a ‘House Painter’.
So this was the neighbourhood that my Stornowegian grandfather found himself inhabiting 90 years after his own grandfather had been born in a house on the shore at Direcleit, a house that the sea was known to enter at particularly high tides.
I say ‘inhabiting’ but in fact he wasn’t there on the night of the census and, as the index at ScotlandsPeople does NOT include a field for the place of birth, I am not going to trawl through all the 36 year-old John Kerrs (at £1.17 each) in the hope of chancing upon him!
What is more disappointing is that, had he been there, I am sure that he would have continued his practice from the previous Census and inserted ‘G&E’ in the otherwise blank column recording Gaelic speakers…

>HARRIS – EMBROIDERY SCHOOL

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On Wednesday last, the girls attending the Countess of Dunmore’s school for embroidery at Obbe, assembled to receive payment for the work done by them during the past half-year.
Many of the ladies of Harris were present, who were much gratified by witnessing the progress made by the children, and in examining their beautiful work.
After the business of the day had been transacted, the children were regaled upon tea, cake, and many other good things of a more substantial kind, for which treat they were indebted to the liberality of Mrs Macrae, Hushinish.
The school is of great benefit to the island, as girls who otherwise would be idle for most part of the year, were here taught a useful and elegant art by which they can not only support themselves in a respectable manner, but also contribute to the support of their families.
The poor of Harris cannot be sufficiently grateful to Lady Dunmore for the interest she always takes in their welfare.
One proof of this is the institution under notice, which is under the management of Mrs Galbraith, whose untiring exertions for its benefit are deserving of the highest commendation.
Inverness Advertiser Thursday, 3rd June 1856 (via Am Baile and the Inverness Reference Library)
The school had been opened in 1849 and this account informs us that Mary Galbraith, the 32 year-old from Ireland, was already in charge. Her husband, Henry Galbraith, was Gardener for the Dunmores and in 1861 we find the couple living in the house at An-t-Ob that had been built for the gardener in 1850.
The tea-party was provided by no less a person than the wife of Alexander McRa, ‘Fear Huisinis’, and one wonders what the parents really thought of her ‘liberality’!
It doesn’t appear as if the Dowager Countess herself was present on this occasion (which took place on Wednesday, 28th May 1856) presumably, although it not made explicit, at the school in ‘Obbe’?
Nevertheless, another little window into the world of 19thC Harris has presented itself and I think we should leave the children to enjoy their ‘tea, cake, and many other good things…’!

"I think it is quite capable of bearing all the people in comfort."

Thus ended the evidence to the Napier Commission given by the Reverend Alexander Davidson of Manish Free Church, Harris.

The full exchange went like this:

13113. Mr Fraser-Mackintosh
—I forgot to follow out a question which I put about the lands. Taking South Harris as a whole, is there not enough land to support in comfort even more than the present population ?

—I should think it would give land to the present population, if the land were distributed among the people. I think it is quite capable of bearing all the people in comfort.




This, from a man who had lived, worked and raised a family amongst the people of South Harris for at least the past twenty-eight years (including officiating at the wedding of one of my female cousins in Strond in 1867) stands in stark contrast with the prevailing view of the Proprietor, the past Factors and the present Farmers of the day for whom Emigration was the only ‘answer’ to the ‘problem’.


I was inspired to take a closer look at Alexander Davidson having been contacted by one of his descendants, as can be seen at the end of this piece on Harris Free Churchmen .


The church is described in these pages from Canmore and British Listed Buildings and this is its location as seen on the OS 1:25000 Map .

The accompanying Manse, which was the Davidson family’s home for many years, is similarly described on these pages from Canmore and British Listed Buildings and its precise location can be seen here .


In previous pieces I mentioned that Captain FWL Thomas and his wife, Mrs ‘Captain Thomas’, had at times taken-in the children of islanders including one of Alexander Davidson’s daughters and also of the widowed Fanny Thomas’s later endowment of the Manish Victoria Cottage Hospital .

I would like to end with a longer extract from the Reverend’s evidence to the Napier Commission, to which I have added notes & observation within the text:


13081. Do many of the young women go south?
—Not many.


The context here is that of the ‘Herring Girls’ of the islands who followed the fishing fleet in their progress around the coast of Scotland and England during the season.

13082. Have they never been in the habit of going much from Harris?
—No, they never went.


This is telling us that as far as Davidson was aware, the women of Harris did not participate in this work.

13083. A good many of the women in this island get employment in knitting and in spinning cloth ?
—Yes, kilt making. That is their principal employment, and of late years it has been very useful to them.


Knitting, Spinning and Weaving were clearly well-established by 1883 but whether ‘kilt making’ referred to an actual Tailoring activity or was Davidson’s shorthand for weaving a web of cloth is not clear. As far as I know, such tailoring was not performed in creating a product for export and my researches into tailoring certainly don’t indicate that it was ever a large-scale female activity on Harris.

13084. Who set that agoing?
—Well, the Countess of Dunmore takes some interest in it, as well as other parties. I see they get very much into the way of dealing with the local merchants in order to get meal.


The internal arrangements pertaining at the time between the producers and the local merchants are beyond the scope of this piece, but I am interested in Davidson’s phrase ‘takes some interest in it’  for that is hardly a ringing endorsement for the Countess’s commitment to the cause. It is just a pity that none of the ‘other parties’ were named!

13085. Are most of the women in the parish employed in that way?
—Well, generally.



A reminder that, unlike on neighbouring Lewis, Weaving on Harris was traditionally dominated by the women.

13086. I mean every family?
—Perhaps not every family, but very generally they are.


The extent to which these textile industries pervaded the population and were pivotal to their survival is clear.

13087. They knit a great many stockings and hose?
—Yes.

The size and importance of the knitting industry must have been very significant at this time so quite why it slipped into relative obscurity, especially in comparison with the international fame of Harris Tweed, is an interesting question that I have discussed in previous pieces.

13088. What price do they get for socks?
—Not very much—perhaps about 1s., but I can hardly say whether that is the fixed price.

That is only £2-£3 in today’s money

13089. And they manufacture a peculiarly coloured native cloth?
—Almost every kind of cloth.

13090. Native dyes?
—Yes, they use native dyes.


Ignoring the slightly pejorative-sounding ‘peculiarly coloured’, we learn that the women were producing a variety of different cloths using ‘native dyes’. It is worth noting, however, that the word ‘Tweed’, let-alone the two words, ‘Harris Tweed’, are conspicuous by their absence. It wasn’t until the later marketing of the brand that they assumed common usage.




Ref: The full transcript of this evidence may be read here .

Note:
Anyone wishing to learn more about the Free Church Ministers at this time should consult the  Annals of the Free Church of Scotland 1843-1900 (which may be available as in inter-library loan).